MANILA, March 29 (Xinhua) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte witnessed on Friday the inauguration of the newly-created Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in the southern Cotabato City, saying the autonomous region will bring peace and development to the country.
"This momentous event brings us a step closer to the realization of our decades-old dream of a peaceful region that is governed by the autonomous government that serves all Muslims, Christians, and other indigenous peoples, and every Filipino who also call Mindanao their home," Duterte said in a speech during the event.
Duterte expressed hope that the new Bangsamoro regional government "will not just live up to its aspirations and principles embodied in the past peace agreements with different Moro fronts, but also promote good governance, transparency, accountability, and inclusive political empowerment."
Moro people, most of whom are Muslim, are an indigenous population living in the southern Philippines. Bangsamoro means "nation of the Moro people" in the local language.
Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chief minister of the new Bangsamoro regional government, said this day marked "a new chapter for the Bangsamoro."
Ebrahim is the chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a major local Muslim armed organization.
"There were ups and downs in the past 22 years but here we are today together with the President of our country inaugurating the product of what we have been working on long before the peace talks started 22 years ago," Ebrahim said in his speech.
Before the inauguration, Ebrahim led the new members of the Bangsamoro regional government in taking an oath of moral governance.
The newly-created BARMM, covering five provinces and one city in the southern Philippines and with a population of over four million and an area of 12,700 square km, is controlled by a 75-member body.
The MILF and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) dominate the BARMM government with 49 members of high-level officials, while the Philippine government has a right to nominate 26 others.
The BARMM can have its own judicial system and parliament. However, the autonomous government cannot have its own military and police force, as these would still be under the national government.
Official statistics show that some 120,000 people, including civilians, have been killed since the early 1970s between government troops and Muslim armed groups.
After decades of conflicts, the Philippine government and MNLF signed a peace agreement in 1996 and created ARMM.
In 2014, the Philippine government and MILF signed a peace agreement and ended the insurgency. Both sides agreed to pass a law and created a larger Muslim autonomous region in the southern Philippines.
On July 2018, Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law, approving the creation of the BARMM.
According to Philippine media, the creation of the BARMM may finally end the decades-old conflicts in the southern Philippines.
The southern Philippines is considered the country's "food basket", supplying over 40 percent of the country's food requirements and contributing more than 30 percent to national food trade, according to government data.
The southern Philippines is also known as the "land of promise" because of its lush forests and vegetation, natural resources, and rich biodiversity. It is the country's major producer of rubber, pineapple, banana, and coffee. The island also has a larger deposit of minerals and metals, attracting considerable investments in the mining sector that could provide a major impetus to the region's growth.
And yet the provinces in the southern Philippines are among the poorest in the country, with poverty and social inequities fueling armed conflicts.