MANILA, Philippines – He won’t let peace be “snatched” from his people again but to ensure this President Benigno Aquino III is willing to use force, as in the case of the Zamboanga City siege.
“Those who want to test the resolve of the state will be met with a firm response based on righteousness and justice—as we demonstrated in Zamboanga City,” he said at the historic signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
The tone of Aquino’s speech ran against those of the others who limited their message on the inevitable end of armed conflict in Mindanao or the challenging but optimistic future.
He said it was his warning to those who want to derail the country’s path to a final and lasting peace.
“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,” Aquino said.
The President was referring to the violent clashes between the government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in September last year that left thousands of people displaced, many of which are still in evacuation centers.
On Thursday, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) finally signed the CAB, marking the culmination of the 17 years of peace negotiations between the two parties and the supposed end to decades of armed conflict in Mindanao.
The agreement will pave the way for a new Bangsamoro autonomous political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and will address various issues in the area such as poverty.
The following are highlights from the two-hour event held at Malacanang grounds:
No more war – Deles
While Aquino was ready to use force against enemies of peace, Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles became emotional as she looked forward to a country without conflict.
“No more war, no more children scampering for safety, no more evacuees, no more lost schooldays or school-months, no more injustice, no more misgovernance, no more poverty, no more fear and no more want. Tama na, we are all tired of it,” she said.
Deles, the presidential advisor on the peace process, painted a rosy picture of a tomorrow where “no family shall be forced to drive their children away for fear of their being maimed and wounded by conflict; and that no child has to cross a raging river and knock on a stranger’s door to beg for protection.”
Peace! Let’s celebrate, MILF tells MNLF
The MILF extended an olive branch to the MNLF whose members, especially those led by founder Nur Misuari, were said to have felt left out of the deal.
“The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro is not only for the MILF it is for the MNLF as well; As much as it is for all the ethnic tribes, the Christian settlers and the indigenous peoples in the prospective Bangsamoro government territory,” MILF chief Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said.
However, Murad said that while they recognize as a milestone the 1996 GRP –MNLF Final peace agreement, “Its inherent flaws, weaknesses…for the last 18 years must not hinder the MILF from securing for the Bangsamoro a far better negotiated political settlement of the Bangsamoro question.”
Murad said they are aware that the agreement will not be implemented automatically but will require the continued action of both the MILF and the Philippine government.
On the other hand, he said “the MILF does not and will never claim sole ownership to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.” He said they will only serve as gatekeepers, with the key handed over to the next leaders of the Bangsamoro, voted through democratic elections.
Malaysian PM visits PH to renew support
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak flew all the way to the Philippines amid the ongoing crisis in his country to witness the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro (CAB) and to extend support to Mindanao.
“Two years ago, I promised President Aquino that Malaysia will continue to assist with development. We are willing to help build institutions, strengthen education, improve agriculture. This promise stands for as long as it is needed. Malaysia remains a partner for peace and for development,” he said during the signing ceremony.
Malaysia is the third party facilitator to the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF.
Najib also personally thanked the Philippines for assisting in the search efforts for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.
As a country with a predominantly Muslim population, Najib said “Malaysia is honored to have played its part in this (peace) process.”
“We wish for nothing more than peace and prosperity for our brothers and sisters in Bangsamoro and in the Philippines. This peace process has strengthened the bond of trust between our countries,” he said.
Aquino’s warning to “spoilers”
The President recalled the country and his own journey to peace, from seeking audience with the MILF to the talks in Kuala Lumpur.
He said he was looking forward to 2016 when “the MILF will have shed its identity as a military force, and transformed itself into a political entity, casting its stake in democracy by vying for seats in the Bangsamoro elections.”
However, as Aquino anticipated the challenges of pushing through with the implementation of the peace pact, he also threatened to use the full force of the state against those who might spoil the peace process.
With a few strokes of a pen, the Philippines made history on Thursday after its government and the MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF panel chief Mohagher Iqbal led the signing of the five-page document that will pave the way for the Bangsamoro autonomous political entity in Mindanao.
Witnessed by Aquino, Najib and other personalities, the CAB signing marked the culmination of the 17 years of peace negotiations between the two parties and the supposed end to decades of armed conflict in Mindanao.