Negotiators from the Philippine government and the country’s largest Muslim rebel group say a series of bomb-attacks in the restive south should not be a stumbling block for ongoing peace talks.
In the past four days bombs exploded in two provinces of Muslim-majority Mindanao in the Philippines’ southern-most group of islands. On Friday, a bomb allegedly being transported by two men detonated, killing them both. On Saturday, police found and defused four bombs that they say were meant for high-traffic areas. Two days later, a car bomb exploded along the route of a local governor’s convoy. He survived, but two people were killed.
Police say they are still investigating who is behind the attacks.
The incidents occurred a week before the next meeting between peace negotiators of the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
MILF negotiator Michael Mastura says in the past, violence has spiked ahead of scheduled negotiations. But Mastura says these acts of violence can in fact help spur peace. “If the parties, despite these happenings, these incidents - these collateral or side effects - if they are ready to go into an agreement, then it ripens the process itself, rather than deters the parties from moving on,” he said.
The MILF has been part of a nearly four-decades-old insurgency against the government. Their fight for self-determination has left more than 120,000 people dead and displaced more than a million.
While peace talks have repeatedly broken down over the years, earlier this month President Benigno Aquino met with the chairman of the MILF. It was the first time a Filipino president met with the head of the country’s largest Muslim rebel group. The meeting has brought calls to fast-track the peace process.
Philippine peace panel member Miriam Coronel-Ferrer says the government is very concerned about the recent bombings and violence in general in the region. “Any of these disturbances or even outbreaks of hostilities certainly impact on how people perceive what can be achieved by way of peaceful negotiation with one group, which is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front,” she stated.
Coronel-Ferrer says the region is not only plagued by acts like bombings but also by infighting among the rebels, banditry and crime in general. She says peace negotiations are just one way that the government is addressing the problems in the south.
President Benigno Aquino has indicated he wants a peace accord by the time his term ends in 2016, with the hope that it would help open the resource-rich region to investors.
The next meeting between the two panels is on August 22.