Soldiers and Muslim guerrillas will meet in sporting events instead of combat when Philippine President Benigno Aquino III makes a historic visit to a rebel camp to promote a peace pact, officials said yesterday.
A “fluvial parade” of dozens of colorfully decorated motorboats will also welcome Aquino today when he visits the outskirts of the main base of the 12,000-member Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the south.
Aquino and MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim will meet on Mindanao to hand out social security benefits to impoverished Muslim residents to show their sincerity in furthering the peace process.
Local military spokesman Colonel Dickson Hermoso said both soldiers and MILF fighters would guard the area although presidential guards would handle Aquino’s personal security.
The two sides, who once fought each other fiercely, will also play “friendly matches” of soccer, softball and volleyball to welcome the president, Hermoso told radio station DZBB.
However, popular sports like basketball were deliberately left out, he said.
“We did not include the contact games for now because there might be some people who will be provoked. They might lose their tempers and things might get heated,” the colonel said.
Chief MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the event was historic as it as the first time for a president to enter the main MILF stronghold.The two leaders may not have time to discuss substantive issues, he said.
“The most special thing is the confidence-building,” he said.
Aquino’s spokeswoman Abigail Valte said the president’s visit would show the sincerity of both sides in reaching out to Muslims who are among the poorest people in the archipelago.
She said the mood would be “very festive.”