World Bulletin / News Desk
Moro Muslims or Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine government have agreed a peace deal to end a 40-year conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people, President Benigno Aquino said on Sunday.
The agreement sets in train a roadmap to create a new Bangsamoro autonomous region in Muslim-dominated areas of the south before the end of Aquino's term in 2016. Bangsamoro refers to Muslim and non-Islamic minority people in the southern Philippines.
Expectations are high that after nearly 15 years of interrupted talks, both Muslims and the government will work side-by-side to realise the promises contained in the agreement, to be signed on Oct. 15 in Manila and witnessed by Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The two sides reached the deal for the resource-rich region during talks in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.
"This agreement creates a new political entity and it deserves a name that symbolises and honours the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao and celebrates the history and character of that part of our nation. That name will be Bangsamoro," Aquino announced via a live broadcast from the presidential palace.
"This framework agreement is about rising above our prejudices. It is about casting aside the distrust and myopia that has the plagued efforts of the past," said Aquino, surrounded by his cabinet ministers.
Zainuddin Malang, executive director of the Mindanao Human Rights Action Cente, a civil society group monitoring an existing truce in the region says the two sides must take extra caution in their next steps.
"This agreement is merely an opportunity to end the conflict. The actual end of the conflict can only come from its successful implementation. We can only hope this agreement won't suffer the fate of prior agreements," Malang said.
"What is very important here is that we have a president who has so much political capital, backing the framework agreement, so the chances are higher to end the conflict."
The deal will set up a 15-member Transition Commission, which has until 2015 to draft a law creating the new entity to replace the current autonomous region.
The new entity and its jurisdiction will be determined through a plebiscite after the passage of the organic law.
The Muslim area will gain more political and economic powers, including imposition of taxes to cut central government subsidies, a bigger share in revenues from natural resources and a more active role in internal security.
"This framework agreement paves the way for a final, enduring peace in Mindanao," Aquino said. "It brings all former secessionist groups into the fold; no longer does the Moro Islamic Liberation Front aspire for a separate state.
"This means that hands that once held rifles will be put to use tilling land, selling produce, manning work stations, and opening doorways of opportunity for other citizens."