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From peace deal to real peace: Long road ahead for southern Philippines

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08 Aug From peace deal to real peace: Long road ahead for southern Philippines

In his recent address to the Congress – televised to the nation, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III gave his administration a pat on the back for having concluded a historic peace accord with the militant Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in March. He also assured that the government was making steady headway on the crafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), a prerequisite to the establishment of the new Bangsamoro political entity in the country’s predominantly Muslim south.

The administration has high hopes for the growth potential of the prospective Bangsamoro region, which sits on considerable mineral and agricultural wealth.  But the question remains as to whether the much hyped-up peace pact will translate into real peace on the ground.

A lesson in history

If history is any indicator, the peace process will be much more complex than the one President Aquino has painted.

In a similar bid at reconciliation, the Philippine government in 1989 authorised the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Only four of seventeen provinces and cities opted in then. Instead of bringing peace, the deal further polarised the Muslim movement, leading some factions  that favoured independence over autonomy to break away from the broader secular nationalist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) movement.

The militant MILF had broken away from MNLF even before the ARMM’s creation. Another splinter group was Abu Sayyaf, notorious for their vicious tactics and high-profile kidnappings.  Just a few hours before President Aquino’s televised address, Abu Sayyaf militants again wreaked havoc in the south, opening fire on civilians on their way to celebrate the end of Ramadan and killing more than 20.

Neutralising extremist elements

Ironically, the MILF is facing the same cards that it dealt no more than four decades ago. While its war-weary faction was looking for negotiation, the uncompromising ones had splintered yet again. The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) was one such group.

If the Philippine government aims to achieve real peace on the ground, it must thus contain the extremist elements. The Abu Sayyaf attacks, which saw Muslim militants killing Muslim civilians, reveal a growing fragmentation in the Islamist movement between the moderates and radicals. Exploiting these fissures would allow the government to limit the strength of splinter groups.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons