Aquino flies to Malaysia amid peace deal threats

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III began his two-day state visit to Malaysia on Thursday amid fears that the peace accord with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front may be in danger because of renegade guerillas, politicians and the Supreme Court.

Planeside welcome. President Aquino is greeted
by Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman (left)
and Malaysian diplomat Syed Munshe Afdzaruddin
Syed Hassan (center) upon his arrival in Kuala
Lumpur on Thursday for a two-day state visit.

The peace accord, which was negotiated under the auspices of Malaysia, is expected to be the principal topic when Aquino meets with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Andul Razak for bilateral talks today.

But even though the negotiations were completed last month and Aquino is expected to sign the final agreement within weeks, even Aquino’s peace negotiators are warning that the toughest stages are yet to come.

“We can expect that there will be a lot of difficulties,” said university professor Miriam Ferrer, who led the government negotiators. “If the negotiations were hard, so much more the implementation.”

As the process gets under way, the government will need to stamp out the threat of other armed groups in the still-largely lawless region who oppose peace.

An MILF splinter group that still wants independence, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), has a deadly history of trying to derail peace efforts.

The BIFF continues to attract MILF members unhappy with the peace plan, while there are other rival groups who feel excluded from the process and remain a threat, like the Moro National Liberation Front

(MNLF), which signed a peace deal in 1996 that is regarded by Aquino as a failure.

Tensions are expected to be nearly as high in Manila, where Congress must swiftly pass a “basic law” creating the Muslim self-rule area.

“Congress is the main battleground. Congress can make or unmake things,” said Steven Rood, country director for the US-based Asia Foundation and a member of a monitoring team invited by the negotiators to observe the peace process.

Opponents are also widely expected to challenge the creation of a Muslim autonomous region in the Supreme Court which already ruled in 2008 that a draft deal that would have handed over large areas of the south to MILF control was unconstitutional.

But Aquino downplayed such fears ahead of his meeting with Najib and instead lauded the plans of at least three Malaysian companies will expand their operations in the country.

“This visit presents an opportunity to announce to Malaysian investors the strong performance of our economy. We will meet with the leaders of Maybank, Air Asia, and Genting (today) to discuss the details of their planned expansion,” Aquino said when he arrived in Kuala Lumpur.

According to Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Ed Malaya, Genting Berhad, the parent company of Resorts World, is increasing its Philippine holdings by 100 percent as it opens a new complex in Manila Bay called Resorts World Nation.

Maybank, on the other hand, said it is increasing its branches in the country by 20 more this year.

Budget carrier AirAsia also announced its plan to increase its fleet from two to five Airbus A320s this year and add frequencies and destinations.

Malaysian firm AlloyMTD, the construction company that rehabilitated the South Luzon Expressway two years ago, has also expressed interest in a Philippine company but Malaya did not disclose details yet.

Aquino also attended yesterday the inauguration of the first Petron station built in Malaysia worth $1.2 billion. Other Philippine companies active in Malaysia include Robina Corp., Motolite batteries, Pancake House, and Yellow Cab. - With AFP



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