Philippines agrees landmark 'peace deal' with Muslim rebels

     After more than 15 years of on-and-off negotiations, the Philippine government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Force (MILF) have finally approved a "framework agreement" that would serve as the basis for a final peace accord to end the decades-old conflict in Mindanao. Philippine President Benigno Aquino personally announced this "major breakthrough" in a televised address to the nation last Sunday.

The president's announcement came after the latest round of peace talks between the government and the MILF ended in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday. According to Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles, the signing of the preliminary agreement, scheduled in Manila on Oct. 15, will be witnessed by Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

In his address, Aquino admitted that the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was "a failed experiment" and that it did not meet the expectations of the people in the area, referring to the minority Filipino Muslims. "Many of the people continue to feel alienated by the system, and those who feel that there is no way out will continue to articulate their grievances through the barrel of a gun," the president said, adding that agreement forged by both sides now seeks to correct these problems.

According to Aquino, the agreement seeks to create a new political entity that will be named "Bangsamoro" to symbolize and honor the struggles "of our forebears in Mindanao ." In the local dialect, "Bangsamoro" literally means nation or homeland of Moros. Under the preliminary agreement, the national government in Manila will continue to exercise exclusive powers of defense and security, foreign policy, monetary policy and coinage, citizenship, and naturalization. Aquino stressed that the Philippines would remain "as one nation and one people, with all of our diverse cultures and narratives seeking the common goal."

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