Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Wearing pink hijabs, young Muslim women will join hundreds of Muslim professionals, soldiers and other Christians in a run Sunday on Manila's belt highway Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (Edsa) to promote religious understanding among Filipinos.
On Monday, the Muslim community in Manila will hold a peace rally to show support for a framework agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to end the decades-long Moro insurgency in Mindanao.
The agreement will be signed in Malacanang Monday afternoon in a ceremony that will be attended by foreign dignitaries, including Ekmeleddin Ishanoglu, secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), whose presence will signify the Islamic world's recognition of the legitimacy of the accord.
Malacanang is rolling out the red carpet for 200 MILF rebels who are coming to the Palace to witness the signing of the agreement.
But ahead of their first visit to the Palace, MILF leaders are extending an olive branch to disgruntled Moro leader Nur Misuari, who has been ranting against the accord that will supersede the peace agreement signed in 1996 between the government and his faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
In a statement issued on October 8, MILF chair Murad Ebrahim said the framework agreement would not by itself end the Moro problem.
Much more has to be done to make peace work, Murad said.
Celebrate milestone victory
"The MILF Central Committee nonetheless shares this fruit of the struggle with the Bangsamoro people and the indigenous communities of Mindanao and joins them in celebrating this milestone victory of peace and justice over war and continuous conflict," Murad said.
A caravan consisting of peace advocates from Cotabato, Marawi, Maguindanao and Davao City hopes to arrive in Manila on Sunday ahead of the signing of the agreement.
The peace advocates will hold a vigil on Mendiola Bridge near Malacanang during the night.
Good for Bangsamoro
Misuari has threatened to contest the framework accord in the International Court of Justice.
"It should not matter who clinched this deal," Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs, said by phone Friday. "Yes, we clinched it, but it's good for the Bangsamoro in general. [Misuari] should help us as one of the leaders of the Bangsamoro people."
It will serve the public better if "everyone cooperates for the meaningful and sincere implementation of the agreement," Jaafar said.
"After all, this agreement is for the Bangsamoro people and is meant to address the Bangsamoro issue. He fought for this, too," Jaafar added, referring to Misuari.
The MILF split from the MNLF after the signing of the 1996 agreement.
The new agreement will be signed for the government by chief negotiator Marvic Leonen and for the MILF by the rebels' lead negotiator Mohagher Iqbal.
President Aquino and Murad will witness the signing, which will also be attended by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and other high-ranking Malaysian officials, diplomats, representatives of countries represented in the International Contact Group and the International Monitoring Committee and peace advocates.
MNLF officials, among them Muslimin Sema, chair of the Council of 15 that split from Misuari's faction in 2001, will be there, too.
In all, 450 guests are expected to attend the signing ceremony, according to deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.
"The MILF alone will have 200 representatives," she said.
The Philippine National Police and the Presidential Security Group (PSG) have begun to tighten security around the Palace.
No weapons allowed
"Security will be tight. Most of this will be police work and the PNP will be heavily involved," Brig. Gen. Ramon Dizon, PSG chief, said by phone. "We're tightening security, but not to the point of inconveniencing the public."
Security arrangements have been made with the MILF. Its representatives will not be allowed to carry weapons.
"Definitely there will be no bringing of firearms in the Palace," Dizon said. Even bodyguards of the foreign dignitaries will not be allowed to bring guns into Malacanang, he added.
The PSG will give Malaysia's Razak arrival honours. Valte said MrAquino and Razak would hold a bilateral meeting before lunch. The signing of the agreement between Leonen and Iqbal will be held at 1:30pm, to be followed by a briefing for the press to be conducted by the two chief negotiators.
Muslim women's run
But Sunday, women from the Young Moro Professionals Network (YMPN) will lead a run on Edsa for the promotion of Muslim-Christian understanding.
"This run by Muslim women on Edsa is the first of its kind and its significance also underlines the need for awareness on the wearing of hijab (veil) as an important part of our Islamic faith, celebrates diversity and peaceful coexistence in the mainstream," said Rohaniza Sumndad Usman of YMPN, the organizer of the event.
"This is also a good opportunity for us to present the positive [image of] Islam in response to the different challenges being faced by Muslims," she added in a statement released by the military's public information office on Saturday.
The event, dubbed "Hijab Run for Peace: Religious Understanding Now," will start at 6 a.m. from the People Power Monument on Edsa and end at the Armed Forces of the Philippines Grandstand in Camp Aguinaldo.
"This run is a very promising event as it is also timely with the signing of the framework agreement on the Bangsamoro region. This goes to show that our nation continuously commits itself to winning peace and it is our call in this gathering for all Filipinos to welcome this development and together give peace a chance," said YMPN chair Nash Kasim.
Amirah Gutoc, chair of the YMPN's committee on women, said the group believed "religious understanding and freedom is a vital step toward achieving peace" in the Philippines.
Support from military
Gen. Jessie Dellosa, AFP chief of staff, said the hijab run was a "symbolic activity where all religions could converge and unify for a single purpose of increasing awareness for social unity and equality."
"In light of the recent developments in our quest for peace, the whole Armed Forces support this gathering to show our solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters who undertake initiatives that bring us closer to just and enduring peace for the country," Dellosa said.
Also supporting the event are the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Regional Legislative Assembly and civil society peace advocates, including Fitianol Islam, Khadija Center for Muslim Women Studies, PeaceTech, Asia America Initiative, Generation Peace and GroupAid.
At 8am Monday, the Muslim residents of Manila's Quiapo district will march to Mendiola Bridge to show their support for the preliminary peace agreement.
Agakhan Binladen M. Sharief, president of Ridjaludeen (Men of Islam), said similar rallies would be held by the group in Marawi City in Lanao del Sur and in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi.
Muslim civil society groups in Manila on Saturday joined the Muslim community in expressing support for the agreement.
The think tank Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID) said the agreement was "the closest we have come so far to initiating lasting peace and development in Mindanao."
PCID president Amina Rasul described the agreement as "make or break [opportunity] for Muslim Mindanao."
Maradeka, an alliance of 68 Bangsamoro civil society and multisectoral organizations espousing "homegrown Bangsamoro democracy" called on Muslim leaders to set aside their differences and support the agreement.
Nash Pangadapun, Maradeka secretary general, said Muslim leaders should heed the voice of the Muslim youth, remember those who died in the Mindanao conflict and think of the thousands displaced by the fighting in the region. They "deserve every ounce of a better life ahead," Pangadapun added. With reports from Jerome Aning in Manila, and Ryan Rosauro, Inquirer Mindanao