BANGSAMORO IS NEAR: GOVT, MILF REACHED PRELIMINARY PEACE AGREEMENT


[PHOTO -Philippine President Benigno Aquino III]

MANILA, OCTOBER 8, 2012 (INQUIRER) By Jim Gomez Associated Press - Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said Sunday that his government has reached a preliminary peace agreement with the nation’s largest Muslim rebel group in a major breakthrough toward ending a decades-long insurgency in the country’s south.

Aquino described the deal in a nationally televised announcement as a “framework agreement” — a road map for establishing a new autonomous region to be administered by minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation’s south. It follows marathon negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Malaysia, which is brokering the talks.

The agreement is expected to be signed in a few days in the capital, Manila, officials said. It spells out the general principles on major issues, including the extent of power, revenues and territory of the Muslim region. If all goes well, a final peace deal could be reached by 2016, when Aquino’s six-year term ends, according to the officials.

“This framework agreement paves the way for final and enduring peace in Mindanao,” Aquino said, referring to the Philippines’ main southern region and the homeland of the country’s Muslims.

“This 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.”

He cautioned, however, that “the work does not end here.”

“There are still details both sides must thresh out,” he said.

The deal marks the most significant progress in 15 years of negotiations with the 11,000-strong Moro group on ending an uprising that has left more than 120,000 people dead and held back development in the south. Western governments have long worried that rebel strongholds could become breeding grounds for al-Qaida-affiliated extremists.

“The parties agree that the status quo is unacceptable,” said the 13-page agreement, seen by The Associated Press. It calls for the creation of a new Muslim autonomous region called the “Bangsamoro” to replace an existing one, which was created in 1989 and that Aquino characterized Sunday as “failed experiment.”

The accord calls for the establishment of a 15-member “Transition Commission” that would thresh out the details of the preliminary agreement and draft a law creating the new Muslim autonomous region in about two years.

The rebels would undertake a “graduated program” to decommission their armed guerrilla units “so that they are put beyond use,” the agreement said, without specifying a timetable.

Philippine officials said the preliminary accord would be posted on the government’s website for public scrutiny and signed soon in the Philippine capital in the presence of Aquino, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Moro rebel chief Al Haj Murad Ibrahim.

FROM THE PHILSTAR

Government, MILF forge Bangsamoro deal By Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) Updated October 08, 2012 12:00 AMComments (0)

[Photo taken on July 7, 2012 shows a gathering of Moro Islamic Liberation Front members and supporters in Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao. The gathering was organized to update and consult MILF rebels and followers on developments in the peace talks. AP]

MANILA, Philippines - The government has reached a preliminary peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with a new political entity called Bangsamoro to be created.

The deal was seen as a major breakthrough in ending a decades-long separatist insurgency in Mindanao.

President Aquino yesterday described the deal in a nationally televised announcement as a “framework agreement” to help jumpstart development efforts in the resource-rich region.

“We have been waiting for this for many long years,” MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar said of the road map for establishing a new autonomous region in Mindanao to be administered by minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

“The Bangsamoros are happy. Even the non-Bangsamoros in Mindanao should be happy because finally, the Bangsamoro issue will be addressed and the Mindanao conflict will be resolved,” he added.

It was not clear how the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which signed a separate agreement with the government in 1996, would react to the preliminary peace deal.

In the deal, MILF fighters will give up their weapons as soon as a final deal is reached. The agreement follows marathon negotiations between the government and the MILF in Malaysia, which is brokering the talks.

The agreement is set for signing on Oct. 16 in Manila, officials said. It spells out the general principles on major issues, including the extent of power, revenues and territory of the Muslim region. If all goes well, a final peace deal could be reached by 2016, when Aquino's six-year term ends, according to officials.

“This framework agreement paves the way for final and enduring peace in Mindanao,” Aquino said. “This 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,” he said. He cautioned, however, that “the work does not end here” since “there are still details both sides must thresh out.”

The deal marks the most significant progress in 15 years of negotiations with the 11,000-strong MILF on ending an uprising that has left more than 120,000 people dead and held back development in Mindanao. Western governments have long worried that rebel strongholds could become breeding grounds for al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists.

“The parties agree that the status quo is unacceptable,” said the 13-page agreement, seen by AP. It calls for the creation of a new Muslim autonomous region called the “Bangsamoro” to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which was created in 1989 and which Aquino characterized yesterday as a “failed experiment.”

“This agreement creates a new political entity and it deserves a name that symbolizes and honors the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao and celebrates the history and character of that part of our nation. That name will be Bangsamoro,” Aquino said. “It brings all former secessionist groups into the fold; no longer does the Moro Islamic Liberation Front aspire for a separate state.”

The accord calls for the establishment of a 15-member “Transition Commission” that would thresh out the details of the preliminary agreement and draft a law creating the new Muslim autonomous region in about two years. ARMM covers Basilan (except Isabela), Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

The rebels would undertake a “graduated program” to decommission their armed guerrilla units “so that they are put beyond use,” the agreement said, without specifying a timetable.

