Speech of President Ramos at the signing of the Final Peace Agreement between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro National Liberation Front

His Excellency Fidel V. Ramos
President of the Philippines
At the signing of the Final Peace Agreement between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro National Liberation Front

[Delivered in Malacañang, Manila, September 2, 1996]

Break not the peace:
‘We are all victors’

TODAY we not only witness history: we make it. Today, with the formal signing of this Final Peace Agreement between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro National Liberation Front, we bring to a close 25 years of conflict, at the cost of more than 120,000 Filipino lives.

Today we launch a new era of peace and development for Southern Philippines, and for the Philippines as a whole.

On behalf of all our people and the Philippine Government, let me convey my highest commendations to the members of the negotiating panels, Chairman Manuel Yan of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and Chairman Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Forging the peace first

Here in our own land, this agreement falls squarely into our aspiration of total peace and development for all, especially the millions of poor and destitute masses in our southern regions. That we have made Mindanao the focus of our concerns fittingly demonstrates its vital role in the overall enterprise of nation building. We must forge the peace first in Mindanao because it has suffered the most and harbors many of the most depressed communities in the land.

The cycle of poverty and conflict must finally be broken, and this peace agreement is the cutting edge of our determined efforts. And it is bound to succeed not merely by force of the noble intentions of its participants, but because it rides the crest of mankind’s universal aspirations.

We could never have contemplated these dreams, however, if we did not have good allies in our quest. Here and now, we are proud to have with us one of the best teams of peacemakers in the world.

I speak of the distinguished Indonesian delegation led by Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, a master of principled negotiation and the key troubleshooter of the Cambodian peace settlement—a man of eloquence, profound intellect and a deep sense of humanity. I remember very well that it was in Cipanas, Indonesia, in April 1993, where he proposed the first step in the Mindanao peace process—the signing of an interim cease-fire agreement—that came into fruition in November of that year.

Negotiators and troubleshooters

Our people are grateful, indeed, to the Indonesian Government and President Soeharto, who placed his most qualified and experienced officials at the presiding end of the negotiating table.

We have here with us Ambassador Wiryono, the presiding officer of the plenary sessions, also a veteran of the Cambodian peace talks, former Indonesian ambassador to France, and now to Australia; Dr. Nur Hassan Wirayuda, an unassuming man of commitment and persistence—the presiding officer of the mixed committee; Ambassadors Pieter Damanik and Abu Hartono, former and present Ambassadors of Indonesia to the Philippines, respectively—who performed the crucial role of principal coordinators of the committee meetings in the Philippines; Brigadier Generals Asmardi Arbi and Kivlan Zen, former and present heads of the cease-fire observer and monitoring team, respectively—who traversed Mindanao to help resolve critical problems attendant on the implementation of the interim cease-fire agreement; and all the other officials of the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs—the chairmen of the support committees, the secretariat staffs and scores of others who quietly worked to ensure the smooth forward movement of the entire process.

The Filipino people also convey their gratitude to the Libyan Jamahiriyah under the leader of the first of September Revolution, Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, his Foreign Secretary, Al Mountaser, who promoted the progress of our joint efforts, joined by other stalwarts of the Jamahiriyah such as Undersecretary Ahman bin Khayyal, presiding officer of the first exploratory talks held in Tripoli in October 1992; Undersecretary for Asian Affairs Salim Amer; and the indefatigable and most dedicated secretary of the Libyan People’s Bureau in the Philippines, Ambassador Rajab Azzarouq, who played a lead role not only in facilitating the peace talks, but also in essential humanitarian endeavors related to hostage negotiations in the wake of past terrorist kidnappings in Mindanao.

Shepherds of peace

We thank the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) under Secretary-General Dr. Hamid Algabid, who also consistently placed its best and most dedicated officials to help the negotiations, starting from the constructive participation of Deputy Secretary-General Ibrahim Saleh Bakr in Cipanas; and his successor, Ambassador Mohammad Mohsin, who brought practical good sense to many aspects of the peace talks, together with his assistant, Ambassador Ali Zwawi.

