From Abdul Muin Abdul Majid
MANILA, (March 27) — The Philippine government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Thursday opened a new chapter in a book previously marked with hostility and mistrust as they came together to sign the landmark Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that provides for a negotiated political settlement for Mindanao.
The historic signing of the Malaysia-brokered peace accord took place in the grounds of the Malacanang Palace in the presence of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
The peace talks with MILF, which began in 1997, were aimed at ending an insurgency in the country’s south that has claimed over 100,000 lives since the 1970s.
Malaysia acted as the third-party facilitator in the peace process, with Kuala Lumpur coming on board in 2001.
The GPH-MILF peace agreement seeks the creation of the self-governing political entity called Bangsamoro that will have greater political and economic powers. The new entity will replace the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao in accordance with the Bangsamoro Basic Law to be passed by the Philippine Congress and ratified by the affected populace.
Hailing the signing of the pact, Najib said Malaysia would continue to assist Bangsamoro’s development in building institutions, strengthen education, and improve agriculture.
“Two years ago, I promised to President Aquino that Malaysia would continue to assist with development. This promise stands, for as long as it is needed.
Malaysia remains a partner for peace.
Najib said Malaysia was honoured to have played its part in the Philippine-MILF peace process which has strengthened the bond of trust between Malaysia and GPH.
“We wish for nothing more than peace and prosperity for our brothers and sisters in Bangsamoro and the Philippines.
“As we look ahead to a brighter future for Bangsamoro, I pledge Malaysia’s continued support. We will remain in our role as the third-party facilitator and will continue working through the International Monitoring Team in Mindanao,” he said.
Najib was confident that GPH would continue to work with the MILF in drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law as the support of all parties would be crucial if the law is to be passed by the Philippine Congress and a plebiscite in Bangsamoro.
He said the landmark CAB secured the rights of the Bangsamoro people and the sovereignty of the Philippines.
“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.
Najib urged all parties to stand by the spirit and letter of the agreement to ensure respect for religion and live by the principle of non-violence.
“We should protect human rights, embrace the rule of law and practise moderation. Only through a negotiated settlement can lasting peace be achieved. And only good governance can secure the ambition we all share: a strong and prosperous Bangsamoro,” he said.
Najib described the signing of the agreement as a momentous act of courage and that it would change their nation’s history.
“By engaging in the peace process, the MILF have repaid the trust placed in them by the people. By negotiating in good faith, the government of the Philippines has affirmed the rights of the Bangsamoro to determine their own destiny.
“Unity cannot be decreed overnight. After so many years, there are no easy shortcuts. Much work remains, and there will be setbacks along the way. But the commitment to peace – the commitment I see in this room today – must not waver,” he said.
Najib paid tribute to the extraordinary efforts which have made the agreement possible, where both sides gave their all to ensure the people of Bangsamoro enjoyed boundless dividends of peace.
Meanwhile, Najib also expressed his gratitude for the support of the neighbouring countries, including the Philippines, in the continuing search a Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight, MH370, which went missing of March 8.
“The loss of 239 people on board Flight MH370 has been devastating…at this difficult time, we draw strength from the compassionate response of our fellow nations,” he said.
Aquino, in his remarks, said the Filipino people would forever be indebted to Malaysia, and added that Malaysia’s presence had illuminated every step of the peace agreement.
While expressing his appreciation to all countries involved in making the peace agreement a reality, he said Malaysia under the leadership of Najib had nonetheless played a significant role.
“Together, we have set an example for the entire world. This agreement stands as testament to how far trust and earnestness can move the humanity forward.
“It shows how righteousness, goodwill are the mightiest instruments in ending conflict, it proved that the search for common ground is indefinitely more productive,” he said.
Aquino said the Bangsamoro Transition Authority should be in place by 2015 to serve as the interim government until the 2016 election.
The historic 12-point CAB document was signed by MILF peace panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal on behalf of MILF and head of the Philippine government’s peace panel, Miriam Coronel-Ferel, for the Philippine Government.
The signing was witnessed by Najib and Aquino. — BERNAMA