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MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 8:01 PM) Lawmakers expressed support for the framework peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, signed in Malacanang Monday by chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen and his MILF counterpart, Mohagher Iqbal, and pledged to help pass a basic law to bring it to fruition.
With the signing of the framework agreement--the first of an expectedly long journey to peace that must be capped by a plebiscite-- the Armed Forces of the Philippines expressed hope this development will finally bring peace not just in Mindanao but across the country, and allow it to focus more on external, rather than internal threats to security.
Clergymen said while they supported the peace process, they viewed this with “vigilant optimism” as they recalled the fallout from the botched Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain owing to lack of transparency in the negotiations; while local businessmen urged the government to ensure the new agreement would embrace not just the forces of the MILF but also the MNLF.
In a statement, AFP spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos said the peace deal would bring more "stable security" in Mindanao. The military is also hopeful that former secessionist groups in Mindanao will now work with the government in its efforts to bring peace in the region.
"The AFP shares the same suffering, misery, and misfortune that our people feel every time armed conflicts arise. This is why the AFP longs for peace more than any other group because it is our soldiers who continue to risk their lives as first responders to armed conflicts and violence," Burgos said.
Nevertheless, the AFP said it would maintain its vigilance and would continue with its intelligence gathering to "thwart any hostile action by those who plan to disrupt the peace and stability of our country."
"Our peace and development programs will continue through our Bayanihan Teams which are deployed in the countryside," Burgos said.
Burgos said the military considers the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM), the group led by Ameril Umbra Kato, as "lawless elements" and will continue pursuing
"They broke the law. They committed a wrong against the laws of men, for which they must be liable, and we will continue to pursue these lawless elements. And although the Armed Forces of the Philippines is open to peaceful settlements of disputes and conflicts, our security operations will continue," Burgos told reporters.
Burgos said soldiers, who have lost their lives and who have left their families because of the war, are themselves aspiring for peace.
Cautious optimism among clergy
In an emailed statement, the Catholic Bishops in Mindanao cited the entire island's experience when the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) collapsed “due to its lack of transparency and certain provisions that were deemed unconstitutional.”
“In the aftermath of that rejection, we recall the efforts of the Bishops-Ulama Conference to sponsor a year-long series of multi-sectoral consultations to uncover the underlying factors for promoting a culture of peace in Mindanao,” the statement entitled, “Towards Building a Just and Lasting Peace in Mindanao,” reads in part.
Archbishops Antonio Ledesma (Cagayan de Oro), Jesus Dosado (Ozamiz), Orlando Quevedo; Bishops Guillermo Afable (Digos), Colin Bagaforo (Cotabato), Edwin de la Peña (Marawi), Jose Cabantan (Malaybalay), Elenito Galido (Iligan), Dinualdo Gutierrez (Marbel), Martin Jumoad (Isabela) and Monsignor Cris Manongas signed the emailed statement dated October 14, 2012.
“It is a good start for further detailed discussion for peace in Mindanao,” Bishop Cabantan said in a text message, Monday.
Senators back passage of Bangsamoro basic law
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and most senators on Monday expressed support for the enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law for the implementation of the newly signed Framework Agreement.
In an interview after attending the signing ceremony at Malacanang Monday afternoon, Enrile said that even if he himself had not thoroughly studied the peace pact, it deserves support through congressional action to fully carry out its vision.
“As I said in an earlier interview, it is doable,” Enrile said.
Senators Francis Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon, Teofisto Guingona III, Jinggoy Estrada, Alan Peter Cayetano and Ramon Revilla Jr., also supported the Framework Agreement between the government peace panel and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Pangilinan allayed doubts that the Bangsamoro Basic Law to be drafted by a Transitional Committee as provided for by the framework agreement will not meet the demands of the people of Mindanao.
"We should put faith in the Aquino administration. It has brought us this far in the peace process, and I refuse to believe that it will allow itself to falter with its next steps. This is a major step, but building a national consensus for genuine peace is critical if the framework is to be realized and a peace accord signed and sealed."
Drilon said: “Finally, we are close to achieving a just and lasting peace for the people of Mindanao. I congratulate the government and the MILF, as well as the other parties involved in making this peace pact possible, for their efforts to finally put an end to decades-long armed conflict in Mindanao.”
Guingona congratulated the government peace panel, the MILF and the third-party institutions for the historic signing of the framework agreement.
“It is clear that the final peace agreement that will be signed in the future will be the result of the work and aspirations of 15 members, all of whom are Bangsamoro. Eight of which will be selected by the MILF,” Guingona said.
“I am confident that through this framework agreement, we will be able to address the significant issues in Bangsamoro’s fiscal autonomy, resource generation, and local government relations,” he added.
Estrada said that the peace agreement will start a new era in Philippine politics, a meaningful reforms and achievement of lasting peace in the region.
“I think the people of Mindanao, specifically of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) have suffered long enough from widespread poverty, insurgence and corruption. More than anything, I hope that this will bring stability, peace and progress to the region whose economic development is much delayed by the decades-long infighting,” Estrada explained.
Cayetano said, “the momentum and goodwill created by this initial agreement should spur government to deliver quality education, job opportunities and equal political and social rights to the people of Mindanao and prevent them from going back to armed rebellion as these are the fundamental rights that our countrymen have long been deprived of.”
Revilla, president of Lakas-CMD, asked all stakeholders to participate in the enacting of the law that will used to enforce the agreement.
“If we are successful in this effort, we will see prosperity in the South. Investors and capital will flow-in, and our resources in that area can be properly, sustainably, and efficiently utilized,” said Revilla.
Local business welcomes signing
Meanwhile, local business leaders called the Framework Agreement a breakthrough in the peace process and gives hope for the peaceful closure of the protracted conflict in the island.
“We welcome this development with optimism that finally Mindanao will be able to realize its vast development potentials and make this island truly a haven for flourishing businesses,” Cagayan de Oro Chamber of Industries (COCI) president Jerome Soldevilla said in a phone interview, Monday.
In a phone interview, local industrialist-businessman Elmer Francisco, for his part said that “every step towards peace is always good not only for business but for our country as a whole.”
“But, that agreement must be inclusive and binding for both MILF and MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) including all other Muslim factions. Otherwise, we would just have a similar situation only that MILF is the one with the government and the other side would be the Maoist rebels,” he said.