And there are many more who deserve our accolade, especially those who inspired and gave impetus to our efforts. I speak of King Fahd of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who holds our nation and people in great esteem, the national leaders of Senegal, Bangladesh and Somalia, and their respective Foreign Ministers—all represented here under the collective banner of the OIC Ministerial Committee of the Six—who have been supportive of our peace process all the way.

All these leaders, workers and shepherds of peace have made immeasurable contributions toward shaping this agreement, which is a monument to national solidarity and international friendship. We are all humbled by their devotion to our common cause of peace and, most of all, by their affection for our country and the Filipino people.

The Malabang encounter

I have the highest regard for the statesmanship and moderation with which Chairman Misuari has conducted his end of our discussions throughout this process. Just two weeks ago, Brother Nur and I met in the town of Malabang, Lanao del Sur. It had been some 10 years since we two last met in Jolo, Sulu—in September 1986, during his meeting with former President Corazon C. Aquino, who must be credited with forging the first Mindanao-wide cease-fire with the MNLF.

Those 10 years—and what we have done since then to gain each other’s trust and move peace ahead—have made all the difference. Our people in the South and all over our Republic can now rejoice and embrace one another as brothers and sisters of one family. There has been no moment more joyful and more auspicious in our recent history—not since we overthrew the dictatorship at EDSA 10 years ago. Today we are all victors once again. We stand triumphant over war and violence—over fear and mistrust—over disunity and despair.

It is most fitting that this agreement is signed 14 days after that encounter at Malabang, and just two days after it was announced that the gross national product of our country posted its highest rate of economic growth since 1990. Political stability and economic growth are mutually reinforcing elements. And as we begin the journey to permanent stability in Southern Philippines, I assure you that we can now strive for higher economic growth never heretofore imagined or anticipated by our own economic planners.

Mindanao lies at the heart of the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area, one of the most vibrant transnational growth areas in the world today. And as we fit the scenario of total peace and development into the coming era of free trade in the 21st century—we shall have acquired an economic momentum not merely rising to the challenge of sustainable development, but also injecting the vigor of ASEAN into the entire Asia-Pacific region.

Today we reclaim for ourselves and for one another—as well as for all those who will come after us—the blessings and the bounties of enduring peace, social justice and people empowerment, which this agreement promises.

Necessarily, to reach this accord, both sides had to accept the spirit of give-and-take. Without such accommodation—as we know well from any and all negotiations to end protracted conflict—no end to strife is possible.

Making peace work

Along the way, we in Government recognized the necessity of harmonizing the provisions of the Tripoli Agreement— which the MNLF viewed as basic to a settlement—within the mandates of the Philippine Constitution and existing laws.

The MNLF for its part recognized the necessity of democratic consultation within the affected communities as essential to a doable formula for peace and development.

It has taken us some time—47 months of sustained and sometimes contentious negotiations—and great effort on all sides to come to this agreement. Now we must match the due diligence and the intensity of purpose with which the two panels, assisted by the OIC, crafted these terms with an even greater—and no less sincere—commitment to making peace work. While we may have stilled the guns of war, the more complex and arduous tasks of peace and development have just begun.

At this juncture, I pay special tribute to our Government panel, under the leadership of Chairman Manuel Yan, for a job well done. It is not too well known that Chairman Yan—former four-star General and Chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, our Ambassador to various countries, and Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs—is the one and only remaining veteran of World War II still in the active service of the Philippine Government—a record of public service that spans 60 years.

Sharing a common vision

His able coworkers include Congressman Eduardo Ermita (Vice Chairman), and members: Vice Governor Nabil Tan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), former Senator Santanina Rasul, Professor Rudy Rodil, and the late former Maguindanao governor Sandiale Sambolawan, plus advisers Executive Secretary Ruben Torres, Senator Orlando Mercado and Congressman Nur Jaafar, Congresswoman Belma Cabilao, Congressman Antonio Dequina and House Deputy Speaker Simeon Datumanong, who drafted the original working papers for the ZOPAD/SPCDP with Secretary Alexander Aguirre.

The root causes of the problems that led to these decades of conflict in Mindanao will not go away with this agreement. Left unattended, they can worsen and undo much of the confidence and optimism created by the goodwill between us.