“This framework agreement is about rising above our prejudices. It is about casting aside the distrust and myopia that has the plagued efforts of the past,” Aquino said in his television announcement, surrounded by his Cabinet officials and at least two political allies – senators Franklin Drilon and Teofisto Guingona III. Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras and Education Secretary Armin Luistro were not present when Aquino made the announcement.

Transparent

Officials said the preliminary accord would be posted on the government's website for public scrutiny and signed in Manila in the presence of Aquino, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and MILF chief Al Haj Murad Ibrahim.

“In the next few days, the basic principles and outline of the agreement will be published in various periodicals; the Official Gazette of our government will post the agreement in full,” he disclosed, calling on everyone to join the “public discourse.”

“Everything will be disclosed; we have no desire to keep secrets. To the best of our ability, we have examined these agreements; we believe we have reached balance and common ground,” Aquino added.

“As a result, we have rectified the errors of the past, and installed mechanisms to make sure they do not recur,” he stressed.

“It's been a long journey and this is an important milestone in our search for lasting peace,” presidential peace talks adviser Teresita Deles said. The draft agreement, she said, “shows a very clear map toward the end point of a political settlement.”

The new Muslim region will be built upon an existing autonomous territory under ARMM, among the country's poorest and most violent, which includes more than four million people living in five provinces, two cities, 113 towns and 2,470 villages.

The new autonomous region, under the deal, will comprise six municipalities in Lanao del Norte, six municipalities in North Cotabato, and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela in Basilan, Deles said. She said the southern part of Palawan is not included in the new political entity. She declined to elaborate, saying it’s chief peace negotiator Marvic Leonen who could give further details.

The Muslim area will gain more political and economic powers, including imposition of taxes to cut central government subsidies, a bigger share in revenues from natural resources and a more active role in internal security.

The deal comes as the Philippines defies its reputation as an economic laggard with strong growth and a resurgence in investor interest.

The Moro rebels had earlier dropped a demand for a separate Muslim state and renounced terrorism.

Their negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal, earlier said his group would not lay down weapons until a final peace accord is concluded. He added that insurgents could form a political party and run in democratic elections to get a chance at leading the autonomous region for which they have been fighting.

Opportunities

After four decades of conflict and nearly 15 years of violence-interrupted talks, the MILF leaders are ageing and, analysts say, eager to see some fruit from the years of peace negotiations.

The leadership may also be motivated by the prospect of royalties from huge untapped deposits of oil, gas and mineral resources in rebel areas, part of an estimated total of $312 billion in mineral wealth in Mindanao. France's Total has partnered with Malaysia's Mitra Energy Ltd. to explore oil and gas fields in the Sulu Sea off Mindanao.

Despite the new accord, Leonen called for “guarded optimism” during last week's negotiations in Kuala Lumpur, saying both sides still face the enormous task of threshing out details. And the challenges are many.

In 2008, the planned signing of a similar preliminary pact – the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOAAD) – was scuttled when opponents went to the Supreme Court, which declared the agreement unconstitutional. Fighting erupted when three rebel commanders attacked Christian communities, and an ensuing military offensive killed more than 100 people and displaced about 750,000 villagers before a ceasefire ended the violence.

One of the hard-line rebel commanders, Ameril Umbra Kato, broke off from the MILF last year and formed a new group called Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, which was demanding a separate Islamic state. Kato's forces launched attacks on several army camps and outposts in August, prompting another army offensive that killed more than 50 fighters of the 200-strong rebel faction.

Jaafar said there is no point comparing the new framework agreement with the botched MOAAD. The aborted deal would have included large areas of Palawan and Christian-dominated areas in North Cotabato and Zamboanga City.

“What is important is we now have a solution to our problem. The point of comparison is not important. What is important is this has been accepted by a majority of the Bangsamoros,” Jaafar said.

“Now, there is a solution already to the Bangsamoro issue but let’s hope, that finally, a final agreement will be signed,” he said.

The MILF itself broke away in the 1980s from the MNLF, which signed a 1996 autonomy deal with the government. That peace accord did not lead to the group's disarmament and many of the rebels have simply laid low in Mindanao, still demanding that the government fulfill its commitments, including jobs, security and economic development.

Some former guerrillas also formed a small but brutal al-Qaeda-linked group called the Abu Sayyaf, which became notorious for bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings until US-backed military offensives routed many of its militants. They are mostly based in Sulu and Basilan, where about 400 gunmen remain. AP, Alexis Romero

FROM MALAYA PHILIPPINE BUSINESS INSIGHTS

Bangsamoro’ is shaping up: Agreement reached with MILF; details to be worked out Details Published on Monday, 08 October 2012 00:00 Written by JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR AND VICTOR REYES . By A Web design Company


[PHOTO -‘Bangsamoro’ is near. President Aquino announces an agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to create a new political entity called “Bangsamoro.” The President said the national government will continue to exercise exclusive powers of defense and security, foreign policy, monetary policy and coinage, citizenship, and naturalization. The President added that consistent with the Constitution, a basic law will be drafted by a transition commission and will go through the full process of legislation in Congress, and any proposed law resulting from this framework will be subject to ratification through a plebiscite.]

