The timing couldn’t have been better. Coming at the heels of massive destruction caused by super typhoon Haiyan (“Yolanda”), the Philippines is in dire need of good news. That such news springs from a region known for decades of war and conflict sharpens the message of peace, with a historic texture unique to the people of Mindanao.
Last Sunday evening, the Philippine government peace panel (GPH) led by Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) negotiating panel led by Chair Mohagher Iqbal, signed a third annex to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This annex provides for the division of powers between the central or national government and the Bangsamoro government. This leaves the signing of a fourth annex on normalization and an addendum agreement on Bangsamoro Waters as the final steps toward a comprehensive peace pact for Mindanao.
In the signed annex, both panels agreed to a Bangsamoro Ministerial Government to be democratically-elected and with a Bangsamoro assembly to be composed of at least 50 members whose district, party-list, sectoral constituencies shall be provided in the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
The contents of all signed annexes including the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro can be found at www.opapp.gov.ph, the official website of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. For the Bangsamoro government and territory to become a reality, a law needs to be passed, with the annexes as a guide for its provisions. Senator Teofisto Guingona issued a statement expressing his desire to sponsor this measure in the Senate.
President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has staked his leadership in the peace negotiations, consistently sending Presidential spokesman Atty. Edwin Laciera and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to encourage both parties in every round of talks.
The people of Mindanao deserve a just and lasting peace. It is a region of breathtaking beauty, with a land so verdant that palm plantations, rice fields, and all kinds of agricultural products blossom under blue skies and fair weather. Decades of conflict between government and rebel forces and within and amongst various tribes have stained the soil red with blood. The MILF has been steadfast in its engagement with government, inspired by the recognition of old hurts and unlimited potential by no less than President Aquino.
In 2016, the president envisions the first-ever Bangsamoro regional elections in lieu of the ARMM elections. This is why it is important to complete the signing of all four annexes by January next year. It would take Congress and the Senate several months to deliberate on the Bangsamoro Basic Law that lead to the creation of Bangsamoro territory and the abolition of ARMM. A plebiscite to affirm the people’s choice in the proposed Bangsamoro areas would have to take place before the 2016 national and local elections.
What’s next in the peace process? The fourth and last annex needs to be signed next month. The Bangsamoro Transition Commission shall draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law for submission to the Senate and House of Representatives. Both Houses of Congress must approve the measure by next year to pave the way for a plebiscite by 2015. In 2016, the MILF will become a political party, laying their arms down for good.
For overseas Filipino workers, sustainable peace in Mindanao means the opening of doors to new employment opportunities expected to arise from tourism, industrial investments, real estate development, and agricultural businesses. A peaceful and progressive Mindanao can be the proverbial tide that would lift all our boats, rising from poverty buoyed by international support and national optimism. Economic freedom is built on a foundation of peace and security. Let us accompany the remaining steps for the peace process with prayers and best wishes.
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