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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More