News / Asia

Observers Caution Long Road Ahead for Philippine-Muslim Peace Deal

A Filipino Muslim flashes the peace sign as he holds a placard during a 'Prayer-for-Peace' rally near the Presidential Palace in Manila, Philippines, October 28, 2011.
A Filipino Muslim flashes the peace sign as he holds a placard during a 'Prayer-for-Peace' rally near the Presidential Palace in Manila, Philippines, October 28, 2011.
Simone Orendain
People in the southwestern region of the Philippines are watching closely as the government and the country's largest Muslim rebel group finalize details of a peace accord.  The anticipated deal comes after a nearly 40-year insurgency in the impoverished south left more than 120,000 people dead.

The guidelines for peace between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front call for the creation of a political entity to be named “Bangsamoro.” The term refers to all natives (regardless of faith) of the southwestern region of the Philippines where most of the country’s Muslims live. The Muslims believe this area of Mindanao to be their ancestral domain and it has been at the heart of their fight for self-determination.

Abel Moya is a Mindanao-based conflict resolution analyst. He says the name alone is cause for optimism.

“This is indeed a historic step towards achieving lasting peace in Mindanao, precisely because the government now recognizes that there is such a thing as ‘Bangsamoro',” said Moya.

The new entity gives natives of the region the Bangsamoro identity, even as they remain Philippine citizens. However, Moya says people on the ground must keep a watchful eye on how it will take shape.

The plan is for Bangsamoro to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which was established 16 years ago, after an earlier peace deal with the Moro National Liberation Front, a smaller Muslim group. In his speech Sunday to announce the impending peace accord, President Benigno Aquino called the ARMM a “failed experiment.”

“Many of the people continue to feel alienated by the system," he said.  "And, those who feel that there is no way out will continue to articulate their grievances through the barrel of a gun.”

The ARMM, which encompasses five provinces on the shores of the Mindanao Sea, is an area of immense poverty, known as a hotbed for violence.

International Alert Philippine Director Francisco Lara says, in the early years of the ARMM, its leaders became overwhelmed by the challenges of trying to build economic stability.  The area reverted to the historical practice of having elite families - both Christian and Muslim - governing. He says now, this new peace accord is seen as a threat to them.

“They feel that, as this new political entity gets established, the basic law is written down, that their power will diminish. That’s where probably you’ll find some eruption of conflict,” said Lara.

Peace workers say this power struggle is expected because local leaders will likely see their territories and corresponding government funding shrink. But Lara says this is just one challenge. He anticipates that, as the insurgency ends, there will be an escalation of in-fighting, what he calls “horizontal violence.”

“For the explosion of fights between families and clans now, between those who are benefited by the peace agreement and those who aren’t, between those who have contacts and connections with the new governors versus those who [don’t]," he said.

The government says the Moro Islamic Liberation Front specifically requested that the transition to Bangsamoro be completed by 2016, when President Aquino’s term ends. This means the area will have to be specifically defined through a plebiscite, a transition government put in place, all political commitments ironed out and disarmament completed at the end of the three years.

Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities Director Mussolini Sinsuat Lidasan says the preliminary agreement opens the door to humanitarian investments for development projects. But he says three years to forge lasting peace is not enough time.

“So many scenarios might happen along the way," said Sinsuat. "What if in the final peace agreement, it will turn out that only one province or even less would want to participate [in] the Bangsamoro political entity? Now that could be a big challenge.”

Lidasan says “the devil is in the details.” And, provisions such as decommissioning arms will pose more challenges because even some members of the MILF’s armed wing feel the need to defend themselves against breakaway factions.

The group is contending with the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters who are seen as a spoiler to this agreement. There is also the Abu Sayyaf - a notoriously violent group that long ago dropped any ideological aspirations in favor of kidnappings for ransom, beheadings and deadly bombings.

Lara says the MILF will have to demonstrate their ability to keep peace and order and work with national government to have these elements under control.

The peace workers say the two parties’ transparency throughout the negotiation process and willingness to seek input from people directly affected by an agreement are crucial to the plan’s success.

You May Like

Germany Celebrates 25 Years of Unity

October 3 is a public holiday, marking the day in 1990 when East Germany and West Germany reunited More

Analysts: Russia's Syria Strikes Shake Regional Powers

If Moscow bolsters Assad, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries may feel obliged to step in More

Video Innovative Nano-Tech Water Filter Prevents Disease

It can absorb contaminants like copper, bacteria, viruses and pesticides, says Askwar Hilonga, who has been successfully trying out his product in Arusha More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs