COTABATO CITY(MindaNews/ 13 October)— Support to the Framework Agreement recently reached by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) continued to swell from local political leaders and non-government organizations (NGOs) as the Japanese government joined the clamor for the signing of an early final peace agreement.
North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Mendoza said that while inclusion to the Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), is subject to a plebiscite, it is important that consultations be conducted on the contents of the Framework Agreement.
Some villages in North Cotabato have been identified to become part of the Bangsamoro, the core of which is the impoverished Muslim region.
“What is important is that people, whether they’re Muslims, Christians or Lumads, would be given the chance to decide through a plebiscite if they want their villages to be part of the Bangsamoro,” she said.
Cotabato City Mayor Japal Guiani Jr. echoed the sentiments of Mendoza.
“Let the people decide through the plebiscite if they want to be part of the Bangsamoro,” he said.
While the host of the ARMM regional government, Cotabato City voted against inclusion to the autonomous government in past plebiscites.
“I have not fully seen the terms and conditions of the Framework Agreement but I’m sure there will be more discussions. If it is beneficial to many and would lead to a lasting peace, why not give it a chance,” Guiani said.
Jimmy Adil, a resident of Pikit, one of the towns in North Cotabato hit by past fierce clashes between government and MILF forces, welcomed the breakthrough in the Mindanao peace process.
“If we look at Pikit, majority are Maguindanaoans and it would be lovely to be part of the Bangsamoro,” he said.
Ahead of the scheduled formal signing on Monday of the Framework Agreement in Malacanang, the Japanese government has expressed hopes for the early realization of a final peace agreement between the government and MILF.
Japan hosted the historic meeting between President Benigno Aquino III and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in August last year.
The Japanese government will continue to support the Mindanao peace process, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA) said in a statement, noting that the Framework Agreement is an important first step toward the realization of the final peace agreement.
Government chief peace negotiator Marvic Leonen and his MILF counterpart Mohagher Iqbal are expected to sign the Framework Agreement on Monday at Malacanang in the presence of Aquino, Murad and Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohammad Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak.
The Japanese government believes though that reaching a final peace agreement would not be easy.
“Japan strongly hopes that both parties will steadily implement the contents of the Framework Agreement and continue their persistent negotiation efforts towards the early realization of the final agreement,” MOFA said.
It added that Japan would like to continue to lend its full support to the Mindanao peace process through the dispatch of experts on development to the International Monitoring Team (IMT), the intensive implementation of economic cooperation projects in former conflict-affected areas under the Japan-Bangsamoro Initiatives for Reconstruction and Development or J-BIRD, and its participation in the International Contact Group on the peace talks, among others.
The Framework Agreement would serve as the roadmap to reach a comprehensive peace agreement, which the government and the MILF hope to complete by the end of the year.
Civil society manifesto of support
On Friday, 28 NGOs and people’s organizations from Maguindanao held a “people’s assembly” at the Al-Nor Convention Center here and issued a manifesto of support to the Framework Agreement.
“We join the rest of our brothers and sisters not only in Mindanao and in the country, but including those in foreign lands, for their joyful emotions in celebrating the long awaited results of the government and the MILF peace talks,” they said in a statement.
The group expressed hopes the Framework Agreement would help resolve the centuries-old conflict in Mindanao and the Bangsamoro problem.
“The agreement will open the avenue and pave way for development in this part of the country,” their statement said.
The Framework Agreement, according to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), outlines the general features of the political settlement between the Philippine government and the MILF. It also defines the structure and powers of the Bangsamoro entity that will replace the ARMM.
The OPAPP said the agreement sets the principles, processes and mechanisms for the transition until the regular election in 2016 for the new Bangsamoro autonomous political entity.
“The Framework Agreement puts together the points of consensus achieved in the series of talks between the GPH and the MILF that took off with the forging of the Ceasefire Agreement in 1997. It elaborates on the nature of the political entity that will replace the ARMM,” the OPAPP stressed.
The OPAPP has clarified the Framework Agreement is not the final peace accord.
Among those that signed the manifesto of support for the Framework Agreement during the peoples’ assembly here on Friday were the People’s Coalition for ARMM Reform and Transformation; Maguindanao Network of Organizations; Community Organizers Multiversity sa Mindanaw; Change Politics Movement-Maguindanao; Neo-Iranun Multi-Sector Association; Sindaw Ko Kalilintad; Alliance of Peace Advocates; Development Youth Movement Assembly in Mindanao; Kadtabang Foundation of Peace and Development Advocates, Inc.; Islamic Youth and Development in Mindanao; Alliance of Bangsamoro for Peace and Sustainable Development; Maharlika United Traditional for Peace and Development, Inc.; United Youth of the Philippines, Inc.; Bangsamoro Youth Association; Youth Development Management; Federation of United Mindanawan Bangsamoro Women; Central Mindanao Integrated Livelihood and Resources Development Foundation; Al-Eslah Association of the Philippines; United Professional for Development Initiatives; Kabalikat Civic Communicators Association, Inc. – Cotabato City Chapter; Sustainable Education and Enterprise Development Foundation in Mindanao; Lumad Development Center, Inc.; Notre Dame Educational Association; Reconciliation Center; Special Union of Pre-Amateur Radio Communicators Association; Bangsamoro Network and Development Center; Magungaya Mindanao; Mindanao Humanitarian Action and Development; and Al-Ihsan Foundation.
(Ferdinandh Cabrera, Bong S. Sarmiento and Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)