By this agreement, however, we have resolved to deal decisively with those problems—to do battle against poverty and injustice—together, as one people and one national team.

We have come to share this common vision because we have come to see and to accept—with pride and with affection—our common lot as Filipinos. It is not only the great island of Mindanao that all Filipinos share, but the entire Republic and our people’s future. Whether we are Christian, Muslim or indigenous peoples, we face the same challenges and opportunities in the new century of growth. Our collective responsibility now is to ensure that we can enter the 21st century together, vigorously—on the same footing—with stronger capabilities to make the best of our potentials–and to compete successfully with the rest of the world.

Development cannot be an exclusionary process. If the nation is to progress, it must do so as a whole—and to do so as a whole, it must think and act as a whole, as Filipinos, and not just as Christians or Muslims or individuals of other backgrounds or beliefs.

We have fought hard for peace in Mindanao—for genuine and lasting unity among all our people—so that we can devote our energies to our most cherished goals, employing our most positive qualities. There is too much at stake in the Filipino future for us to impair our chances with continued partisan conflict and discord.

The welfare of the native land

The opportunities for greater trade and commerce with our neighbors in Asia, the Middle East and Africa are as rich and exciting as ever, and the rising expectations of all Mindanaoans for a better quality of life demand an immediate and concerted response.

All over Mindanao, one senses a tremendous reserve of vigor and talent waiting for an opportune moment to be unleashed. That moment has come—and the growth this peace should generate will become its own assurance that never again must Filipinos be so desperate as to take up arms against one another.

This agreement brings us closer to realizing the true national community that our heroes dreamed, and fought and died for: Jose Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto, Graciano Lopez-Jaena, Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinaiio Mabini and Ninoy Aquino, and a host of others who now are part of our revolutionary heritage.

More than a hundred years ago, Rizal himself enunciated the principle by which this day’s commitments can be best described: “Let this be our only motto,” Rizal wrote his friend Mariano Ponce, “For the Welfare of the Native Land,

We must have faith in one another, in our capacity to do good, to build, to help. Again I must draw on the wisdom of another hero, Ninoy Aquino, who wrote—in that speech he would have delivered at the airport upon his return on August 21,1983: “Must we relive the agonies and the blood-letting of the past that brought forth our Republic, or can we sit down as brothers and sisters and discuss our differences with reason and good will?”

In Mi Ultimo Adios Rizal enjoined our people, thus: “When my death is forgotten, my grave unmarked, let the plow turn the earth where I lie. May my dust make fertile the fields. Where the grass grows thickly, there I dwell.

“When night comes and my grave in darkness lies, break not the peace, kneel before the mystery. If you hear the sound of music, be not afraid. It is I.”

As we approach the celebration in 1998 of the centennial of our nation’s independence, we can offer no greater gift to our heroes and to our people than this gift of peace and unity.

The nation of our dreams

This is what the Zone of Peace and Development (ZOPAD) and the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development stand for—an opportunity for all of us to work together, to prove our commitment to the greater community of the nation.

Indeed, while the Council has drawn the most attention and controversy, I believe that the far more important decision we have taken is to create a zone of peace and development from out of our 14 southern provinces and the 9 cities therein, with a precious undisturbed period of two or two and a half years for rebuilding.

If the zone succeeds, then our entire country will move up—and without leaving any region, any province, any social group behind. Even more important, by creating ZOPAD, by binding the 14 southern provinces together in ties of economic interdependence and mutual benefit, we will enable diverse Southern peoples—Muslims, Christians and indigenous peoples alike—to forge for themselves one community, which shall then become fully integrated into the larger zone of peace and development we want the Filipino nation to become.

Today we have all come closer to becoming that nation of our dreams. By our resilience and political will, we have proved ourselves worthy of our nationhood. And again I thank all those who made possible this historic opportunity for us to come together and to work in unity as brother and sister Filipinos.

Source: Presidential Museum and Library

Ramos, F. V. (1997). Leadership for the 21st century : our labors today will shape our country’s future. [Manila] : Friends of Steady Eddie.