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Aquino to launch initiative for Moro rebels

Security tight for first peacetime visit by a Philippine leader in rebel stronghold

Gulf News

Manila: Over 2,500 government security forces and Moro fighters will be deployed on Monday in Camp Darapanan, Maguindanao ahead of the visit of President Benigno Aquino III. This is the first peacetime visit by a Philippine leader in the area.

Aquino is slated to visit Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat town where he will launch the ‘Sajahatra Bangsamoro’, a socio-economic initiative aimed at uplifting the health, education and livelihood of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) communities.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao, was quoted as saying that so far, they have not detected any threats from members of the MILF breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

The BIFF, led by Umbra Kato and made up of young firebrand former members of the MILF, broke away from the mainstream MILF in 2010 over disagreements in peace negotiations with the Philippine government.

Aside from policemen, an army battalion and a similarly-sized contingent will secure the site of the ceremony in Camp Darapanan.

Sincerity of campaign

According to a statement released by the presidential palace, the launch of the ‘Sajaharta Bangsamoro’ “shows the sincerity and seriousness of President Aquino III and the government in forging a just and lasting peace in Mindanao.”

Aquino will join representatives of the government and the MILF for the launch that will be held at the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute compound in Camp Darapanan.

In an interview aired over government-run radio station dzRB Radyo ng Bayan, Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte lauded both sides for working towards achieving the milestone.

“What kind of message is the President sending? First, that we are serious about forging a just and lasting peace in Mindanao; and even way ahead of the signing of a final peace agreement,” Valte said.

The Bangsamoro Framework Agreement, which was signed in October 2012, will pave the way for the establishment of a new autonomous political entity, the Bangsamoro, to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Under the agreement, the parties agree to intensify development efforts for rehabilitation, reconstruction and development of the Bangsamoro and institute programmes to address the needs of MILF combatants, internally displaced persons and poverty-stricken communities.

“Even before a peace agreement is signed, you will see that it’s about providing social services to the MILF and Moros in Mindanao because of the Framework Agreement. It shows the sincerity of both sides as a continuity to talk and to finalise the annexes in the Framework Agreement,” Valte said.