GOVERNMENT and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have agreed to the creation of the “Bangsamoro,” a political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, President Aquino announced yesterday.

The President asked the people to read the agreement and share their views before the “framework agreement” is signed.

The signing is tentatively set for October 15 in Malacañang, between Marvic Leonen and Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the government and the MILF negotiating panels, according to Teresita Deles, presidential adviser on the peace process.

The signing will be witnessed by Aquino, Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohammad Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak and MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim.

Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for political affairs, said the framework agreement will set the direction for the final comprehensive compact agreement.

“Now, there is a solution already to the Bangsamoro issue…This is the initial agreement, framework agreement. Later on, we’ll be signing the comprehensive compact agreement,” he said.

Jaafar refused to discuss the contents of the framework agreement. He declined to compare it with the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD), which would have established a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity but whose signing in 2008 was stopped by the Supreme Court.

“Do not compare that (Bangsamoro framework agreement and MOA-AD) because there is no importance if we compare them. What’s important is we have solution to our problems (in Mindanao),” said Jaafar.

“What is important here is this is accepted by the majority of the Bangsamoro. This agreement here is an agreement between the Philippine government and the Bangsamoro people, represented by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front through its leadership,” said Jaafar.

Asked if the Bangsamoro framework agreement is similar to the “sub-state” that the MILF was earlier pushing for, Jaafar said: “Sub-state is already gone. What we have now is Bangsamoro. It’s not important if that is sub-state or not a sub-state. What’s important is the solution (to the problem) is already there, so let us focus on the solution. That sub-state is a thing of the past.”

Aquino, in announcing the framework agreement, said, “The ARMM is a failed experiment. Many of the people continue to feel alienated by the system, and those who feel that there is no way out will continue to articulate their grievances through the barrel of a gun. We cannot change this without structural reform. This is the context that informed our negotiations throughout the peace process. And now, we have forged an agreement that seeks to correct these problems.” He added, “This agreement creates a new political entity, and it deserves a name that symbolizes and honors the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao, and celebrates the history and character of that part of our nation. That name will be Bangsamoro. It defines our parameters and our objectives, while upholding the integrity and sovereignty of our nation.”

The agreement spells out general principles on major issues, including the extent of power, revenues and territory of the Muslim region.

“The parties agree that the status quo is unacceptable,” according to the 13-page agreement.

The accord calls for the establishment of a 15-member “Transition Commission” to work out the details of the preliminary agreement and draft a law creating the new Muslim autonomous region in about two years. The proposed law has to be approved by Congress.

Rebel forces would be deactivated gradually “beyond use,” the agreement said, without specifying a timetable.

The government would continue to exercise exclusive powers over defense and security, foreign and monetary policy in the new autonomous region, where Muslims would be assured of an “equitable share of taxation, revenues, and the fruits of national patrimony ... and equal protection of laws and access to impartial justice,” according to Aquino.

Deles said under the proposal, the Bangsamoro would be composed of the five provinces currently under ARMM and Cotabato City, and will add six municipalities from Lanao del Norte and barangays in six municipalities in North Cotabato, which all voted in 2001 to be part of the autonomous region.

Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II said the Zamboanga Peninsula and Iligan City would not be part of the proposed Bangsamoro.

ARMM was created in 1989 through Republic Act 6734. Under the ARMM are Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi with Cotabato City as provisional capital. The law was amended in 2001, which led to the inclusion of Marawi City and the province of Basilan excluding Isabela City.

The framework agreement says the Bangsamoro will include the towns of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal in Lanao del Norte; barangays in the towns of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit, and Midsayap in North Cotabato, and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela.

DECOMMISSIONING

Deles said the finer details and annexes of the proposed framework agreement are still being worked out and will be part of the comprehensive final peace agreement which Aquino said government hopes to sign by this year.

She said the framework agreement only pertains to the creation of the new political entity, which would also need legislation.

On the decommissioning of MILF forces and camps, she said, “It will be phased and calibrated. The details of that will be worked out, still as part of the annex. But in terms of the general principle, the ideas, yes, decommissioned. The armed forces of the MILF will be put beyond use.”

Deles clarified the decommissioning does not cover the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement of breakaway MILF commander Umbra Kato because the BIFM is not part of the MILF.

Roxas said Aquino considers the development “historic.”

“It will have a generational impact and the President was true to his principle that the people are the boss. First, in the consultations. Second, it will go through the whole process of legislation…And third, after their representatives finish work, the people would have a final say in this through a plebiscite,” Roxas said.

In Kuala Lumpur, Leonen said both sides face the enormous task of working out the details. “We are not naive to say that there would be no obstacles. But the Philippine government will defend the agreement,” Leonen said. “It’s pragmatic, constitutional and a democratic process.”

Leonen and Iqbal, in a joint communiqué, said the proposed framework agreement is a result of the “successful” 32nd exploratory talks between the GPH and MILF held in Kuala Lumpur from October 2 to 7.

The United States, Britain, Malaysia and other countries welcomed the accord.

“We fully support the ongoing peace process and hope the parties can continue to avoid violence as they work toward a final resolution that will last for generations,” US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. said. – With AP


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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