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Sunday, March 30, 2014

‘A shared victory’: Peace won’t be snatched away – Noy

By Aurea Calica and Delon Porcalla 
The Philippine Star
President Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak look on as peace panel heads Mohagher Iqbal and Miriam Coronel-Ferrer shake hands following the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro at Malacañang yesterday. Also in photo are MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, facilitator Tengku Dato Abdul Ghafar and presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Quintos-Deles.
President Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak look on as peace panel heads Mohagher Iqbal and Miriam Coronel-Ferrer shake hands following the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro at Malacañang yesterday. Also in photo are MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, facilitator Tengku Dato Abdul Ghafar and presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Quintos-Deles.
MANILA, Philippines – After 17 years of an often bloody struggle, the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) yesterday signed a comprehensive agreement for lasting peace in Mindanao.
“Today, we celebrate the shared victory of the Filipino and Bangsamoro people. This is a fitting solution to the undying aspiration of the Bangsamoro,” MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said as he expressed gratification for the peace pact.
President Aquino said the peace agreement could only be sustained through vigilance and perseverance.
He shared his vision for Mindanao as the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was signed between the government and the MILF as a vanguard against the spread of extremism and to help foster an economic gateway in the Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN).
He rallied people to remain vigilant and do their part in making sure these dreams for the Land of Promise would happen.
“What is being presented before us now is a path that can lead to a permanent change in the status quo in Muslim Mindanao. But as with all change, its success depends on our continuous vigilance. We must admit that there are those who will champion the status quo to preserve themselves in positions of power and wealth. Maintaining this requires holding back the majority, for any sign of individual or collective advancement is a threat,” Aquino said.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak – who left Kuala Lumpur to witness yesterday’s signing of the peace agreement – assured the Philippine government of their continued help in achieving peace.
“This promise stands, for as long as it is needed. Malaysia remains a partner for peace and development,” Najib said.
He said that four decades of armed conflict in Mindanao only “robbed a generation of healthcare, of education, of income.”
“This peace process has strengthened the bond of trust between our countries. As we look ahead to a brighter future for Bangsamoro, I pledge Malaysia’s continued support,” Najib said.
Amid the festive atmosphere during the signing of the agreement at the sprawling Kalayaan grounds in Malacañang Palace, attended by more than a thousand people from different parts of the world, Aquino laid down in his speech the work ahead without downplaying what had been achieved so far.
The majority deserves the chance to improve their lot in life, Aquino said, and urged everyone not to miss this bandwagon for peace and prosperity again.
“To those who will not join us, I ask: Are you really that confident that we will have another singular opportunity like the one we have today? Do you really think that the confluence of factors such that exists today will happen again – when the Filipino people and their government are committed to redressing a historic injustice; where the international community has thrown its full support behind the achievement of peace; and when we have already fixed an electoral system that was designed to subvert the sovereign will of the people?” Aquino said.
“May this also stand as a warning to those who wish to derail our path to a final, lasting peace, those who wish to sow divisiveness for self-interest, and those who continue to wield arms to pursue their own agendas: So many people have suffered for so long; so many of our stakeholders have worked so hard to arrive at this point. I will not let peace be snatched from my people again. Not now, when we have already undertaken the most difficult and most significant steps to achieve it. Those who want to test the resolve of the state will be met with a firm response based on righteousness and justice,” Aquino said.
‘Bridge of moderation’
Aquino shared his gratefulness with the Filipinos and the international community during the historic occasion, stressing that there would be no true peace and development in the country without Mindanao experiencing these.
If the momentum for peace is sustained, Aquino said the MILF would have shed its identity as a military force by 2016 and transformed itself into a political entity, casting its stake in democracy by vying for seats in the Bangsamoro elections.
“The Bangsamoro shall form a perimeter of vigilance against the spread of extremism; it shall act as a bridge of moderation among the great faiths of the various constituencies in ASEAN. From this shared security, we shall enhance the era of prosperity that is dawning upon our region, and harness its energies towards creating a regime of opportunity and inclusivity where no one is left behind,” Aquino said.
“As the Bangsamoro matures, it shall serve as the gateway to trade, investment and cultural exchanges within the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area and its environs – igniting a virtuous cycle of security, development and equitable progress for the peoples of the entire region. This is our vision for the Bangsamoro,” the President said.
And just as the agreement signed did not appear out of thin air, Aquino said so too would the next steps have to involve the same trust and long-term thinking that brought the Philippines to this shared triumph.
Role of Congress
At this point, Aquino said the Bangsamoro Transition Commission was hard at work drafting a Bangsamoro Basic Law that would be equitable, practical and empowering, and serve the interests of the entire nation.
“It is a law that will have to pass my personal muster as a President pledged to do justice to all, before it is submitted to Congress. My administration will go all out to forge a principled consensus for enduring security and prosperity; I expect the deliberations in Congress to be characterized by a sincere desire to improve on the Bangsamoro Basic Law – and not by self-interest that only aims to perpetuate an untenable status quo,” Aquino said.
He said the mission now was to draft and pass this law so that it would be presented to the people for ratification in a plebiscite.
The goal is to have the Bangsamoro Transition Authority in place by 2015, when it will serve as the interim Bangsamoro government until the elections in 2016, Aquino said.
“In this manner, the people themselves will turn the tide of strife into an era of peace and equitable progress; they themselves will prove that the democratic space is vast enough to address every Filipino’s grievances and concerns,” Aquino said.
The leadership of the Senate has given assurance that the Bangsamoro Basic Law bill would be given the utmost priority in its legislative agenda once it is submitted to the chamber for approval.
Senate President Franklin Drilon called on his colleagues to take an active role in the crafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law by participating in the debates and making sure that all bases are covered in the final version.
“We cannot afford to err on this most sought after piece of legislation, if we truly want to secure this peace in Mindanao which we have now realized after decades of hostilities,” he said.
‘Crowning glory’
Murad, for his part, said the CAB was the “crowning glory” of their 40-year struggle to seek independence in Mindanao.
“This is the crowning glory of our struggle,” the veteran Muslim rebel leader said.
Murad also assured other factions among Muslim rebels in Mindanao that the MILF will not claim sole credit or monopoly over the historic peace agreement, saying it belongs to all Bangsamoro people.
“MILF will not and never claim sole ownership of the Bangsamoro. It will not be a government of MILF but a government of the Bangsamoro people,” Murad said.
He said the MILF are merely “gatekeepers” of the pact.
Their only interest is the full implementation of the reforms that the Aquino administration has promised.
MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar said the signing of CAB signifies a new beginning for the partnership between the government and the MILF that will create the Bangsamoro government.
Jaafar has been at the forefront of the Bangsamoro struggle and was among those who were in the early stages of the peace negotiation in 1997.
Jaafar said he could not hide his happiness when he woke up yesterday to a “new morning” with the thought of the signing of the CAB later in the afternoon.
War weary
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles also verbalized what people were possibly thinking about the Mindanao conflict all this time: “Enough. We are all tired of it.” – Pia Lee-Brago, Marvin Sy, Edith Regalado

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