In many parts of southern Mindanao, jeeps, trucks and buses already lined the highways before the break of day on Thursday, March 27.
Green flags and banners tenderly swayed in the early morning breeze as the vehicles rolled and headed towards major city and urban centers in Mindanao.
While the passengers of the vehicles converged on the cities in the south of the Philippines, their passengers were all ears and eyes in Manila, the national capital.
Thursday marked the end of 17 years of peace negotiations as President Benigno Aquino III and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Murad ‘Al Haj’ Ibrahim witnessed the signing of a historic document that ended 45 years of armed Moro resistance in Mindanao.
Yes, the MILF is finally turning their guns off after decades of bloody and acrimonious wars.
Signing the peace pact on behalf of the Philippine government were former UP Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and her counterpart Mohaqer Iqbal, MILF peace panel chair. Members of the negotiating panels from both sides also signed the peace accord.
On hand to also witness the peace deal was Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Malaysia acted as the third party mediator and host country during a series of talks – more than 40 sessions in total – between the Philippine government and the MILF.
The MILF is keeping their guns “out of commission” for good in a calibrated manner in exchange for four major annexes in the peace agreement that will give them control over wider territory, governance, power sharing and resources.
It is a negotiated political settlement the government hopes will stop the country from a further bloodbath and hopefully fulfill the promise that is Mindanao.
It is the third of its kind to be signed between the gov’t and Moro rebel forces.
In 1976, former strongman President Ferdinand Marcos sent his wife Imelda Marcos to Tripoli, Libya to oversee the signing of the Tripoli Agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front headed by Chairman Nur Misuari.
Then again, the MNLF, still under Misuari, signed the 1996 Jakarta Final Peace Accord after going back to war for the failed Tripoli Agreement.
The MILF, a breakaway faction of the MNLF, didn’t enter into peace negotiations until the following year, in 1997 when a ceasefire also took effect.
The negotiations outlived its founding chair Salamat Hashim who died in July 2003, six months after writing a letter to US President George Bush Jr (in January the same year) seeking US intervention to end the internecine war in Mindanao.
In January 2008, the former US Ambassador to the Philippines made an unprecedented visit to the MILF’s Camp Abubakar even as the peace process was ongoing.
These drawn out peace processes have outlived at least three major wars over a span of 14 years culminating in the bloody MILF attacks after the failed signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain in 2008.
Deposed former President Joseph Estrada also declared all-out war against the MILF in 2000 that led to the seizure of the main camp of the Moro rebel – Camp Abubakar. This was followed by yet another attempt of the Arroyo administration to crush the resiliency of the MILF in 2003-2004.
The peace process went on and off until the Aquino administration came into power in 2010. In August 2011, President Aquino secretly met with Murad in an airport in Japan to jumpstart the resumption of the peace talks. This culminated in the signing of comprehensive peace accord in Malacanang Thursday.
Presidential Adviser to the Peace Process Teresita Deles said there will be “no more war” in a speech before the signing of the documents.
Murad described the historic signing as the Moro people’s “crowning glory of our struggle.”
Aquino warned critics and doubters that he will not allow the peace agreement to be again disrupted by “spoilers.”
With the signing of the peace agreement, Aquino said the MILF will cease to exist as an armed group in 2016.
“The MILF will have shed its identity as a military force, and transformed itself into a political entity, casting its stake in democracy by vying for seats in the Bangsamoro elections,” he said during the signing ceremony at the presidential palace.