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Hardened MILF fighters teary-eyed over initial peace pact signing

By: - Reporter / @NikkoDizonINQ
/ 08:12 PM October 15, 2012

A Filipino Muslim woman wipes her tears after hearing news of the signing of a preliminary peace pact between the government and the nation’s largest Muslim rebel group during a rally outside the gates of the Malacañang presidential palace in Manila on Monday, Oct. 15, 2012. AP PHOTO/AARON FAVILA

MANILA, Philippines—The sweet scent of the sampaguita leis that welcomed the guests to the Rizal Hall of Malacañang may well be the sweet scent of the road toward lasting peace in Central Mindanao.

Not a few members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), old and young alike, were misty-eyed following the signing of the peace agreement between their organization that had fought for self-determination and the Philippine government that had recognized their right to identity within one republic.

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Some wiped their eyes. Others raised their left hand and cheered as chief negotiators Mohagher Iqbal, for the MILF, and Marvic Leonen, for the government, affixed their signatures on the 13-page document, in a ceremony witnessed by President Benigno Aquino III, MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, the leader of the country that facilitated the talks.

More than 200 MILF members, all smartly dressed in dark suits and wearing their head gear called “kupya” sat to the President’s left and watched the ceremony intently.

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They sat at the edge of their seats to listen to President Aquino as he gave his speech and they nodded their heads in agreement after hearing their chairman, Murad Ebrahim, give tribute to their late leaders and fallen comrades—both from the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

“They have sacrificed their lives for Allah and the Bangsamoro,” Murad said, as he appealed to the MNLF to support the framework agreement.

Civil society leader Musa Sanguila, who stood with the MILF members, said he saw some of them wipe their tears as the framework agreement was being signed.

Sanguila, director of the Pakigdait Incorporated, which has been working on an interfaith grassroots peace-building in Mindanao, said that these MILF members invested so much “blood and tears” to get to this first step toward peace.

“But it’s still a long way to go. This is the first great leap forward,” Sanguila said.

Civil society’s next work, he said, would be to go back to the communities—to the grassroots—and deepen the explanation of the importance of the framework agreement to the people.

“Right now, this is at the level of President Aquino who recognized the Bangsamoro. On the ground, this is not yet so much understood that this is now Bangsamoro, it’s their identity,” Sanguila said.

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The Rizal Hall was “jampacked,” as described by Secretary Teresita Deles herself in her speech. Not a few government officials had to stand at the side after the hall ran out of seats.

There was anticipation, as much as a wait-and-see attitude, among some government leaders as to how the peace efforts would move forward following the signing of the framework agreement.

On Monday, however, the mood was celebratory—especially among the Muslim brothers and sisters.

“Success!” they greeted one another, as they shook hands and embraced, after the signing was over and long after all the dignitaries led by Aquino and Prime Minister Najib had left Rizal Hall.

Many lingered at the Rizal Hall to take pictures for posterity. Some MILF members, military officers, and women in their beautiful hijabs posed for pictures with presidential sister and celebrity Kris Aquino at the Rizal Hall after the event.

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TAGS: Moro Islamic Liberation Front, peace negotiations, peace process, Peace Talks, Philippine Government, Philippines
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