Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - After fighting the government for 40 years, more than 100 Moro rebels are going to Malaca?ang on Monday to witness the signing of a preliminary agreement for the creation of an autonomous homeland for them in Mindanao.
Led by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Murad Ebrahim, the guerrillas will be the biggest delegation from Mindanao, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles said on Friday.
Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs, confirmed that more than 100 guerrillas would go to the signing of the agreement.
Jaafar said this would be the first time that the MILF fighters would set foot in Malaca?ang.
"This happens once in the lifetime of every leader," Jaafar said by phone. "They want to show the world that they're very appreciative of all those who very seriously and sincerely worked for the resolution of the Bangsamoro issue, of course led by the President, the peace panels, International Contact Group, International Monitoring Team, and leaders of nongovernment organizations," he said.
Referring to criticism of the framework agreement for the creation of Bangsamoro, Jaafar said the accord was "not exclusive to the MILF," but covered all Bangsamoro people.
"That includes Nur Misuari and all leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and all other leaders of the Bangsamoro," Jaafar said.
Deles said the government would not allow itself to be distracted by Misuari's criticism of the agreement and instead proceed to seal a final peace agreement with the MILF by the end of the year.
"We remain focused on the work at hand," Deles said. "We continue to hope that Misuari will come to support the process," she added.
But the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is recognizing the agreement between the Aquino administration and the MILF.
With members from four continents, the OIC is the second largest intergovernment organization in the world after the United Nations.
OIC secretary general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu will represent the Islamic world at the signing of the agreement in the presidential palace in Manila on Monday.
Misuari, leader of the MNLF, which signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996, has been ranting about the Bangsamoro accord since Monday.
The accord is illegal, he said, because the MNLF deal, like the Tripoli Agreement signed by the MNLF and the government in 1976, is internationally recognized.
The government negotiating panel headed by Marvic Leonen and the MILF peace panel led by Mohagher Iqbal had offered the MNLF seats on the Transition Commission that would draft the basic law for the establishment of Bangsamoro.
Misuari rejected the offer on Thursday, calling it an insult not only to him but also to the MNLF and all Bangsamoro people who believed in the MNLF and adhered to the Tripoli Agreement.
Misuari said the government peace panel was composed of "heartless people."
"The Bangsamoro people will remember Oct. 12 and Oct. 15 [as the] days [on which] they manipulated the so-called talks that ended in what they called framework agreement," Misuari said.
The agreement was signed in Malaysia yesterday, Oct. 12, he said. Malaysia brokered the peace negotiations that led to the approval of the Bangsamoro framework agreement.
Leonen denied the agreement was signed in Malaysia on Friday.
In a statement issued by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp), Leonen said the two panels met for two hours in Kuala Lumpur only for discussions of security procedures and protocols for the signing ceremony and a final look at the copies of the document that would be signed on Monday.
As previously announced, Leonen said, the agreement will be signed in Malaca?ang at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 15.
In Zamboanga City on Thursday, Misuari said the "Bangsamoro people will never forgive" the peace negotiators.
Leonen will sign the accord for the government and Murad will sign it for the MILF.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and other high-ranking Malaysian officials will be there to witness the signing.
Officials from countries represented in the International Contact Group, International Monitoring Team, and aid organizations that helped in the negotiations for peace in Mindanao will attend the signing of the agreement.
The entire Cabinet of President Aquino will also be there to see the agreement signed.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) has stepped up security across the country to ensure peace and order during the signing of the agreement on Monday.
"We raised the security alert not because we have monitored threats but because [we want to enhance] security given the number of foreign guests and dignitaries who will arrive for the signing," said Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo Jr., PNP spokesperson.
The foreign guests are expected to arrive starting today (Friday) until tomorrow (Saturday), Cerbo said.
A large delegation composed of peace advocates left Cotabato, Marawi, Maguindanao and Davao City on Friday for Manila to show the support of the people of Mindanao for the agreement.
Mujiv Hataman, governor in charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao
(ARMM), which will be replaced by Bangsamoro, said the "peace caravan" hoped to reach Manila in time for the signing of the agreement.
The caravan is composed of peace advocates from Muslim and Christian communities, nongovernment organizations, grassroots organizations and other sectors in Mindanao, according to Mariel Andrea Gardiola, liaison officer of the Mindanao People's Caucus (MPC).
Hataman said the ARMM would spend 10 million pesos for an information campaign for the peace agreement in Mindanao.
The information campaign will be useful in explaining the agreement to the people of Mindanao, who will be consulted by the government and the MILF in their own promotion of Bangsamoro, the basic law which requires approval by plebiscite.
Starting the process
After the agreement is signed, President Benigno Aquino III is expected to issue an executive order that will create the Transition Commission, which will draft the Bangsamoro basic law, among other preparations for the establishment of the new autonomous region, Deles said. Then both the government panel and the MILF panel will sit down to work on the annexes to the agreement, she said.
"The draft has been done before the framework agreement. Hopefully, it will be issued before the end of October," Deles said. "The [executive order] will start the process." With reports from Nikko Dizon in Manila and Germelina Lacorte, Edwin Fernandez and Charlie Se?ase, Inquirer Mindanao
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