Muslim rebels drop separatist claims

Published by rudy Date posted on October 7, 2012

The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have agreed on a framework agreement that would pave the way for a “final enduring peace” in Mindanao that would end the cycle of violence and poverty in that region, President Aquino announced on Sunday.

The agreement, said the President, “brings all former secessionist groups into the fold; no longer does the Moro Islamic Liberation Front aspire for a separate state.”

Following the announcement of the agreement, business groups said a flood of investments in Mindanao, not just in agriculture but also in food processsing, can be expected once the agreement is in effect. “Once we’ve attained peace in Mindanao, we will be opening the gates to a virgin area for agriculture and manufacturing, they said. Right now, investors are afraid to go to Mindanao, which is why it remains as a vastly untapped area for business,” Jesus L. Arranza, chairman of the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI), said.

Arranza, also the president and CEO of CIIF-Oil Mills Group, said Mindanao, with its favorable climate, is the best place to host the country’s palm industry.

Sergio Ortiz-Luis, president of the Philippine Exporters Confederation, said the apprehension of investors toward Mindanao is the reason the island remained an agricultural area.

But this will change once peace is achieved in the area, he said. And the effect will be felt throughout the country in terms of improved tourism prospects.

“The problem in Mindanao is affecting the country’s tourism industry because any negative news coming from Mindanao is hurting the entire country’s perception. Definitely, peace in Mindanao will be a big push to our competitiveness,” Ortiz-Luis said.

For purposes of transparency, the President said in a statement he read at Malacañang’s Ceremonial Hall, the agreement would be posted on government portals and in periodicals before its signing on October 15.

Mr. Aquino, with his entire Cabinet behind him, said his administration is prescribing “structural change” in Mindanao to succeed where previous administrations had failed in transforming the region, even with the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which had proven to be a “failed experiment.”

The President said under the agreement, a new political entity aptly called the “Bangsamoro” will be created by law—to be drafted by a “transition commission”—consistent with the Constitution and with the principle that “sovereignty resides in the people.”

“[The law] will go through the full process of legislation in Congress. My administration has pledged to supporting a law that will truly embody the values and aspirations of the people of Bangsamoro. Any proposed law resulting from this framework will be subject to ratification through a plebiscite. Once approved, there will be elections,” he said.

The President said the agreement “means that the hands that once held rifles will be put to use tilling land, selling produce, manning work stations and opening doorways of opportunity for other citizens.”

Mr. Aquino said under the agreement, the national government “will continue to exercise exclusive powers of defense and security, foreign policy, monetary policy and coinage, citizenship and naturalization.”

“The Constitution and lawful processes shall govern the transition to the Bangsamoro, and this agreement will ensure that the Philippines remains one nation and one people, with all of our diverse cultures and narratives seeking the common goal,” he said.

Chief Peace Adviser Teresita Deles said the signing of the framework agreement in Malacañang would be witnessed by Mr. Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, among others.

“As a result, we have rectified the errors of the past, and installed mechanisms to make sure they do not recur,” Mr. Aquino said, apparently referring to the botched memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD) under the previous administration, which was later deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II said unlike the framework agreement, the MOA-AD was an “imposition” and did not involve public consultation, among others.

Mr. Aquino said the agreement would usher in the “structural reform” needed to end the cycle of violence and poverty and the culture of “impunity and injustice” in Mindanao, which had fueled the secessionist movement there.
He said much more needed to be done, as “there are still details that both sides must hammer out” on the final peace pact.

Deles said they expected “some resistance” to the peace agreement but the government is confident that the agreement is something that it “can implement.”

She said the first challenge facing the agreement is the drafting and passage of the law creating the Bangsamoro. Deles said the Bangsamoro will cover the existing ARMM, “plus a few areas contiguous to the area that had previously voted to be part of the autonomous region,” namely, the six municipalities in the province of Lanao del Norte, barangays in six municipalities in North Cotabato, and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela in Basilan.

The people of these areas will be asked in a plebiscite whether they favor their inclusion in the Bangsamoro. The five ARMM provinces are Basilan (except the city of Isabela), Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Maguindanao.

Deles said the framework agreement would provide for the “phased and calibrated” decommissioning of MILF forces.

Mr. Aquino apparently won the trust of MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad when he sought a meeting with him in Tokyo, Japan, in August last year, to discuss ways to bolster the peace process.

When asked, Roxas said the administration finally clinched a peace deal with the MILF—a process initiated during the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos—because of the “sincerity” shown by the President in pursuing the peace process. –(Mia M. Gonzalez / Reporter, with Max V. de Leon, Businessmirror)

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