By Ira Pedrasa, ABS-CBNnews.com | 02/10/2013 1:56 PM
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Peace advocates await with excitement the historic visit of President Benigno Aquino III to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) stronghold in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on Monday, a move expected to further bring together opposing forces that have been at war for decades.
In an interview with radio dzRB, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said: “Tomorrow will be festive. It’s the coming together of both sides.”
She said it will be historic in the sense that the visit is in a “time of peace.” She said the significance “won’t be lost on all participants.”
Meanwhile, soldiers and Muslim guerillas will meet in sporting events instead of combat.
A "fluvial parade" of dozens of colorfully-decorated motorboats will also welcome Aquino on Monday when he visits the outskirts of the main base of the 12,000-member MILF.
Aquino and MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim will be together in a peace mission to launch the Sajahatra Bangsamoro, a socio-economic peace initiative that aims to uplift the health, education and livelihood conditions of MILF communities. Aquino will be accompanied by his Cabinet officials.
Insurance cards and jobs are expected to be offered to the communities there.
This comes months after the government and the MILF signed the framework agreement for the creation of a new political entity in the region called Bangsamoro. The signing of the agreement last October was also the first time that Ebrahim set foot in Malacanang.
No contact sports like basketball
Local military spokesman Colonel Dickson Hermoso said both soldiers and MILF fighters would guard the area although presidential guards would handle Aquino's personal security.
The two sides, who once fought each other fiercely, will also play "friendly matches" of football, softball and volleyball to welcome the president, Hermoso told radio dzBB.
However popular sports like basketball were deliberately left out, he said.
"We did not include the contact games for now because there might be some people who will be provoked. They might lose their tempers and things might get heated," the colonel said.
There are no reports of any threat to the president, Hermoso said. But he added: "We are not complacent in our security precautions. The worst-case scenario has been considered".
Gun fight to boodle fight
The festivities actually began as early as Saturday, when hundreds of soldiers and MILF ate on the same table as they prepared to secure the area for the Monday meet.
“As they say, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Makakamit na rin natin ang kapayapaan na matagal na nating minimithi (We will finally achieve the peace that we have been longing for),” said General Gilberto Jose Roa, chair of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), in a speech during the historic “boodle fight.”
Commander Gordon Zaipullah of the MILF Central Mindanao Task Force also described the meeting of the forces as historic. “Ang pag-meet natin dati ay (We used to meet through) singing of the bullets. But now it’s not singing of the bullets anymore because we are cooperating with each other.”
Zaipullah urged both the government forces and the MILF soldiers, called the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) to respect each other. “Isipin ninyo na kayo ay (Think of yourselves as) one command. Not as MILF, not as government. Hayaan natin na makita ang unity ninyo (Let unity be seen among you).” – with Agence France Presse