President Benigno Aquino will seek the support of European countries for a Bangsamoro region in Mindanao during the 9th Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) in Vientiane, Laos, next month.
“The President will seize the opportunity provided by Asem to engage relevant European partners in order to firm up support for the development of the Bangsamoro,” said Foreign Assistant Secretary Elizabeth Buensuceso.
The President has signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to pave the way for a permanent peace pact anchored on granting greater autonomy to Muslims in Mindanao through the Bangsamoro.
Buensuceso said the Philippines and Europe had deep and strong political ties with the European Union (EU) which was a member of the International Monitoring Team of the Philippine-MILF Peace Process, while the United Kingdom was a key figure in the International Contact Group and Norway was a facilitator of the peace negotiations.
“European partners were among the very first to welcome and express support for the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” said Buensuceso.
During the Asem, she said the President would also banner his gains in promoting good governance and inclusive growth in the country while upholding the rights of Filipino migrant workers. There are 746,700 Filipinos in Europe who remitted to the Philippines a total of $2.1 billion in 2011. Many Filipino seafarers man European-flagged vessels.
“There remains a high demand for highly skilled Filipino workers in such countries as Germany, Norway and Switzerland despite the economic crisis that is raging through Europe these days,” said Buensuceso. “It is no secret that the President has placed the protection and promotion of the welfare of migrant workers on top of his priorities.”
Buensuceso said Mr. Aquino was planning to conduct bilateral meetings with his counterparts from
the European Council and European Commission, and Italy (on defense), Norway (peace process, labor cooperation and climate change), Poland (defense and higher education) and Switzerland (human rights compensation and disaster risk management).
“We are very happy that the President is also meeting five or six other heads of European governments because here is an excellent opportunity to interact with his European counterparts. We will save a lot because you don’t have to go [to each country],” said Buensuceso.
She said this would be the first time, now on his third year in office, will attend an Asem conference which coincides with the country’s renewed focus on Europe and its importance as an economic partner which accounted for $13 billion or 12 percent of the Philippines’ total trade.
Asem was started 26 years ago to forge deeper cooperation between Asia and Europe. It is made up of 48 partners, including the 10 Asean member-countries and 27 member states of the EU.
As this developed, the military said Monday that supporters of a breakaway group of the MILF led by Ameril Umra Kato were no longer a threat.
Lt. Col. Roy Galido, commander of the Army’s 40th Infantry Battalion, said there had been recent sightings of members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the MILF breakaway group, following the signing of the framework agreement between the MILF and the government on Oct. 15.
But Galido stressed that the BIFF members who had remained in Aleosan, North Cotabato, after they attacked it four years ago were “very passive and pose no threat.”
Galido said the BIFF members in Aleosan were now merely “supporters in principle but not in action.”
Kato remains in Maguindanao, Galido said.
In 2008, Kato led brutal attacks in different parts of Mindanao that left scores dead on both sides and displaced more than 500,000 people.
The attacks came following the scuttled Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain
(MOA-AD) that would have created the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.
The Supreme Court had declared the MOA-AD unconstitutional.
Galido said the Army had maintained good relations with the community-based MILF commanders in Aleosan as a result of years of “confidence building.”
Galido said the military and the MILF kept their lines of communication open here in Aleosan.
“With the framework agreement, it is already a breakthrough even if it is just a guideline. It is a step towards reaching something,” Galido said. With a report from Nikko Dizon