Philippine peace deal signed
The Philippine government and the country's largest Muslim rebel group signed a peace deal today that serves as a roadmap to forming a new autonomous region in the south, a step towards ending more than 40 years of conflict.
President Benigno Aquino and Ebrahim Murad, head of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf), held one-on-one talks before the signing of the landmark framework agreement. Before the meeting, Mr Murad, a first-time visitor to the presidential palace in Manila, handed Mr Aquino a miniature gong, which he ritually sounded.
"This is the sound of peace," Mr Murad told Mr Aquino.
It was their second meeting since early August 2011 when they held secret talks in Tokyo, a major turning point in the violence-interrupted peace negotiations that have lasted nearly 15 years.
Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, whose government has facilitated the start-stop negotiations since March 2001, was present at the signing along with foreign dignitaries and international aid agencies that helped in the peace process.
"Much work remains to be done in order to fully reap the fruits of this framework agreement. We have commitments to fulfill, people to lead, and dreams to achieve," Mr Aquino said before the signing ceremony at the Malacanang palace.
"We are committed to enabling our partners to transform themselves to a genuine political party that can help facilitate the region's transition towards a truly peaceful and progressive place," he said.
Mr Aquino is expected to issue an executive order shortly to form a 15-member transition commission that will formulate new legislation by 2015 to create a new Muslim local government for the "Bangsamoro", the name given by the Moro tribes for their homeland.
A plebiscite later in Muslim-dominated areas in the south will determine the shape and size of the new Bangsamoro area.
The new autonomous government will have greater political powers and more control over resources, including minerals, oil and natural gas than the existing Muslim-governed entity. Currency, postal services, defence and foreign policy will remain under the central government in Manila.
The agreement did not give details of the power-sharing arrangement between the national government and the Bangsamoro. But it guarantees rights of both Muslims and non-Muslims, unlike a 2008 deal that was struck down by the supreme court as unconstitutional.
"Negotiated political settlement is the most civilised and practical way to solve the Moro problem," Murad said in his speech. "We in the Milf central committee did not waver and vacillate in pursuing it to the end, despite the devastating three all-out wars in 2003 and 2008 waged by previous Philippine regimes."