Philippine president has achieved a landmark accord with his country's largest rebel group
On Thursday the Philippine government signed a peace accord with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group to end a four-decade-old conflict.
It was a significant achievement for President Benigno Aquino III, whose vision and determination helped pave the way for this historic event.
The international community, especially Malaysia, helped mediate this long process. Credit should go to them as well.
The agreement that brought an end to the armed rebellion of the Moros Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) grants the Muslim-majority area of the southern Mindanao region greater say over their destiny. In exchange, Philippines’ territorial integrity remains in tact. It is hope that peace will be restored.
The signing took place in Manila. Witnessing the event was Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
MILF leader Murad Ebrahim called the agreement a “crowning glory” because it restored the identity, power and resources to local people. He said it was a victory they shared with the Filipino people.
More than 120,000 people have died in this conflict, which erupted in the 1970s. And more than two million have been displaced because of the violence.
Significant as it may be, the deal will not end all violence in this restive region known for its lawlessness and poverty. Groups such as the Abu Sayyaf have vowed to continue their campaign of violence. Potential spoilers, such as Nur Misuari’s Moros National Liberation Front, could prove to be a problem in the future as they were not included in this process.
An MILF splinter group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), has already been involved in bloody skirmishes with the Philippine military in recent months.
Much work remains to ensure that the accord, known as the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, is implemented. It is hoped that other armed groups will see the benefit of such an agreement and end their campaigns of violence also.
Comprehensive peace will not be easy given the lingering distrust between the Christians and the Muslim minority in the country.
But with an approval rating above 70 per cent, along with the fact that his party controls both houses in the congress, Aquino has expendable political capital to push through some creative and meaningful reforms, policy and ideas.
Steven Rood, Asia Foundation's representative in the Philippines and an adviser to the peace talks, credited Ebrahim for being “realistic” and for accepting territory smaller than what was claimed in the 1973 agreement that was brokered by Libya.
Aquino worked for peace from the very beginning of this administration. Shortly after taking over the presidency, Aquino met secretly with Murad in Tokyo. It was a bold move considering the fact that many of his allies were against it. But it paid off as the Moros saw this as an honest gesture. The meeting paved the way for trust and confidence building process.
From the look of it, this deal is different from previous ones. There is a sense of broad representation to ensure that the grievances of various sides and communities are heard.
Members of civil society will be play a more active role to promote governance and accountability. It will be nothing less than a long process for all stakeholders. And as Aquino stated, the devil is in the details.