MILF chief sets foot inside Malacanang

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 15 2012 12:08 PM | Updated as of Oct 15 2012 09:06 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The leader of the Philippines' biggest Muslim rebel group finally set foot in Malacañang Palace on Monday for a historic visit aimed at ending one of Asia's longest and deadliest insurgencies.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim arrived in Malacañang before noon and shook hands with President Aquino and other officials.

Murad presented Aquino with a gong of peace while the President gave the MILF chief a miniature bahay kubo.

Palace officials said Murad was 'giddy' at finally setting foot in Malacañang and even played on the peace gongs.

Murad and other senior rebel figures emerged from their remote bases in the country's south to oversee the signing of an accord on Monday that outlines a roadmap for peace by 2016.

The accord, announced by President Benigno Aquino a week ago, has won applause from foreign governments and the United Nations as a rare chance to end a rebellion that has killed an estimated 150,000 people since the 1970s.

The signing will be at the presidential palace. Murad is now the first MILF chief to get inside the country's inner sanctum of power.

The MILF is the biggest and most important remaining rebel group, after the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) signed a peace pact with the government in 1996.

The peace deal with the MNLF led to the creation of an autonomous region that Aquino said was a "failed experiment" that led to corruption and even more poverty.

The document to be signed Monday will outline plans to replace that autonomous region with a new one in which the MILF will hold significant power.

Under the framework, the MILF will drop its bid for independence in exchange for autonomy covering several areas in Mindanao.

A transition panel made up of members from both sides will draft a "basic law" covering the autonomous region to be passed by the nation's parliament by 2015.

The people living in the proposed autonomous region will then need to ratify it in a plebiscite held before 2016, when Aquino is required by the constitution to stand down. With Agence France-Presse