TOKYO - President Benigno Aquino III assured participants of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) International Conference on the consolidation for peace for Mindanao that there will be free elections in the Bangsamoro in 2016.
This, even if his administration has yet to submit to Congress a draft Bangsamoro Basic Law that will institutionalize the comprehensive agreement signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which will mandate that election.
"This is why my administration will work doubly hard to ensure that free, peaceful, and democratic elections for the Bangsamoro government will take place come 2016. This is why my government will continue to take on programs and implement projects that will empower more Filipinos to contribute to the growth of our nation. This is why, even in the face of immense challenge and difficulty, the Filipino people will continue to tread the straight and righteous path to progress—because we know that true, inclusive growth affects individuals, communities, nations, and the entire world. It is with this commitment that we will continue to work with all partners of goodwill," Aquino said.
"Whenever it seems that the path to peace is filled with so many obstacles, when our spirits are tested and our faith in the processes are shaken, those of us who are in a position to make decisions must remember what happened here in Hiroshima, in Nagasaki, and in the many places that have faced and are now experiencing conflict: If we falter, it is the innocent who will pay the ultimate price," he added.
The city of World War II's ground zero—where the United States dropped the atomic bomb that ended the war—hosted the conference which discussed the inroads for peace in Mindanao.
Early in his presidency, Aquino met with MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Japan to reinvigorate the peace negotiations that ultimately led to the agreement aimed at ending the secessionist movement in Mindanao.
"With very little notice, your nation opened its doors to me and the members of my Cabinet, and to Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and the members of the MILF. Japan generously accepted our request to host our meeting—admittedly a risky move, especially since there was no certainty that negotiations would succeed. This was the context from which we approached that day in August here, in Japan, almost three years ago."
"I sometimes wonder: if that meeting did not take place, where would we be today? Fortunately, that meeting, my first face-to-face encounter with my brother Chairman Murad, was a breakthrough. We gained each other's trust—and the trust borne of that engagement was a positive turning point. It allowed us to move towards the realization of our shared aspirations. Japan's friendship and support were, without doubt, instrumental as we took those early steps," Aquino said.
The President noted that just like what happened to Japan after World War II, former combatants can become partners in peace and development. Japan and the United States became treaty allies after the war.
"It is therefore fitting that we are gathered in this city consecrated to the principle of the preservation of peace, to discuss how the combatants of yesterday can become partners for the avoidance of future conflict. In this regard, I believe that the Philippines, which also paid a colossal price in lives and material damage in war, has something significant to share when it comes to setting aside conflict and achieving reconciliation and harmony."
Aquino, likewise, reminded everyone that there shouldn't have to be another nuclear war to achieve peace.
"Next year, the world will mark 70 years since the terrible power of nuclear weapons was first unleashed—right here in the City of Hiroshima. The tragedy that took place in this city on August 6, 1945 involved a previously untested type of uranium bomb, and claimed over a hundred thousand lives. It was followed by the use of a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, inflicting over a hundred thousand casualties in a city that was actually a secondary target. Heavy ground haze and smoke obscured the city of Kokura, the real target, leading to the decision to bomb Nagasaki instead."
"A fundamental question arises from this tragedy: To end the conflict, what did the peoples of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki do for them to pay the ultimate price of war? The tragedy that was the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, seven decades later, only remind us the futile results of conflict, and impress upon us the collective responsibility we hold in defending the rights of our respective peoples to live not only without fear, but to live in a world where peace is a shared reality by all nations."
Aquino noted that for the Bangsamoro in particular, the Japan-Bangsamoro Initiatives for Reconstruction and Development (J-BIRD) has funded around 15.1 billion yen or P6.6 billion worth of projects.
"This will redound not only to the development of livelihood and industry, but more importantly to the empowerment of my brothers and sisters in the Bangsamoro—allowing them to take hold of their destinies and bring their families, communities, and ultimately our nation to greater heights," he said.