MANILA, Philippines - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is expected to attend the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Thursday.
“He will fly in and fly out the same day,” a Malacanang source said of Najib, presently preoccupied with the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Najib, whose government facilitated the peace talks in Kuala Lumpur, had announced that President Aquino, during his state visit to Malaysia in February, invited him to the signing of the CAB.
The government also invited members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), who signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996 that led to the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
In a statement, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said it is only fitting that the Malaysian premier had been invited to the signing of the agreement, given the significant role Kuala Lumpur played in the peace process.
“This agreement was borne of the hard work of the negotiating panels, the goodwill and trust between President Aquino and MILF chairman Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim, and the dedication, openness and willingness to trust of all stakeholders – Christians, Muslims, and Lumads alike, and all the men and women who have supported the process. It is a vital step towards one of the Aquino administration’s primary goals: to transform Mindanao from a land of promise into a land of promises fulfilled,” she said.
Valte said openness and wide-reaching public consultations had been the hallmarks of the peace process with the MILF.
“The signing of the agreement lays the foundations for the ongoing work of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, which is currently drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law for the consideration of Congress starting in June, with a goal to passing the law by the end of this year. In this manner, a Bangsamoro government can be elected by 2016,” Valte said.
She said the signing of the CAB would show that through perseverance, cooperation and trust, the country could achieve what was once thought impossible: peace in the southernmost part of the Philippines and a future of security, progress and stability for the entire country.
Everyone’s help needed
Government peace panel chairman Miriam Coronel-Ferrer rallied the support of all stakeholders behind the CAB.
“Peace requires a lot of hard work. Peace requires unity in purpose and cooperation. We need everyone’s help,” she said. “Our goal is to ensure no one is left behind in this process. Help us. There is a lot of work to do to make the peace process successful.”
The CAB will serve as basis for the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Once passed in Congress and upheld in a plebiscite in the proposed core territory, the basic law will formalize the establishment of the Bangsamoro political entity that will enjoy an enhanced political and fiscal autonomy.
Ferrer said the success of the agreement will help realize the hopes of ordinary Mindanaoans to lead peaceful lives, enjoy equal opportunities, send their children to school, have decent jobs and keep away from criminal activities.
She also pointed out the importance of having strong and democratic governance institutions.
“This is the goal of the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity – replace the institution that does not live up to the expectations for a good and democratic government. We are putting all the elements in place. The institutional designs of this (Bangsamoro) government will be more representative and accountable,” she said.
Ferrer said peace and development in Mindanao will also benefit the entire country.
“We need the public to understand that if we are able to work this out and have peace and development in Mindanao, the whole country will benefit. A bomb that explodes in Mindanao affects the entire country. Economic activity is disrupted, business confidence is decreased, travel is restricted. One incident can easily affect the economy of the country,” she said.
Terms of reference
Ferrer said the government and MILF panels have completed the Terms of References (TORs) for the mechanisms that will be put in place for the annex on normalization, which was signed last January.
She said the TORs include those for the Joint Normalization Committee, the Independent Decommissioning Body, and the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission.
She said a body will also be created to study the meaning of reconciliation and justice for the people in Mindanao to make the healing process as comprehensive as possible.
Hit the ground running
She said the government and the MILF peace panels are ready to “hit the ground running” for the implementation of the CAB.
“There is no time to rest. We pause briefly for the celebratory signing of the CAB and then go back to work,” Ferrer, who just arrived from an executive session in Kuala Lumpur, said.
She said both panels have agreed to and signed the introductory text to the CAB on March 22.
“The government panel is consolidating our programs and will be putting up an office in Cotabato so that we will be very much on the ground. We have to do everything quite fast but without sacrificing the principles of inclusivity and transparency,” she said.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the signing of the CAB is no guarantee that the decades-old conflict in Mindanao will end immediately.
“The CAB signing does not mean that it is the end of it all. Mid-term pa lang ito. There are still stages, there are phases that must be done,” he said.
However, Gazmin is confident that the CAB would heighten cooperation between government forces and MILF rebels in terms of security operations and in going after so-called spoilers of peace in the region.
He said military troops would remain in Mindanao for the time being.
“We can only declare that conflict with the MILF is over when all the provisions and processes of the CAB agreement has been communicated and implemented by the MILF leadership down to all their field personnel, including consultation and the normalization,” he said.
Gazmin assured the public that the signing of the CAB will proceed as scheduled and without any hitch, amid reports that members of the MNLF Misuari faction along with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters plan to sabotage the event.
New MNLF chair
In a related development, Abu Khayer Alonto, who claimed to be the “original” vice chairman of the MNLF, announced yesterday that he has taken over as chairman and is throwing support to the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity.
During the weekly Kapihan sa Diamond Hotel in Manila, Alonto said 35 of the surviving MNLF central committee members approved a resolution naming him as head of the group.
He said he would reach out to Misuari, Umbra Kato and the group of MNLF chairman Muslimin Sema to “return to the MNLF mother unit and join the search for lasting peace in Mindanao.”
Alonto, however, admitted that their group has yet to be recognized by the government and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Another MNLF faction?
Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, chairman of the House committee on national defense who was present during the forum, however, expressed concern that the group of Alonto could just end up as another faction of the MNLF.
“To date, Misuari is the only leader of the MNLF recognized by the OIC, so what would become of your group? Another MNLF faction?” Biazon asked.