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Historic peace deal with MILF begins rough road to law and order


(Updated 6:56 p.m.) After 17 years of talking interrupted by fighting, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Thursday signed a "comprehensive" peace agreement expected to end the decades-long armed conflict in Mindanao.

But there is a rough road ahead, as conflicts in Mindanao are not confined to battles between the military and MILF rebels. The rebel movement will now have to transform itself into a governing force that can impose law and order on a wide range of organized violence before real peace can come to Mindanao.

During the outdoor ceremony attended by more than 1,000 guests in the Malacañang compound, government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF panel chair Mohagher Iqbal signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), with Malaysian "third party facilitator" Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed signing as witness.

The CAB will serve as the basis for the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which will formalize the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

In her speech, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles said the signing of the CAB signals the end of war in Mindanao.

"No more war, no more children scampering for safety, no more evacuees, no more lost school days or school months, no more injustice, no more misgovernance, no more poverty, no more fear. Tama na, we are all tired of it," she said.

"A new dawn has come, the dawn for books not bullets, for paintbrushes not knives, for whole communities not evacuation centers, and for rewarding toil not endless strife," she added. 

Such a view, however, seems to gloss over the serious challenges ahead. Just last August and September, a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that does not agree with the peace pact occupied and then burned entire neighborhoods in Zamboanga City, riveting the nation's attention. The New People's Army maintains roving squads of guerrillas in the region, not to mention various renegade armed groups, bandits, and families engaged in bloody rido, or vengeance wars.

The MILF will now have to become part of a regional government that can effectively police these diverse threats to lasting peace.

A "final peace agreement" in 1996 forged by the government with the MNLF was anything but final, as Thursday's signing of yet another peace pact with a Mindanao armed movement affirms.

Just four years after the 1996 peace deal, total war was declared by the Estrada administration on the MILF, plunging the region into another cycle of fighting and negotiation.

ARMM was a "failed experiment"

Aquino has called ARMM—established in 1989 through Republic Act 6734—a "failed experiment" because it supposedly "alienated" people and forced them to resort to violence. He said his administration wants to change what happened in the past with the new pact.

In 2001, RA 9054 was passed to amend RA 6734 and expand ARMM's territory as part of the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) with the MNLF, which in turn traces its roots to the 1976 Tripoli Agreement between the government and the Nur Misuari-led MNLF.

A faction of the MNLF loyal to Misuari, who founded the group, had opposed the peace deal between the government and the MILF, saying it effectively abrogated the 1996 agreement.  

The MILF is a splinter group of the MNLF.

But new MNLF chairman Datu HJ. Abul Khayr Alonto, who attended Thursday's event, threw his support behind the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity.

Under the agreement, the Bangsamoro political entity’s territory will cover the ARMM’s present geographical area, along with Cotabato City, Isabela City, and the municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal in Lanao del Norte.
 
A number of barangays from Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit and Midsayap towns in Cotabato whose residents agreed to be part of ARMM during a plebiscite in 2001 will also be part of Bangsamoro based on the framework agreement.

Read Bangsamoro peace deal: The road to 2016
 
The deal also states that adjacent areas can choose to form part of Bangsamoro’s territory via a resolution from their local governments, or a petition of at least 10 percent of all qualified voters in the area submitted two months before the ratification of the law creating the new political entity.

In his speech on Thursday, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim called the CAB the "crowning glory" of their struggle.  

But he said the MILF also "recognizes as a milestone" the 1996 FPA, although saying the FPA must not hinder them from securing a "far better" negotiated political settlement.  

He added that the Bangsamoro will "not be a government of the MILF but a government of the Bangsamoro."

"After all, the CAB is not only for the MILF, it is for the MNLF as well as much as it is for all the Muslim ethnic tribes, the Christian settlers and the indigenous peoples in the prospective Bangsamoro territories," he said.

"I would like to impress upon all of you that the MILF does not and will never claim sole ownership of the CAB," he added.?

Bangsamoro powers

Aside from creating the Bangsamoro, the peace deal also dictates terms on wealth sharing, power sharing, normalization, and transitional arrangements through its Annexes.

Under the agreement, the ministerial Bangsamoro government will have at least 58 exclusive powers including the power over ancestral domain and natural resources within its jurisdiction.

The government has also agreed to more favorable wealth-sharing terms for the Bangsamoro, with 75 percent of taxes collected in the territory and 75 percent of income from metallic minerals going to the Muslim-governed region.

The deal also outlines the steps for the return to civilian life of the armed wing of the MILF, and the disbandment of private armies in the proposed Bangsamoro area.

Presidential Communications Operations Office head Herminio Coloma Jr. said the peace deal is expected to bring lasting peace and progress in areas of Mindanao affected by the armed conflict.

“It will be fair to say that after three and a half years, this must be one of the most outstanding accomplishments of this administration. But it is not for us to claim credit because the administration simply served as the guide or facilitator," he said during a press conference on Thursday, hours before the signing of the agreement.

Congress expected to pass Bangsamoro Basic Law

Even though they are "momentarily overwhelmed" by "profound happiness," Murad said they are aware that the agreement will not implement itself.

"It requires the actions of both parties to give concrete forms to the intents and contents of the [CAB]. Only then would the agreement become credible and acceptable to all," he said.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose government served as a third-party facilitator in negotiations, asked both parties to work alongside each other to ensure the implementation of the pact. 

"It is our hope that the people of the Bangsamoro will work alongside the government of the Philippines and the MILF to ensure its success. This commitment to peace is binding. It must be honored and protected. All parties must stand by the spirit and letter of the agreement," he said in his speech during the event.

In his speech, President Benigno Aquino III said he empathizes with Bangsamoro people and even warned 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," he said.

"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—as we demonstrated in Zamboanga City," he added.

In the same manner, the President asked Congress for its cooperation and said that his 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," he said.

"If we sustain the momentum for peace, by 2016, 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," he added. — KBK/YA/JDS/HS, GMA News
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