President Benigno Aquino meets with rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front leaders before the signing of a peace agreement in Manila on Thursday (photo by Ryan Lim/Malacañang Photo Bureau)
The Philippine government and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front today signed a peace agreement that aims to formally end four decades of war that have killed more than 100,000 people in the southern Philippines region of Mindanao.
The result of 17 years of negotiations, the "Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro" has been described by government peace negotiators as a "partnership" based on "shared aspirations to heal the wounds of conflict, enable meaningful autonomy for the Bangsamoro, and nurture peace and development in Muslim Mindanao."
"No more war. No more children scampering for safety. No more evacuees. No more injustice. No more poverty. Enough. We are tired of it," said Teresita Quintos Deles, presidential adviser on the peace process, during the signing ceremony.
Deles thanked all those who made the peace deal possible.
"Our common intentions will drive us forward," she told the gathering that included some 500 rebel troops.
Rebel chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said the Front "will not and does not ever claim sole ownership" to the peace agreement, adding that the rebel group recognizes "the valiant efforts and sacrifices of countless people for freedom and self-determination."
"It will not be a government of the MILF but the government of the Bangsamoro," Murad said, adding that the MILF will only serve as a gatekeeper during the transition period before a Bangsamoro autonomous political entity is established.
Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Anifah Aman, who witnessed the signing of the peace agreement, said the deal is a "momentous act of courage" that will change Philippine history "forever."
Malaysia played a crucial role in the 17-year peace negotiation as a third-party facilitator.
Aquino thanked "everyone whose faith never faltered in this journey," adding that he will "not let peace be snatched from my people again."
Foreign diplomats, government officials, civil society leaders, and rebel fighters who traveled from Mindanao witnessed the signing of the five-page agreement at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila.
In a separate statement, Catholic Church leaders called on the government to also reach out to groups that oppose the peace agreement.
"I appeal to the Philippine government panel to continue the process of widespread consultation and an honest, open and trusting dialogue with other communities in Mindanao," said Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic bishops' conference.
The archbishop urged the government to immediately enhance economic activity in Mindanao, saying "the promotion of total human development is long delayed."
"It cannot wait further. The people of Mindanao have been suffering for decades," he said.
On Friday, the United Nations lauded the agreement as the “realization, of a deep and sincere commitment and shared vision of both parties to a lasting peace and development in Mindanao."
The world body said in a statement that the agreement "presents an opportunity" to promote the rule of law, address human rights concerns, and create an environment for the empowerment of Moro women.
The UN "commends" the government "for providing a global model for best practice on supporting a peace process, making sure voices of the vulnerable groups are heard," the statement said.