MANILA: A 10-vehicle “peace caravan” on Friday left Cotabato City in Mindanao for Manila to witness the signing of the landmark framework agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to bring lasting peace to troubled Southern Philippines.
Among those who joined the caravan were the organisers lawyer Anwar Maleng, the executive secretary of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and Samira Gutac-Tomawis, the women’s sector representative in the ARMM Regional Assembly.
Also joining the caravan, Tomawis said, were representatives of Muslim, Christian and highland communities to symbolise solidarity and unity among Mindanao’s culturally-diverse peoples.
“There is an increasing consciousness among Mindanaoans,” Tomawis said, on the need to unite and co-operate regardless of tribal identities and religions to attain peace and sustainable development.”
Under the agreement, ARMM composed of five provinces and one of the country’s poorest regions, is central to the establishment of a new Bangsamoro political entity that will remain part of the Republic of the Philippines.
Tomawis said the convoy would travel overland along the Maharlika highway in Mindanao and on to the Visayas and later Luzon through ferry linkages until they reach Manila on Sunday on the eve of the signing of the landmark agreement at Malacanang Palace.
In Manila, Tomawis said, they are to meet with their peace advocate counterparts in Luzon for an overnight vigil along historic Mendiola street leading to Malacanang Palace where President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, the Malaysian prime minister and MILF leaders are to witness the signing of the agreement on Monday.
At the same time, a spokesman of the influential Organisation for Islamic Co-operation (OIC) welcomed with “cautious optimism” the agreement described as a roadmap leading to the signing of a treaty that would bring peace and end decades-long war in Mindanao.
“The OIC hopes this will usher in a new phase of consolidating peace and start the long awaited development process in the region,” the spokesman said in a statement posted on the OIC website.