Palace opens doors to former rebels against PH Republic


TODAY’S signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) is by far the biggest and grandest event to be held on the grounds of Malacañang with more than a thousand guests, including former “enemies of the state.”

And because of its scale, the event also proves to be the biggest security nightmare for the Presidential Security Group (PSG) which, for the first time in history, will welcome to the Palace grounds members of Muslim groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and even representatives from the sultanate of Sulu.

These three major Muslim factions had, at one time or another, engaged government either in deadly clashes or fierce “word war” such as in the case of the “invasion” of Sabah by fighters of the sultanate.

But President Aquino’s spokesman Edwin Lacierda and PSG chief Raul Ubando dispelled the possibility of any untoward incident that might happen during the activity.

Lacierda said there were neither intelligence reports prior to the preparations nor the need to heighten alert for policemen and soldiers manning the seat of government.

The signing of the historic pact will be held at the Kalayaan grounds instead of the Rizal Hall to accommodate all the guests.

The Bangsamoro framework agreement was signed in ceremonies held at the Rizal Hall.

“We decided to move it to the Kalayaan grounds where, we believe, over 1,500 can be accommodated,” Lacierda said.

Ubando said security preparations are already in place to ensure the safety of local and foreign guests and dignitaries.

“Because of [the]magnitude of guests, we will deploy additional personnel. We have asked help from MMDA [Metropolitan Manila Development Authority] and Manila Police for the traffic,” he told Palace reporters.

The guest of honor will be Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Haji Mohammad Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak who, prior to the signing ceremony, will meet with the President to briefly discuss matters of mutual concern between the Philippines and Malaysia.

Malaysia has been the facilitator of peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (GPH-MILF) since 2001, and has hosted the talks in Kuala Lumpur. It is also the leader of the International Monitoring Team observing the GPH-MILF ceasefire.

Lacierda said organizers have provided a gigantic tent where the signing will take place at 4 p.m. The guests will start arriving around 2 p.m. and there will also be areas for Muslims to pray.

There will be statements from Razak, the government’s chief Peace Adviser Teresita “Ging” Deles, MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad and the President before the actual signing of the peace document.

“Then the negotiating panels from both sides, five each from both panels, will be present and [will]be witnessing the signing,” Lacierda said.

The event will be aired live in most parts of Mindanao, especially the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, where many activities were lined up to drum up awareness on the signing of the peace pact.

Besides MILF leaders and members, those invited to attend were MNLF leaders Hadji Abul Khayr Alonto, Jimmy Labawan and Muslimin Sema. Also, Esmail Kiram, the successor to the throne of the late sultan Jamalul Iram 3rd, has been invited.

The military, however, raised the red alert status in Central Mindanao, where the Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Fighters (BIFF) is based. Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, chief of the Public Affairs Office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said troops are on blue alert in the entire Western Mindanao Command and Eastern Mindanao Command.

Under a read alert status, all applications for leave of absence and vacations filed by policemen and soldiers are cancelled.

Zagala said they have not monitored any threat or movement from the BIFF and other spoiler groups that could disrupt the signing of the CAB.

He added that the AFP is continuously monitoring the rebel group.

“As of now, we see no specific threats but we will remain vigilant and alert for this event tomorrow,” Zagala said, adding that the AFP fully supports the peace initiative with the MILF.


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