Peace deal recipe for 'another big, big war in Mindanao'

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - "This framework agreement to me would be a recipe for another big, big war in Mindanao," Moro leader Nur Misuari said.

"Cut my throat if Hadji Murad can ensure peace in Mindanao," Misuari said, referring to Murad Ebrahim, chairman of the MILF, who witnessed the signing of the framework accord in the Palace Monday with President Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Misuari, leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996, continued to rant Monday against a new peace accord.

The MILF, he said, is "so unpopular in Mindanao".

He claimed many MILF members returned to the MNLF because they, too, were upset about the framework agreement for the creation of a new autonomous region in Mindanao, to be called Bangsamoro.

Misuari's extreme pessimism came in sharp contrast to cautious optimism of most Muslims in Mindanao and the guarded optimism of the Catholic Church that greeted the signing in the Palace yesterday of the preliminary peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

1996 peace deal

But the chair of the MNLF Central Committee lauded the signing of the framework agreement.

"The signing of the government's agreement with the MILF proved that our decision to enter the 1976 Tripoli Agreement was the right thing to do," Muslimin Sema, now mayor of Cotabato City, told the Inquirer by phone.

Sema, however, wanted to know how the new agreement would harmonise with the 1996 peace deal with the MNLF.

The answer will come when the Transition Commission begins work on the creation of the Bangsamoro, which will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The government and the MILF have offered the MNLF seats on the commission so it could participate in the work toward a final peace agreement.

The World Bank welcomed the signing of the peace deal, which, it said, marks an important step toward achieving peace, security and development that would benefit all Filipinos.

Much work remains to be done to turn the framework agreement into a final peace agreement and, more important, to translate it into security and prosperity for the people of Mindanao, particularly the Bangsamoro, the World Bank said in a statement.

MILF knows best

Sumaly Mangindra, mother of two MILF fighters whose father died fighting for a Moro homeland in Mindanao, welcomed the peace deal with cautious hope.

"Independence would have been the best solution to our problem, to our poverty, to our being less developed, and I am convinced it remains the best solution," Mangindra said.

"The MILF is our official representative in finding peace in our homeland," she added. "What is good for us is best left to our leaders."

Catholic bishops in Mindanao said they were maintaining "vigilant optimism" on the new peace agreement.

"We believe that continuing consultations with all stakeholders are necessary to bring the peace process forward," a group of bishops in Mindanao said in a joint statement issued yesterday.

The statement was signed by Bishops Guillermo Afable of Davao del Sur, Colin Bagaforo of Cotabato, Jose Cabantan of Malaybalay, Edwin de la Pe?a of Marawi, Jesus Dosado of Ozamis, Elenito Galido of Iligan, Dinualdo Gutierrez of South Cotabato, Martin Jumoad of Basilan, Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro and Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato.

The prelates said that while they welcomed the peace deal, it is not the end of peace building efforts in Mindanao.

"Rather it is just the beginning of much hard work in concretising the meaning of sincerity, security, sensitivity, solidarity, spirituality, and sustainability in our various communities in Mindanao," they said.

Muslims in Manila

In Manila, Muslims at the Golden Mosque in Quiapo said the framework agreement was long overdue.

"There had been agreements since I was little. Finally here's an agreement giving the Bangsamoro people their own government," Asis Marandacan, 37, said.

Samsia Cabilli, 45, said the Moros had been asking for a peace deal since the time of former Presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. "At last there will be peace," she said.

Akmadon Lidang, a vendor in Quiapo, said the Muslims had waited long for this agreement.

The Greenhills Muslim Traders Association welcomed the preliminary peace agreement as a "step in the right direction".

Nassif Malawani, president of the association, said the 2,000 members of the group saw the agreement as the beginning of an "achievable peace" in Mindanao.

Welcome to military

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) praised the government and MILF peace panels for clinching the preliminary peace agreement.

Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr., AFP spokesperson, said the signing of the agreement was a "concrete example" of the principles embodied in the military's anti-insurgency campaign.

Reports from Nikko Dizon, Marlon Ramos, Kristine Felisse Mangunay and Rima Jessamine M. Granali in Manila; and Julie Alipala, Germelina Lacorte, Tito Fiel and Edwin O. Fernandez, Inquirer Mindanao

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