MANILA - For the first time in history, a chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) set foot in Malacañang.
MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim met with President Benigno Aquino hours ahead of the signing of the framework agreement between government and the rebel group Monday.
Ebrahim gave Aquino a peace gong, while the president gave him a miniature symbol of the Filipino tradition of bayanihan.
It was a fitting prelude to the historic signing of the agreement, a move toward finally ending the decades-long conflict in Mindanao.
Chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen MILF panel chair Mohagher Iqbal and Malaysian facilitator, Honorable Tengku Dato Abd Ghafar Tengku Mohammed, signed the deal paving the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro region.
"We commit to peace. A peace that will be sustained through democratic ideals, a peace that heals and empowers, a peace that recognizes the many narratives of the Filipino people, and weaves them into a single, national aspiration for equitable progress. We understand all too well the cycle of suffering that our people had to go through for the past 2 generations," Aquino said.
"Many resorted to the path of vengeance and violence. I understand the temptations that can be borne of anger. I myself lost my father to an oppressive system," he added.
"I empathize with our Bangsamoro brothers and sisters and can only vow and can only vow to work as hard as i can to see that the culture of impunity is dismantled and that the foundations of righteousness and cooperation are laid," Aquino said.
"Today we're here to celebrate victory for the Bangsamoro people and the Filipino nation that is shared by the international community and the Muslim world. A victory earned not by war but collective desire tempered by inner nobility of human nature restore justice & peace to a troubled land," Ebrahim said.
"And what makes this more significant and quite touching on our part is that this is happening under the administration of Pres. Noynoy Aquino whose martyred father, Sen. Ninoy Aquino and mother, the late Pres. Cory Aquino fought on the same side of the fence with us against the dictatorship that devastated our homeland and snuffed the lives of thousands of our people," he added.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Secretary Teresita Deles also turned emotional as she spoke on the men, women, and children who have endured years of violence and poverty in Mindanao and those who lost their lives.
"It will be better tomorrow, it will be better tomorrow, even in the darkest days of despair. And to those who have died without seeing the sunlight of peace, those felled by bullets and those cut down by hunger because of the ravages of war, we bow our heads in offering you this day," Deles said.
Among those who witnessed the signing was Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Malaysia served as 3rd party facilitator of the peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF since 2001 and has headed the International Monitoring Team since 2004.
"Today we pay tribute to the quiet bravery of negotiation, to the many years & countless hours spent in search of shared understanding. In confronting differences and finding common ground, both sides have given something, but people of the southern Philippines have gained everything," Najib Razak said.
"I hope both sides continue to recognize their responsibilities in coming months as they work toward a final peace agreement," he added.
Najib also assured the Philippines that Malaysia is committed to peace in Mindanao. - Williard Cheng, ABS-CBN News; ANC