By Alito L. Malinao
MANILA, Oct. 8 (Xinhua)-- After more than 15 years of on-and- off negotiations, the Philippine government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Force (MILF) have finally approved a " framework agreement"that would serve as the basis for a final peace accord to end the decades-old conflict in Mindanao.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino personally announced this " major breakthrough" in a televised address to the nation last Sunday.
The president's announcement came after the latest round of peace talks between the government and the MILF ended in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.
According to Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles, the signing of the preliminary agreement, scheduled in Manila on Oct. 15, will be witnessed by Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
In his address, Aquino admitted that the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was "a failed experiment" and that it did not meet the expectations of the people in the area, referring to the minority Filipino Muslims. "Many of the people continue to feel alienated by the system, and those who feel that there is no way out will continue to articulate their grievances through the barrel of a gun," the president said, adding that agreement forged by both sides now seeks to correct these problems.
According to Aquino, the agreement seeks to create a new political entity that will be named "Bangsamoro" to symbolize and honor the struggles "of our forebears in Mindanao."
In the local dialect, "Bangsamoro" literally means nation or homeland of Moros. The word "moro," which used to be a pejorative term, is now the preferred name by Filipino Muslims in Mindanao.
All throughout the negotiations, the MILF never wavered in its demand for the creation of a Bangsamoro sub-state with sovereign powers similar to those enjoyed by federal states.
Under the preliminary agreement, the national government in Manila will continue to exercise exclusive powers of defense and security, foreign policy, monetary policy and coinage, citizenship, and naturalization.
Aquino stressed that the Philippines would remain "as one nation and one people, with all of our diverse cultures and narratives seeking the common goal,"
"The Filipinos of Bangsamoro, on the other hand, will be assured a fair and equitable share of taxation, revenues, and the fruits of national patrimony. They will enjoy equal protection of laws and access to impartial justice," the president said.
The framework accord also says that the Philippine Constitution and lawful processes shall govern the transition to Bangsamoro.
But Aquino also said that despite the agreed framework, peace in Mindanao is "still a work in progress" since there are still details that both sides must hammer out.
The accord calls for the establishment of a 15-member " Transition Commission" that would thresh out the details of the preliminary agreement and draft a law creating the new Muslim autonomous region in about two years.
Initial reactions to the framework agreement from Congress and the diplomatic community were mostly favorable. The embassies of the U.S. and Japan issued statements saying that they welcomed the accord.
U.S. Ambassador Harry Thomas said he hoped the agreement, once signed, would lead to lasting peace and prosperity in Mindanao.
But Sen. Loren Legarda, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, cautioned that all affected parties should participate in the formulation of the final pact to ensure that the Bangsamoro people's right to self-determination "would remain within national sovereignty."
Some analysts have said that there are some constitutional hurdles that the government must make before a final peace agreement is signed.
One is that the present ARMM, whose officials are to be elected in the May 2013 elections, is a constitutionally-mandated body. Therefore, if it is to be abolished under the peace accord with the MILF, the constitution must first be amended.
One analyst pointed out that Bangsamoro, the new political entity that will replace the ARMM, is not entirely dissimilar to the Bangsamoro juridical entity whose creation in 2008 was aborted when the Philippine Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.
The Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), that provides for the creation of the Bangsamoro juridical entity, was about to be signed in Kuala Lumpur by the then government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the present MILF leadership in October 2008 when it was junked by the country's highest tribunal.
It is not far-fetched to think that some sectors similar to those who questioned the constitutionality of the MOA-AD in 2008, particularly those representing the majority Christian population in Mindanao, would again go to the Supreme Court to question the legality of the framework agreement.
According to the state-run Philippines News Agency, the Muslim uprising in Midnanao that started in the mid-l970s has already claimed some 150,000 lives that include armed combatants and innocent civilians.
Philippine gov't, MILF sign joint communique on peace process
MANILA, Oct. 7 (Xinhua) -- The Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have agreed on a framework agreement that would pave the way for a "final enduring peace" in Mindanao, southern Philippines, according to a joint communique issued Sunday by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.
The joint communique, issued at the 32nd round of Exploratory Talks which concluded Sunday in Kuala Lumpur, said, "The Framework Agreement serves as the overarching architecture for the Mindanao peace process and provides the foundation for a just and enduring peace in Mindanao. It defines the powers and structures of the new Bangsamoro entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)." Full story