[PHOTO -This file photo taken on September 19, 2009 shows a member of the southern Philippine rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), holding a rocket propelled grenade launcher (RPG) as he stands guard at Camp Darapanan in the town of Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao province, on Mindanao island. AFP PHOTO]

MANILA, OCTOBER 15, 2012 (INQUIRER) By Michael Lim Ubac Philippine Daily Inquirer - The largest Moro secessionist group in Mindanao will sign on Monday in Malacañang a preliminary peace deal with the Aquino administration, which will set in motion a three-year process that would eventually carve out a new autonomous territory called Bangsamoro.

Despite the expected absence of Moro leader Nur Misuari, it’s all systems go for the signing of the framework agreement for Bangsamoro between the Aquino administration and the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Under the framework, the MILF agrees to a “phased” disarmament of its forces until full autonomy is achieved by 2016.

Not leaving anything to chance, Malacañang officials held on Sunday, at 3 p.m., a walkthrough of the signing ceremony, which was attended by Presidential Peace Process Adviser Teresita Deles herself and other Cabinet members.

Among the first foreign dignitaries to arrive on Sunday, was Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The Palace will accord Razak arrival honors and an expanded bilateral meeting with President Benigno Aquino III will happen at 10 a.m. on Monday, ahead of the afternoon signing of the Bangsamoro deal.

Razak joins other foreign dignitaries, including the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Ekmeleddin Ishanoglu, in witnessing the signing between the two peace panel chairs, chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen and MILF’s Mohagher Iqbal.

Ishanoglu’s presence would signify the Islamic world’s recognition of the legitimacy of the accord, Palace said.

Neither President Aquino nor MILF chair Al Haj Murad will sign the 13-page document.

Malacañang doesn’t expect Misuari, leader of a faction of the MILF’s rival, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), to show up at Malacañang for the 1:30 p.m. signing, but an invitation has been extended to him.

In a radio interview on Sunday, Deles confirmed that the Aquino administration had been reaching out to him, but Misuari had rejected even an offer to sit on the 15-person Transition Commission that would draft the basic law creating Bangsamoro.

Deles called on Misuari to listen to the voice of the Bangsamoro people amid what appeared to be an overwhelming support for the deal aimed at finally putting an end to the 40-year conflict in the troubled parts of the south.

The deal serves as a road map for replacing the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which President Aquino has described as a “failed experiment.”

Deles explained that the most important signing ceremony in decades would involve no theatrics.

“No. Direct to the point. We don’t want to be distracted. I think the ceremony, the fact of the signing itself, is enough. It has enough drama and historical significance in itself, so we will no longer add anything to it,” she said.

Misuari has been attacking the accord that will supersede the peace agreement signed in 1996 between the Ramos administration and his MNLF.

“As of this day, Misuari doesn’t want to accept this (Bangsamoro deal), but we continually hope that he would eventually see the groundswell of support” from Moros themselves, said Deles.

Deles disclosed that other MNLF leaders had already expressed support for the peace deal.

“And we told our facilitator that what we want is not to leave behind the MNLF; we will not set aside the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (with the MNLF),” said Deles, hoping that the Misuari faction would still nominate someone to sit on the Transition Commission.

Malacañang will not only open its gates but roll out the red carpet, as well, for leaders of both the MILF and MNLF, and foreign dignitaries attending the signing Monday.

Some 200 MILF rebels are also coming to the Palace to witness the signing of the agreement.

The MNLF officials will be led by Muslimin Sema, chair of the Council of 15 that split from Misuari’s faction in 2001; ARMM Vice Governor Hadja Bainon; former Governor Yusuf Jukiri of Sulu; and former Assemblyman Hatimil Hassan, among others.

In all, Palace expects some 450 guests to attend the signing ceremony.

After the signing, which will be witnessed by the President, Razak and OIC secretary general, Leonen and Iqbal will hold a joint press briefing.

Asked in a radio interview, on Sunday, to describe Monday’s event, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigal Valte said: “It’s very unique. Certainly historic, to say the least.”

She said the Palace has been “very hopeful,” noting that “both sides are committed to giving peace a chance, to give hope a chance to flourish.”

“We will keep to the basics and we will keep it as solemn as possible,” said Valte, when asked to elaborate on preparations for the ceremony.

Valte acknowledged the arrival in Manila on Sunday afternoon of a 50-car caravan of peace advocates from Mindanao that symbolized the support of the Bangsamoro people to the inking of a preliminary peace accord with the MILF.

The caravan consisting of peace advocates from Cotabato, Marawi, Maguindanao and Davao City is set to hold a vigil on Mendiola Bridge near Malacañang on the eve of the signing.

When asked about the significance of the Bangsamoro deal compared to the 1996 accord, Deles sent a text message, saying: “This will be fully implemented.”

She agreed that this would be a big step towards achieving lasting peace in Mindanao, pointing to the “overflowing support from Bangsamoro” for the deal.

Deles further said that the scope of the Bangsamoro territory would not be part of the yet-to-be-negotiated annexes since the proposed areas for inclusion was already mentioned in the text of the accord.

“Same core territory—five provinces currently under ARMM, six municipalities of Lanao del Norte and several barangays in North Cotabato—all adjacent and voted to be part of the ARMM kaya in 2001. (They) will be asked again (to vote in a plebiscite),” she said.

According to Deles, it’s logical to include Cotabato City and Isabela City in the Bangsamoro territory since the former is the current capital of ARMM, while the latter is part of Basilan, which is already part of ARMM.

“No more annexes; there is no hidden list of areas to be covered (by Bangsamoro),” she said, adding:

“Our real message is let’s give peace a chance. (Negotiating) this Framework Agreement was not easy. Signing it is setting a roadmap to end the four decades of hostilities with the MILF. We all know that this deal doesn’t end at signing,” she said.

“All of these (provisions in the agreement) can be delivered within his (Aquino) term, so we continue to ask from the people—give peace a chance—and continue their support and prayers,” Deles added.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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