DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 March) – On Saturday, five days before the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), green flaglets welcoming the “Bangsamoro government” were selling for thirty pesos each in a shop along the national highway in Cotabato City.
By Sunday, pandala (pennants) made of MILF-green cloth attached to bamboo poles were seen along portions of Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao, along the highway to Davao City.
On Monday, green pandala as well as green streamers hailing the coming of the “Bangsamoro government” were visible along portions of the Cotabato-GenSan highway and even in portions of Midsayap, North Cotabato, along the highway linking it with Datu Piang in Maguindanao.
In Barangay Liong, Datu Piang also on Monday, MindaNews saw a farmer carrying a spool of green sewing thread and two meters of green cloth for the pandala they would put on the side of the road to celebrate the signing.
“Naubusan na daw ng green cloth dito,” (stores have run out of green cloth here), a grinning Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel told MindaNews in his office at the Bangsamoro Transition Commission in Cotabato City on Sunday evening.
Iqbal says the MILF has a delegation of “about 600” to the signing in Malacanang of the CAB.
The CAB, a culmination of the 17-year peace negotiations, was initialed in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, March 22 and its signing on March 27 comes 17 months and 12 days after the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).
“Unacceptable status quo”
Under the FAB, both parties agreed that “the status quo is unacceptable” and that they would work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the “Bangsamoro” which will have a ministerial form of government.
A 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC0 was also created to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law. The BTC, headed by MILF peace panel chair Iqbal, has committed to submit to President Aquino on March 31 the draft Basic Law. Once submitted to Congress, the President will certify the bill as urgent and when passed by Congress, will be subject for ratification by voters in the proposed Bangsamoro territory.
The proposed core territory of the Bangsamoro consists of the ARMM (Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan); the six Lanao del Norte towns that voted yes to inclusion in the ARMM in the 2001 plebiscite (Balo-I, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal), 39 out of 208 barangays in the six towns in North Cotabato that also voted yes to inclusion in 2001; the cities of Cotabato and Isabela; and “all other contiguous areas where there is a resolution of the local government unit or a petition of at least 10% of the qualified voters in the area asking for their inclusion at least two months prior to the conduct of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”
When ratified, the ARMM will be deemed abolished and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority takes over in preparation for the election in May 2016. The first set of elected set of officials is expected to be installed on June 30, 2016, the same day President Benigno Simeon Aquino bows out of office.
Iqbal recalled on Sunday that during the FAB signing at the jampacked Rizal Hall in Malacanang on October 15, 2012, the MILF delegation was around 250.
At the CAB signing at the Kalayaan Grounds at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Iqbal estimates the MILF delegation to be around 600. The delegation includes panel members, members of the MILF’s Central Committee, and field commanders.
Special flights on a supposed no-flight day on Wednesday, March 26 (Tuesdays to Thursdays, the Cotabato airport in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao is closed due to the widening of the runway project) have been arranged to ferry the MILF delegation from Maguindanao and Lanao through the Cotabato airport.
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process last week said at least a thousand guests have been invited to attend the signing, including Prime Minister Dato Sri Mohd Najib Bin Tun Hj Abdul Razak of Malaysia, whose country has been facilitating and hosting the peace talks since 2001.
Members of the Cabinet and the diplomatic corps are also expected there.
Will the “bakwits” be at the signing?
But will the “bakwits” (internally displaced persons or IDPs) – the residents who have had to evacuate several times because of the armed conflict – and indigenous peoples in the proposed Bangsamoro be represented at the signing?
Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) told MindaNews they requested Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles last Friday to give “10 slots for bakwits and ten slots for 10 ritual leaders” and was told by Deles that she will “look into it.”
Samira Usman of Suara Kalilintad, an organization of IDPs that led the “Bakwit Power” in 2003, said she hopes the IDPs of Buliok will also be able to witness the signing.
“We have been dreaming of this day to come. It would be fitting to allow us to witness this historic event,” Usman said.
Pastor Reu Montecillo of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte, where the “all-out war” was declared by then President Joseph Estrada on March 21, 2000, told MindaNews, “we are still waiting for Malacanang to extend invitation to the bakwits of Lanao who are the direct victims of the armed conflict between the military and the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.”
Fr. Roberto Layson, parish priest of Pikit, North Cotabato during the 1997, 2000 and 2003 wars, also said the “bakwits” should be represented in the signing. “Para sa kanila ito” (This is for them), said Layson, now parish priest of Datu Piang, Maguindanao
Deles told MindaNews at 8 a.m. Wednesday that “yes, may bakwit reps and IPs invited.”
As of 9 a.m. Arnado said they have yet to receive the invitation for the bakwits and IP leaders.
Peace train on track
“There is no turning back,” Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the government peace panel, said in a statement on March 25.
“On March 27 we will, we shall, sign the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. There is no turning back. Only moving decisively forward. The peace train is on track. Its design is complete. Most of its elements are in place,” she said.
Ferrer will make history in the world of peace negotiations as the first woman chief negotiator to sign a peace accord.
The CAB consists of what Ferrer describes as a “short five-page, 12 point text that will formalize the completion of the negotiations.”
Ferrer said the CAB “puts together all signed agreements: the FAB, the four Annexes and Addendum, also the very first, very important document, the Ceasefire Agreement of 1997; the Agreement on Peace signed in 2001 in Tripoli which laid down the agenda for the talks; the Declaration of Continuity of Negotiations in June 2010 which picked up the pieces from the failed MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain) of 2008, etc…”
The MOA-AD was initialed but its supposed signing on August 5, 2008 in Kuala Lumpur was aborted when the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) barring the government negotiators from signing the agreement.
MindaNews sources from both panels said the CAB has a listing of 12 agreements signed over the last 17 years and supplemental agreements that the parties committed to honor, respect and implement. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)