Pensive MILF leaders enter Malacañang in historic peacemaking trip

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MALACAÑAN PALACE (MindaNews/16 October) – For the first time in their lives, top leaders and ground commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) set foot in Malacañang Palace on a historic journey of peacemaking.

DATE WITH HISTORY. Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Central Committee led by Chief Negotiator Mohagher Iqbal (far left) and vice-chair Ghazali Jaafar (right) ride in silence on the bus that took them from Hotel Sofitel at the CCP Complex in Pasay City to Malacanan Palace on Oct. 15, 2012. The MILF and the Philippine government inked the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro on Monday ending 40 years of Moro rebellion. Photo by Ryan Rosauro / MindaNews contributorMembers of the MILF Central Committee arrived in the Palace grounds at 11:10 a.m. Monday for the 2 p.m. rites for the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH).

The preliminary pact provides the “overarching architecture” for the process of addressing the so-called Bangsamoro question, defines the powers and structures of a new self-governance entity that will replace and have far greater political and economic powers than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

It also lays down the principles, processes and mechanisms “that will shape the new relations between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro,” with the rebel group committing to decommission its army and the Armed Forces of the Philippines transferring, “in a phased and gradual manner, all law enforcement functions… to the police force for the Bangsamoro.”

MILF chief Al Haj Murad Ebrahim arrived in Malacañang on a BMW car and was met by Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles. The nine other Central Committee members took a Coaster. All vehicles were provided by Malacañang.

The rebel officials were fetched by Palace protocol officers at Sofitel Hotel 10:50 a.m. escorted by presidential guards in plainclothes.

Police patrols led their way through the morning traffic maze of the national capital towards the country’s seat of political power.

The greying Moro warriors in their coat and tie, accompanied by two young staff, were mostly silent and pensive throughout the 20-minute ride. The meaning-filled silence was pierced only by the occasional chatter in Maguindanaon language.

“I never imagined then that we would be in the corridors of power of the Philippine state,” said MILF vice-chair Ghazali Jaafar.

For a mujahideen, Jaafar said, the Palace symbolizes the enemy.

“Malacañang is the seat of Moro oppression, more or less, because it is there where the actions and decisions of the Philippine state (that affected us) emanate,” he explained.

As members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the early 1970s, the current MILF leaders fought for an independent state so they are able, as a people, to freely determine their political future.

They had to abandon this goal in 1974 upon the urging of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (now Cooperation) and settle for political autonomy by 1976.

Salamat Hashim, then vice chair of the MNLF, and a number of his members, broke away from the MNLF in the late 1970s to form the MILF. The latter also dropped its independence bid as a precondition for Malaysia’s facilitation of the peace negotiations beginning 2001.

Instead, the MILF vowed to expand the political concessions the MNLF got in the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.

As the airconditioned bus negotiated the Ayala Bridge across Pasig River for a turn towards one of the Palace gates, the bespectacled MILF chief negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal, peered at the magnificence of Malacañang through the curtained window.

Iqbal’s pensive mood was broken as chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen met him upon disembarking from the bus and ushered the Central Committee members into the Palace.

Back in Mindanao, the MILF’s once-in-a-lifetime trip to Malacañang is widely hoped to usher a new dawn for areas affected by the 40-year conflict.

Community celebrations were held in central Mindanao to welcome the signing of the accord.

In Marawi City, a Kalilang, a traditional Maranao festivity, was done beginning Monday morning until the Framework Agreement was inked around 3 p.m.

A peace rally was also held at the Iligan City Plaza, in Cotabato City, and in the MILF’s Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. A citizen’s ceremonial signing of the Framework Agreement was done in Davao City.

“Today, Insha Allah, is a new beginning,” said Moro youth leader Drieza Lininding. (Ryan Rosauro / MindaNews contributor)

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