PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino 3rd on Thursday vowed to see the success of the newly signed Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) as he issued a stern warning against those who may be planning “to preserve the status quo” that they will suffer the government’s “firm response.”
“May this also stand as a warning to 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,” the President said during the signing rites for the CAB at the Malacañang Palace grounds.
He warned that “saboteurs” will suffer the same amount of resolve the government had shown against the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters who stormed Zamboanga City in August last year.
“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,” the President said.
Aquino particularly raised concern over the fate of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law that will be presented to Congress soon. The measure will institutionalize the provisions of the CAB.
“My 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, not by self-interest that only aims to perpetuate an untenable status quo,” he said.
According to him, the CAB that was signed on Thursday “did not appear magically out of thin air” and that the Bangsamoro Transition Commission continues to work hard to draft the basic law “that is equitable, practical and empowering, and which serves the interests of the entire nation.”
“It is a law that will have to pass my personal muster as a President pledged to do justice to all, before it is submitted to Congress,” Aquino assured.
The Chief Executive also stressed that his government’s mission is to immediately pass the law so that it will be presented to the people for ratification in a plebiscite. His main goal, he pointed out, is to have the Bangsamoro Transition Authority in place by 2015, “when it will serve as the interim Bangsamoro government until the elections in 2016.”
“The majority who deserve an opportunity to improve their lot in life, who stand to benefit from the onset of peace, stand at the crossroads with us. On one hand, will we be held back by an untenable status quo? Or, together, will we as an entire nation rise and prosper?” Aquino asked.
“What is being presented before us now is a path that can lead to a permanent change in the status quo in Muslim Mindanao.
But as with all change, its success depends on our continuous vigilance. We must admit that there are those who will champion the status quo to preserve themselves in positions of power and wealth. Maintaining this requires holding back the majority, for any sign of individual or collective advancement is a threat,” he said.
A teary-eyed Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita “Ging” Deles commended the members of the peace panels led by Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer for the government and Mohaqer Iqbal for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
According to Deles, the signing of the CAB will “banish war with the great power of a nation united.”
“The signal is so strong and unrelenting, no more war, no more children scampering for safety, no more evacuees, no more lost schooldays or school-months, no more injustice, no more misgovernance, no more poverty, no more fear and no more want,” she said with a trembling voice.
“Tama na [It’s enough], we are all tired of it,” Deles added.
She described the forging of the final pact as the coming of a “new dawn” but admitted that the work “is far from over.”
“But I bear faith that our common intentions will drive us forward, and that noble leaders will clasp hands and pull our future together. Today we embrace peace with the courage of equals rather than the cowardice of bigots, deceivers and exploiters,” Deles stressed.
If all turns out well, the MILF will have shed its identity as a military force, and transformed itself into a political entity by 2016.
Aquino said the Bangsamoro shall serve as the gateway to trade, investment and cultural exchanges within the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines-East Asean Growth Area, or BIMP-EAGA, and its environs. Asean is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Meanwhile, MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim said the success of the peace talks was a “shared victory” of both the government and the MILF.
The MILF chief said the CAB “brings restoration of the identity, powers and resources of the Bangsamoro” that were “unjustly taken away through colonization.”
He explained that the process they had gone through recognized the milestones achieved by the 1996 peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front of Nur Misuari, a remark that drew loud applause from the audience that included leaders of at least three MNLF factions.
The MILF thanked all those who supported the peace process.
“We want to thank everybody and all those who supported us in the common quest [for]peace, just and lasting peace for each and everyone,” said Iqbal, the chairman of the MILF peace panel and also the front’s current vice chairman.
Peace advocate Father Eliseo Mercado also praised the signing of the peace agreement.
“We celebrate the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Wishing the [Philippine government] and the MILF all the power and blessings to make peace and prosperity a reality for all the inhabitants of the Bangsamoro territory, hopefully within my lifetime, all our cooperation and support,” he said.
Muslims in the autonomous region in Mindanao held programs in support of the peace deal signing. The governors of the Muslim autonomous region—Toto Tan, of Sulu; Jum Akbar, of Basilan; Esmael Mangudadatu, of Maguindanao; Nurbert Sahali, of Tawi-Tawi and Mamintal Adiong, of Lanao del Sur—were also present at the signing of the accord.
New MNLF chief Abul Kayr Alonto, whose faction claimed to have replaced Misuari, has also publicly thrown his support behind the peace agreement.
Alonto, who was among the original founding members of the MNLF, also urged Muslims to support the agreement.
“The Moro people want to set their house in order but how can they set their house in order when the very key to their own hands is not in their own hands? And the sad part is that the people who want to govern them do not even speak the language that the people to be governed speak. [This is the] key and . . . my grandfather was saying that the key is not in their hands, the key now is the framework basic law that we look forward to that will be approved by Congress or through constitutional amendment. Please do so, let’s do it so that we can unite and spare the future generation of a war of aggression,” Alonto added.