Clouds gather over Mindanao peace
deal By Noel Tarrazona
MANILA - This month will mark the first
100 days after the historic signing of the
Bangsamoro Peace Framework Agreement between the
Philippine government and the Moro Islamic
Liberation Front (MILF).
The agreement has
been widely touted as a great leap forward toward
ending armed conflict in the region through the
creation of a new political entity, known as the
Bangsamoro regional government, that will replace
the existing five-province Autonomous Region in
Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
waned somewhat after the 12,000 strong MILF
announced that it would not lay down its arms
until the new
Bangsamoro entity is
officially in place. MILF chairman Al Haj Murad
said his rebel group would disarm only after the
"appropriate" political conditions were
MILF chief negotiator Mohager
Iqbal followed that statement by saying that the
most difficult phase in the peace process would be
the disarmament of rebels, insinuating that the
toughest part of the negotiations was yet to come.
"Many [MILF fighters] have known nothing
but warfare most of their lives. We are used to
fighting. We are not used to governance," Iqbal
said. Mindanao's 40-year-old civil war has claimed
an estimated 150,000 lives on both sides and
resulted in extraordinary displacement and
suffering among the civilian population.
Trade and investment officials appointed
by President Benigno Aquino earlier announced that
the new peace deal will open the way to billions
of dollars worth of investment in Mindanao, one of
the country's most impoverished yet resource-rich
regions. The government has targeted power, palm
oil and tourism as priority investment sectors.
Eduardo Malaya, Philippine Ambassador to
Malaysia, recently enthused while speaking at the
first Mindanao Business Networking event, a post
peace pact initiative held in Kuala Lumpur, that
"we are collectively announcing to the world that
Mindanao is finally open for business."
Foreign investors have nonetheless
remained cautious, in part because there are no
clear guidelines for how their investments will be
protected and secured in historically contested
territories. The MILF's recent statements have
raised new questions about the viability of the
October 15 framework peace deal and will
undoubtedly amplify those investor concerns.
So, too, will rising indications that not
all MILF-related rebels back the deal. A week
after the peace pact was signed, the Bangsamoro
Islamic Freedom Fighters, an MILF breakaway
faction, clashed with the MILF in Maguindanao
province, with a handful of fighters on both sides
killed and wounded.
The Moro National
Liberation Front (MNLF), the predecessor to the
MILF that signed a ceasefire agreement with the
government, assembled 7,000 MNLF members and
warned the government of renewed hostilities if
the proposed Bangsamoro entity outlined in the
framework agreement is implemented.
signs of instability have dampened hopes for
peace. In December, armed groups operating in
western Mindanao abducted a school teacher and
eventually demanded a ransom from the government.
In Zamboanga City, where some MILF commanders
reside, more than 180 people were victims of
shooting incidents in 2012.
analysts now argue that the government rushed the
signing of the peace pact without studying fully
the implications. Julkipli Wadi, dean of the
Institute of Islamic Studies, at the University of
the Philippines, asks, " How do you sustain a
Bangsamoro Framework entity when there are armed
groups who feel sidelined?"
agreement is now also being carefully monitored by
foreign development organizations led by the
United Nations and Australian Government Overseas
Aid Program (AusAID). Australia has said it needs
to see the implementing guidelines of the peace
framework pact before offering more financial aid.
AusAID has been the biggest donor to fund quality
education programs in ARMM through its Basic
Education Acceleration in Mindanao program.
As questions rise about the framework
agreement, Aquino's popularity has started to
slip. A January survey conducted by independent
polling agency Social Weather Stations showed that
his net performance rating had dropped by 12%. The
survey was notably conducted nationwide in
December 2012 when state media was broadcasting
daily positive news stories about the peace deal.
Still, many are hopeful that the
government and MILF will not repeat the mistakes
of the government's 1996 peace pact with the MNLF.
The recent framework agreement with the MILF is
widely viewed as a modified formula of that prior
Six years after the signing of the
1996 peace agreement, MNLF fighters bombed a
military detachment in Sulu Province and held 70
civilians hostage in Zamboanga City after their
leader Nur Misuari lost in the ARMM's
gubernatorial elections against fellow MNLF member
and medical doctor Farouk Hussein.
to that election, the MNLF's 15-man executive
committee controversially ousted Misuari and
installed Hussein as the group's new leader.
Similar to the 1996 peace pact, the government has
launched positive state media releases on the need
for peace and development. But while Aquino's spin
doctors announce that lasting peace is around the
corner, the MILF continues to hold onto their guns
while other armed groups bay for war.
Noel T Tarrazona is a permanent
resident (immigrant) of Canada. He is at present
in Mindanao doing humanitarian work. He teaches at
the Master Degree in Public Administration Program
of Universidad de Zamboanga in Zamboanga City. He
can be reached at email@example.com.
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