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

    Former US Envoys Urge Obama to Delay Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

    Keeping troop levels up during conflict with both Taliban and Islamic State is necessary to support Kabul government, they say

    First Lady to Visit Africa to Promote Girls' Education

    Michele Obama will be joined by daughters and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto

    Video NYSE Analyst: Brexit Will Continue to Place Pressure on Markets

    Despite orderly pricing and execution strategy at the New York Stock Exchange, analyst explains added pressure on world financial markets is likely

    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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora