GPH-MILF Framework Agreement heralds “a new, bright dawn for all Filipinos”

KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/08 October) –  The Framework Agreement reached between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) heralds “a new, bright dawn for all Filipinos – Muslims, Lumads, Christians and all others,” Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya said.

The historic agreement, reached after 15 years of peace negotiations, was honored by an Address to the Nation by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III in Malacanang at 1 p.m., attended by top officials including Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Bai Yasmin Busra Lao, GPH peace panel member, said she couldn’t control her tears. “I had used three table tissues,” she said, teary-eyed again as she recalled how emotionally charged the atmosphere was during the closing rites held behind closed door.

Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said she felt similarly.

The closing session – where the two panel chairs delivered their closing statements prior to the signing of the Joint Communique – was held after the panels and their respective secretariats, the Malaysian facilitator and staff, and the state and non-state members of the International Contact Group (ICG) watched President Aquino’s Address to the Nation streamed live from Malacanang.

“Today, we are approaching new beginnings because the truth is that our work does not end here,” GPH peace panel chair Marvic Leonen said in his closing statement.

MILF chair Mohagher Iqbal delivered his closing statement extemporaneously. He was described to have been teary-eyed and his speech apparently also moved a number of those inside the State Room of the Palace of the Golden Horses hotel to tears.

Iqbal later told MindaNews he was “emotionally touched” because “I’ve been in the negotiations for practically 16 years. You can feel the emotional relief.”

“We’ve finished the hardest part of the negotiation,” he said, but acknowledged the harder work begins.

‘That name will be Bangsamoro’

Johaira Wahab of the GPH panel’s legal team said she felt “that it was both strange and awesome to hear the President say ‘Bangsamoro’ over and over again on national TV.”

She said she cried upon reading the President’s speech hours earlier, particularly that part where he said, ‘That name will be Bangsamoro.’

The younger members of the MILF peace panel — Mike Pasigan, head of the MILF panel’s secretariat and another secretariat member, Mohajiril  Ali —  groped for words to express their feelings.

Members of both panels and their respective secretariats, the Malaysian facilitator and secretariat, and the International Contact Group, applauded and cheered as soon as the President said “That name will be Bangsamoro.”

For the most part of the President’s 10-minute address, Iqbal was quiet,  bowing his head and focusing on reading the President’s prepared speech.

The crowd of about 50 gave the President a standing ovation when he ended his speech. It was, as somebody remarked,  a standing ovation that everyone in the room deserved.

Evolution of future mission of AFP

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, through Brig. Gen. Leo Cresente Ferrer, Senior Military Adviser to the GPH peace panel also welcomed the agreement and said the AFP “looks forward to its membership in the Technical Working Group that will craft the Normalization Plan.”

He said he sees “an evolution of the future mission of the AFP units in the New Autonomous Political Entity (Bangsamoro). We anticipate that in the absence of or minimal presence of threats to internal security the AFP can shift its effort to territorial defense, as mandated to ‘secure the sovereignty of the state and the integrity of the national territory.’ The military can fulfill its support role in the maintenance of a peaceful environment conducive to development and the delivery of basic services in the conflict areas,”  Ferrer said.

He and Senior Police Adviser to the panel, Chief Supt. Noel delos Reyes, wore their respective uniforms to the closing session.

Ferrer said the Bangsamoro, the name of the new autonomous political entity, “can tap the capabilities and expertise of the AFP towards economic reconstruction through infrastructure development, monitoring of government flagship projects, environment protection and other endeavors aligned to the national government development programs.”

“Amazing, historic”

Emma Leslie of Conciliation Resources, an ICG member ,  said it was an “amazing, historic day.”

“Of course I’m crying because it shows the leadership and the vision of amazing human beings particularly President Noynoy (Aquino),  Chairman Murad but also Chairmen Iqbal and Marvic Leonen and also it’s a tribute to the facilitation of Malaysia and it shows how peace processes can  work. However, it’s the first step for a long road ahead which will have many bumps and many rocks for us to continue to work. So it’s the next chapter,” she told MindaNews.

Dr. Steven Rood of The Asia Foundation, another ICG member, said he was “very emotional as two peoples that I love – the Bangsmaoro and the Filipinos – may have a chance of living productively together in peace.”

‘Worth every sweat’

Tengku himself couldn’t hold back his tears.

“The most emotional thing was the speech of the President,”  he said.

MindaNews  heard him say “that’s a good one,” when the President said “This framework agreement is about rising above our prejudices.”

The President continued: “It is about casting aside the distrust and myopia that has plagued the efforts of the past; it is about learning hard lessons and building on the gains we have achieved. IT is about acknowledging that trust has to be earned — it is about forging a partnership that rests on the bedrock of society, good will and hard work.”

“I cried. Even now,” he said, adding that even the President’s body language, “everything shows that he is very sincere. Very very sincere.”

“His speech is the heart to everything,” said Tengku, who was recalled from retirement to facilitate the talks and who served as facilitator since April 2011.

His 18 months as facilitator was “worth everything, worth every sweat.”

“The tightness, the tension,  everything just disappeared” when the parties reached the agreement and the President spoke,  Tengku, who refers to himself as “risik,” the Malaysian word for go-between, said.

Reactions from Mindanao

In Mindanao, Balay Mindanaw  hailed the agreement as a “very significant milestone in the quest for just and lasting peace in our homeland.”

“As the GPH-MILF Peace Process enters a higher level of hard constructive work towards inclusive peace, we reiterate our commitment to continue offering and giving our own modest share through our community-based peacebuilding work with our partners in Aleosan, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Lanao, Basilan and other communities affected by the violent conflicts in the past,” it said.

“We reaffirm our belief that lasting peace can only be achieved when the peoples, communities and all the stakeholders are given the space to be active pursuers and builders of their own peace.  No one should be excluded,” Balay Mindanaw said.

The Mindanao Peoples Caucus congratulated both panels “for this historic, landmark victory in the peace talks.”

“With this Framework Agreement finally agreed upon by the parties, it is time for all of us to do our part in order see the full implementation of this agreement.  Let us all unite to give this agreement a chance to be realized and implemented in letter and in spirit.  Let us also be vigilant in order to ensure that the 2008 tragedy of the MOA-AD can never repeat itself. Today, more than ever, it is imperative upon all Filipinos, especially Mindanaoans, to demonstrate our support to the Framework Agreement through concrete actions,” it said.

A day to celebrate

The Davao City-based Initiatives for International Dialogue said the agreement “is the long-awaited turn in the road for many of Mindanao’s myriad travelers, wearied of war and sapped by conflict. With finality, there is a clear commitment to peace by both leaderships, and it is now a challenge to the rest of us to shoulder the load and support the greater task ahead.”

IID said that as we celebrate, “let us continue to challenge ourselves to remain thorough, deliberate, transparent and open-minded to the expected cacophony of voices that will soon follow. Let us not lose our way but stand fast to the drive and vision that has sustained us since these peace talks began.”

“Today is clearly a day to celebrate for many of us, and let us do so. And in doing so, let us replenish our energies, revive our spirits, and look forward to the possibilities now opening before us. Let us enjoin those who have been waiting for clearer signals and direction to now step up and join us. Although we foresee a time of further challenges ahead, today’s event also reminds us of what is possible when we all commit ourselves to a common vision and purpose. Today, with a nod to the past, let us prepare ourselves to the grand task of building a just and sustainable peace for us all and for Mindanao,” the IID said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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