MANILA, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- In a sign of trust, Philippine President Benigno Aquino visited a Moro Islamic Liberation Front camp.
Aquino is the second Filipino president to visit the MILF stronghold in the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute at Camp Darapanan in Simuay district in Sultan Kudarat province in Mindanao.
The first Filipino president to visit a MILF site was Joseph Estrada, who visited the MILF's Camp Abubakar shortly after it was overrun by government troops in July 2000 after his administration declared all-out war against the Muslim insurgents.
Philippine Sen. Loren Legarda praised Aquino's visit, saying that it would "gain the trust and faith of the Bangsamoro people.
"It is a good sign that even before a formal peace agreement is signed between the government and the MILF," Legarda told The Philippine Daily Inquirer, a Manila publication.
"The administration of President Aquino has already started providing the much-needed basic services for the people of Mindanao."
Legarda called the visit a "significant step" in gaining the trust of the Bangsamoro people "that the peace process is really under way because ink on parchment alone cannot solve the problem."
Aquino visited the stronghold of the MILF in Sultan Kudarat province following the peace "framework agreement" signed last October. Aquino's government subsequently launched the Sajahatra program to provide education, health and livelihood programs for the Muslim insurgents, whose activities caused the region to lag in the country's economic development, the Daily Inquirer reported.
During his visit Aquino raised the prospect of a definitive peace accord by next month, or at least "within three years and four months" before his term ends in 2016.
"I think we're very close to agreements on all the points," the president said. "But, as you know, I don't like to give deadlines even to people investigating crimes. I want the result rather than do posturing like a very authoritative figure.
"This is a consensual process. We are trying to achieve consensus and it will take its natural course but we think it might be earlier than that -- at least earlier than the end of March."
Legarda added that any peace agreement needs an economic aspect to be successful.
"Resources must be translated into jobs, livelihoods, food, education, healthcare and welfare for the Bangsamoro people," he said.
The peace agreement provided a framework agreement designed to lead to a treaty to end the decades-long war and violence in Mindanao.
The MILF is the leading militant Islamist group in the southern Philippines. The accord provides for implementing increased autonomy in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, which covers the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. In a further gesture toward appeasement, the ARMM is to be renamed "Bangsamoro" after the Moro people.
The MILF grew out of the Moro National Liberation Front, an Islamist group formed in the late 1960s following the December 1967 Jabidah massacre of Muslims in Corregidor. Manila then sent send troops into the southern Philippines to control the insurgency. The MILF formally split off from the MNLF in 1984 and has waged a guerrilla campaign against the central government since.
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