By Ben Cal

Sept. 2, 1996 at exactly 9:22 a.m. went down in the annals of Philippine history as the moment the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) formally signed a peace agreement that ended a quarter of a century of fratricidal war in Mindanao. It was concluded after four years of tough negotiations held in Libya, in Jakarta, Indonesia, and in Mindanao.

The late President Fidel V. Ramos led government officials and foreign dignitaries in witnessing the historic signing at the Ceremonial Hall of Malacañang.

The signing was preceded by an initialing of the final draft between former ambassador Manuel Yan, head of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) peace panel, and MNLF chairman Nur Misuari in Jakarta.

Signatories to the peace accord were Yan, Misuari, Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and Dr. Hamid Algabid, secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

Indonesia and the OIC were instrumental in the final settlement of the Mindanao conflict that had killed over 120,000 during almost 27 years of fighting.

The formal signing was made amid thunderous applause from the audience that included members of the diplomatic corps, officials from the OIC member-states, Mindanao leaders and representatives of various peace advocacy groups.

The forging of the formal peace accord signaled the end of hostilities waged by the 25,000-strong MNLF fighters in Southern Philippines since 1972. It also meant the promise of full development in the country's second largest island, which is endowed with abundant natural resources.

In his speech, Ramos said that the "peace agreement falls squarely our aspiration of total peace and development for all, especially the millions of poor and destitute masses in our southern regions."

He thanked Indonesia, particularly President Suharto, for helping push through the successful conclusion of the peace agreement.

The peace negotiation started in 1993 after Suharto offered his country and offices as the site and mechanism, respectively, for the resumption of the stalled peace talks between the Philippines and the MNLF.

"Our people are grateful, indeed, to the Indonesian government and President Suharto who placed his most qualified and experience officials at the presiding end of the negotiating table," he said.

Ramos described Alatas, who proposed the first step in the Mindanao peace process in April 1993, as "a man of eloquence, profound intellect and deep sense of humanity.”

Ramos also thanked Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi and Libyan Foreign Secretary Al Mountaser who contributed significantly to the peace process; and Algabid and other OIC members who imparted positive contributions to the many aspects of the peace talks.

Ramos called those who helped the Mindanao peace process as "shepherds for peace.”

But Ramos reserved the highest commendation to the members of the negotiating panels of the GRP and the MNLF for successfully handling all obstacles during 48 months of difficult negotiations.

He cited Misuari for his high statesmanship and the moderation he displayed throughout the process.

Ramos was Armed Forces of the Philippines chief when he accompanied President Corazon C. Aquino in a meeting with Misuari in Jolo, Sulu in September 1986.

“Those 10 years and what we have done since then to gain one another's trust and move peace ahead have made all the difference," Ramos said. "Our people in the south and all over our Republic can now rejoice and embrace one another as brothers and sisters of one family.”

About the Columnist

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He covered the defense and military beat for over 40 years. He had the privileged to have covered the Mindanao War in the 1970s and 1980s when former President Fidel V. Ramos was Constabulary Chief; later as Armed Forces Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and Defense Secretary. Ben is the longest reporter who had the privileged to cover Ramos from October 1974 until July 2023. He wrote three books about Ramos as a military officer, as President and even after his retirement from government service as he remained active in serving the country a private citizen.