Senators welcome Bangsamoro peace accord but…
MANILA, Philippines—Senators from both the administration and the opposition coalitions welcomed Thursday the signing of a final peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro is to be followed by the submission to Congress of a proposed basic law that would create a new autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao, which President Aquino wants passed this year. But Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said that would take a miracle to happen.
Supporters of the peace agreement, including the business community, have urged Congress to act swiftly and pass the proposed Bangsamoro charter.
Cayetano said that was the objective of Congress, but added that it is “complicated” legislation that needs to be examined thoroughly.
“What I can assure the Bangsamoro people is that this will be prioritized in the Senate,” Cayetano said.
“Now, I cannot assure them that all the provisions in the annexes will be favored by the Senate, because we have to examine all of these,” he told reporters.
“You may call it a miracle if we pass it by the end of the year, but we will attempt to do it. We will give it utmost authority,” he said.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said the senators and the members of the House of Representatives needed to ensure that the law will stand scrutiny if questioned in the Supreme Court.
“We cannot afford to err on this most-sought piece of legislation, if we truly want to secure peace in Mindanao, which we have now realized after decades of hostilities,” Drilon said in a statement.
“It is therefore incumbent upon us to make sure that the efforts exerted by both panels will not be in vain, by ensuring that the Bangsamoro law falls within the four corners of the Constitution, and that it can withstand judicial scrutiny,” he said.
Closer to peace
“It is our common dream to see a truly strong and united country that realizes the aspirations of our Muslim brethren in Mindanao and the nation as a whole,” administration Sen. Grace Poe said in a statement.
“We are hopeful that this initial step will bring us closer to our long-awaited peace and stability, leading to progress in this important region,” she added.
Poe, nonetheless, said there remains a need for “unwavering efforts of our people and our leaders to achieve our desired gains.”
“We must guarantee a meaningful autonomy that values democracy and takes into consideration the needs and aspirations of the Bangsamoro people under one sovereign Filipino nation,” she said.
Sen. Loren Legarda sees “greater national prosperity” with peace in Mindanao.
“A peaceful and productive coexistence with our Muslim brethren can help promote and facilitate social and economic inclusion that will help guarantee a better future for all Filipinos,” said Legarda, a member of the Senate majority.
New era in politics
Opposition Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said the signing of the peace agreement “definitely marks a new era in Philippine politics,” but indicated that much still needs to be done to make sure peace will last in Mindanao.
“[T]here is still a long way ahead of us toward the creation of the Bangsamoro,” Estrada said. “There is a need for Congress to pass the proposed Bangsamoro basic law and for the people to approve the same through a plebiscite. Nevertheless, I look forward to witnessing the birth of a new Mindanao at the end of it.”
Administration Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said the agreement was “one of the greatest accomplishments President Aquino will leave behind.”
“Hopefully, this would put an end to the decades-old civil war—a war that brought incalculable human cost including displacement of thousands of families and the loss of economic opportunities,” Angara said in a statement.
“Both parties should make sure that the peace process is as inclusive as possible. Any kind of peace, for it to be lasting, has to be inclusive,” Angara added.
Sen. Nancy Binay, the daughter of opposition leader Vice President Jejomar Binay, said peace in Mindanao meant saving “many lives.”
“Peace in Mindanao also means saving the future of the people—Christian, Muslim and lumad—from the cycles of strife and displacement,” Binay said in a statement.
“Fresh optimism and hope is in the air, especially here in the Senate. Congress will prioritize the proposed Bangsamoro basic law and is ready to answer the call of the Filipino people to end the war and for genuine progress to take root on the island,” she added.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, a former junior officer in the Philippine Navy, also welcomed the peace agreement, though “with guarded optimism.”
“[We] are, of course, happy because this is a breakthrough in the peace process that we have had for the past decade and we are very hopeful that this will lead to something lasting,” he said.
“However, we say guarded because the process is still long. We need to scrutinize the actual agreement because, to be honest, we have yet to see the details, what’s written in the agreement,” Trillanes added.
Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat said the Bangsamoro Transition Committee should begin discussions with Congress to ensure swift passage of the Bangsamoro basic law.
The discussions can be used to iron out issues concerning the basic law before it is submitted to Congress for approval, leaving few obstacles to hurdle, he said.
Baguilat said he wanted to know whether the proposed basic law included protection for the environment and for the indigenous peoples’ right to their ancestral domains.
He hailed the signing of the peace accord, saying the country stands to gain much from it.
“The peace pact seeks to rectify historical injustice and addresses the roots of the rebellion in the South. If this succeeds, peace and development will not only come to Mindanao but also to the entire country,” Baquilat said.
Okay with UK
British Ambassador to the Philippines Asif Ahmad also welcomed the signing of the peace agreement.
“The presence and support of Christian, lumad and Muslim representatives from Mindanao as well as senators, congressmen, civil society and the international community and the media, all underscored the significance of this historic peace agreement,” Ahmad said in a statement.
“The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro is a truly Filipino solution to the conflict that will not just bring benefit to Mindanao but to the country as a whole and of which all Filipinos can be proud,” he said.
“It is moments like these that diplomats strive for and few have the privilege of being a part of a moment of history. I applaud everyone, including colleagues from the UK who have made a contribution to peace,” he said.
The Catholic Church, too, was glad that the peace process with the MILF has reached the point of agreement to end the conflict in Mindanao.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We pray that this first courageous breakthrough will be followed by more steps leading to true and lasting peace in Mindanao,” Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said in a statement.
Villegas, however, appealed to the government peace panel to continue broad “consultations and honest, open and trusting dialogue” with other communities in Mindanao, especially those who feel marginalized and ignored like the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
“It is important for peace to be sustainable that it be inclusive and all-embracing. The strength of the [signed] agreement lies in its willingness to reach out to everyone, including those who are antagonistic to it. A continuing dialogue will strengthen our peace even more,” Villegas said.—With reports from Ben Arnold O. de Vera and Tina G. Santos
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