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Give peace a chance

Stakeholders called upon to support framework Presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles on Sunday urged everyone to support a framework agreement that the government will sign with the Muslim rebels today, saying it was aimed at ending decades of warfare in Mindanao. “We already experienced wars before and look what it did to Mindanao and the rest of the country. With peace in Mindanao, we will have books instead of bullets for out children, development instead of stagnation and a better future for our people,” she said. Deles also said the government had reached out to Moro National Liberation Front leader Nur Misuari, who had rejected the framework agreement as a violation of his group’s own peace treaty with the government in 1976. Presidential spokewoman Abigail Valte said the signing of the peace deal would give Filipinos a chance to end decades of conflict. “Let’s give peace a chance,” she said, a view shared by Deles, Senator Loren Legarda and other stakeholders. In an interview over radio dzBB, Deles also said some officials of the MNLF already agreed with the government on the need to create a new Bangsamoro political entity to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. “They agree with the process. We have been telling them that the MNLF will be acknowledged in the process,” Deles said. “We hope that Nur Misuari will see that what Bangsamoro aims for is peace.” In Zamboanga City, Misuari assured Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan that the MNLF would not go to war even though it opposed the framework agreement with the MILF. “I was misunderstood. What I said was the framework might be a recipe for a crisis, which may include war,” Misuari said during a meeting with Tan who sought him out on Saturday amid worries that war would break out in Sulu province, the traditional center of power of the MNLF. “If I want hostilities to resume, why would I announce it? A person who understands war knows that the element of surprise is very important; I would have kept silent if that was what my intention was,” Tan quoted Misuari as saying. After the signing of the framework agreement today, Mr. Aquino will issue an executive order creating a transition commission that will draft a bill to create the new autonomous Bangsamoro political entity, Deles said. The President would certify the bill as urgent so that the new autonomous region would be established before the 2016 elections. Deles said the commission would have until 2015 to finish the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which will still need to be ratified through a plebiscite. Under the framework deal, the Bangsamoro will have the areas within the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao as its core territory. It will also cover the municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal in the province of Lanao del Norte and all other barangays in the municipalities of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit, and Midsayap that voted for inclusion in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite; and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela. All other contiguous areas where there is a resolution of the local government unit or a petition of at least 10 percent of the qualified voters asking for their inclusion at least two months prior to the conduct of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law may also be included. Also on Sunday, Senator Panfilo Lacson expressed misgivings over the creation of another police force under the Bangsamoro state. Lacson said he was worried that the new police force might not acknowledge that the President is their commander-in-chief and act on their own. He also noted that while the MILF was supposed to surrender its firearms, these would likely be used by their own police force. Lacson also reiterated concerns that other splinter groups would emerge and reignite the war in Mindanao, much as the MILF did when it split from the MNLF. Senator Loren Legarda expressed the hope that today’s agreement would bring the long-elusive peace in Mindanao. She added that massive challenges remained, however. “Mindanao is home to six of the 10 poorest provinces and 17 of the 20 poorest municipalities in the country. Armed conflicts since the 1970s have cost at least 120,000 lives and in 2000-2001 alone, 985,412 persons have been displaced. The World Bank estimates that investment deflection not only from conflict-afflicted areas but from Mindanao as a whole increased the economic cost of the Mindanao conflict to more than $10 billion during the years 1975–2002,” she said. Against this backdrop, all Filipinos should welcome the opportunity for peace and prosperity, she said. The Bangsa Moro Solidarity Movement based in Metro Manila supported the framework agreement. “Who would not want peace? We, Muslims, want to lead a peaceful life. We hope the peace talk is a step forward to achieve peace which is our goal and that of the Philippine government,” said Charlie Lais, secretary general of the group. “We expect a fair and equitable share of taxation and revenues,” Lais said. In a separate telephone interview, Fatima Kanakan, executive director of the ARMM-Office for Southern Cultural Communities, said her group would support the “landmark agreement” to create a Bangsamoro entity. “This is the product of a protracted struggle to be recognized,” she said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta
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