ABS-CBN News | February 6, 2013

As confidence building measure, MILF to get health, education benefits next week

MANILA – President Benigno Aquino III will be visiting Maguindanao on Monday, February 11, to launch "Sajahatra Bangsamoro," a program that seeks to deliver government program and services to communities of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Various government agencies are participating to distribute health, education, and livelihood services to MILF members who did not enjoy such benefits before.


This includes health insurance from the Department of Health (DOH), college scholarships and technical and vocational training from Commission on Higher Education and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, educational assistance to madaris (Islamic schools) from Department of Education (DepEd), livelihood programs from Department of Social Welfare and Development (DWSD), among others.


MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim will be present and will himself receive a PhilHealth card.


Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras said that President Aquino himself had pushed for the socio-economic program.


"We are going to make members of MILF feel the presence and the services of the national government. First of all, we will launch a health program. Some of them will now become members of PhilHealth. So there will be a symbolic turnover of a PhilHealth card to the chairman himself," Almendras said.


The ceremony will be held at the compound of the Bangsamoro Management and Leadership Institute in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.


Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer described the program as a "confidence building measure" ahead of the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement. Ferrer said the target is to sign the agreement in March.


"We are still working on the annexes which we hope to complete and eventually sign a comprehensive agreement by March this year. This initiative is certainly very important confidence building measure leading to the signing of the comprehensive agreement," Ferrer said.


Presidential peace adviser Ging Deles said this is but the start of "bigger programs" for the benefit of the Bangsamoro community following the signing of the framework agreement between the government and the MILF.


"We know that part of that is also giving alternatives to the fighters and their communities for a more productive normal life. This is to begin--I think both parties have agreed that the Bangsamoro, and particularly those who have fought and are coming into the Framework Agreement--will not have to wait 2016 to feel the impact of the peace that is being built now," Deles said.


Almendras said no senatorial candidate of the administration has been invited to the event. "This will not be a political event," he said.


Expected to attend are Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato Ab' Ghafar Tengku bin Mohammed and other dignitaries.


Security measures are being put in place for the event. "There will be no weapons," Almendras said, describing the event as "a gathering of peace." -- Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News