News / Asia

In Southern Philippines Insurgency, Locals Are No Strangers to Deadlocked Talks

Rebel chairman Murad Ebrahim answers questions from journalists on September 5, 2011 at the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's main stronghold, Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao Province, The Philippines.
Rebel chairman Murad Ebrahim answers questions from journalists on September 5, 2011 at the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's main stronghold, Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao Province, The Philippines.

Multimedia

Audio
Simone Orendain

In the Philippines, the government and the country’s largest Muslim rebel group have been trying to reach a peace deal through nearly 15 years of on-and-off talks. In recent months, there have been signs of hope.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has tempered its call for total independence and the government is offering them more autonomy. But the standoff continues in one of the longest-running insurgencies in the world, which is taking its toll on ordinary citizens.

Click here to listen

At six o’clock, the Muslim call to prayer permeates the open windows of a building on the grounds of an Islamic school in Cotabato City.

Inside the building, a woman in her late 60’s recalls the first time she was forced to leave her home because of fighting between Muslim insurgents and the Philippine government.

Speaking in the Maguindanaoan dialect with the help of interpreters, “Auntie,” as she is nicknamed, says she became a widow in the 1970s when martial law was first declared under the Marcos government, to quash the separatist movement.

She says she can still remember during that time that they were living harmoniously, but during the conflict they had to leave it all behind.  She says they left their water buffalos and cows and even their simple livelihood.

That was the start of bitter fighting that has deeply affected families in this part of the country.

The last big clash between government and the rebels in 2008, made “Auntie” an "internally displaced person." She is one of thousands of people forced from their homes during times of sporadic violence. Many like her can no longer keep track of how often they have fled during nearly four decades of fighting.  

A World Bank study of the conflict in Muslim-majority Mindanao reported that by 2005, more than two million people had been displaced and more than 120-thousand people died from the conflict.  

In Southern Philippines Insurgency, Locals Are No Strangers to Deadlocked Talks
In Southern Philippines Insurgency, Locals Are No Strangers to Deadlocked Talks
About 10 kilometers northeast of Cotabato City at the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Camp Darapanan, dozens of fighters salute their leader, Chairman Murad Ebrahim.

The chairman is holding a rare news briefing to highlight the most recent impasse between the MILF and the Philippine government. He summarizes what locals say this fight is about.

“They want to govern themselves," Murad says. "They want to determine their political future. They want to determine their way of life.  So this is the aspiration of the Bangsamoro people.”

The rebels coined the term “Bangsamoro” to include Muslims, indigenous peoples and settlers who live in the region.

Muslims in the south fought off colonization by the Spaniards in the 1500s and the Americans in the late 1800s, but not without losing lands they had claimed and their ruling system.  They spent most of the 20th century trying to reclaim what they lost.

Today, Murad says they no longer want complete independence from the Philippines.  Instead, they want a sub-state with its own court system, while relying on central government for national defense, postal services and currency.  

The problem in 2008 was that their land claims and the proposed court system were struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.  Two MILF commanders who were unhappy with the decision allegedly started attacks that led to skirmishes with government.

MILF Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar says the longer time passes without a peace accord, the greater the chance some commanders among their ranks will lose confidence and break away.

“If they will no longer be covered by the agreements between the MILF and the government of the Republic of the Philippines, including the ceasefire agreement, then that is very dangerous,” he says.

In late August, the MILF kicked out a high-ranking, well-respected commander who started his own splinter group and called a jihad for complete separation from the Philippines.

Also, Chairman Murad warns that, while talks stall, the international monitoring team that enforces the cease fire could end its term early.

“It is but natural that it will go back to armed struggle," he says. "And that is what we do not want because as far as the MILF leadership now is concerned we feel that we have gone far already in the political struggle.  Meaning we have spent 14 years in this.  We have accomplished so many things.  And if we go back to war again, then everything will be reduced to nothing.”

In early August, Chairman Murad and President Benigno Aquino met in a Tokyo suburb. It was the first such meeting between a sitting president and the rebel leader and they agreed that peace talks must be fast-tracked.

But three weeks later, the next round of negotiations ended abruptly.  

MILF negotiators rejected the proposal for expanded autonomy of the impoverished Muslim Mindanao region with plans for major economic development, a lasting peace accord and historical acknowledgement of their struggle.  Officials said they could not agree to create a sub-state, because that would require changing the Philippine constitution.

MILF negotiators recommended that their central committee reject the proposal.  Lead government negotiator Marvic Leonen says this is the normal course of negotiations.

“I can see where the MILF’s and the government’s proposals can converge," he says. "I can see that if the MILF understands the context of government sincerely and honestly, there might be more breakthroughs that can happen."

Leonen says if the government’s draft is officially rejected, then he does not know of a reason to go back to the negotiating table.  So far, there is no official rejection and both sides have indicated they want to forge ahead, while also criticizing each other.

Meanwhile, Auntie and other peasants in her predicament are pinning their hopes on lasting peace between the MILF and the government.  But after 14 years of on-again-off-again negotiations, prospects remain slim.

You May Like

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid