News / Asia

Philippines, MILF Rebels Sign Historic Peace Deal

From left: MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim, Malaysian PM Najib Razak, Philippine President Benigno Aquino, and Presidential Adviser Teresita Quintos-Deles sign pact, Manila, March 27, 2014.
From left: MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim, Malaysian PM Najib Razak, Philippine President Benigno Aquino, and Presidential Adviser Teresita Quintos-Deles sign pact, Manila, March 27, 2014.
Simone Orendain
The Philippine government and the country’s largest Muslim Rebel group have signed a peace accord to end decades of violence that has left more than 120,000 dead.

More than 1,000 people gathered at Manila's presidential palace Thursday to witness the signing of what is being called a “comprehensive agreement” between lead government negotiators and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Under the deal, MILF will give up its weapons in exchange for greater political autonomy in the mainly Muslim areas of the southern Mindanao region.

Speaking at the signing ceremony in Manila, President Benigno Aquino hailed the agreement as a "path that can lead to a permanent change in Muslim Mindanao."
MILF rebels celebrate the signing of the peace agreement during a rally at Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat town, in southern island of Mindanao, March 27, 2014.MILF rebels celebrate the signing of the peace agreement during a rally at Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat town, in southern island of Mindanao, March 27, 2014.
x
MILF rebels celebrate the signing of the peace agreement during a rally at Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat town, in southern island of Mindanao, March 27, 2014.
MILF rebels celebrate the signing of the peace agreement during a rally at Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat town, in southern island of Mindanao, March 27, 2014.


"This agreement stands as a testament to how far trust and earnestness can move humanity forward," he said. "It shows how righteousness, reason and goodwill are the mightiest of instruments in ending conflict. It proves that the search for common ground is infinitely more productive than hegemonic ambition."

Aquino also said Mindanao still needs a “significant boost up” in order to catch up with the rest of the country, before issuing stern words to opponents of the deal.

“[To] those who wish to sow divisiveness for self-interest and those who continue to wield arms to pursue their own agendas, so many people have suffered for so long, so many of our stakeholders have worked so hard to arrive at this point: I will not let peace be snatched from my people.”

MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim called the pact a “shared victory” for the entire country, and especially for the “Bangsamoro" residents of the Muslim-majority southern island of Mindanao, to whom he says identity, power and resources have been restored.

“These three things which have been ours since time immemorial, unjustly taken through colonization and occupation, are now returned to us,” he said, describing himself as “overwhelmed with happiness.”

A former top ranking commander with the MILF’s armed forces,  Ebrahim also warned of the need to be vigilant as both sides work to carry out the terms of the compact.

Following 17 years of on-and-off negotiations, the newly signed deal, which is the result of talks that began in 2001, still faces a number of obstacles.

For nearly 40 years, Muslim rebel groups have fought for the right to self-determination on Mindanao, historically known as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which was formed under a 1996 pact with a smaller rebel group. The current administration has called ARMM, which has the highest poverty rate in the country, a “failed experiment.”

One MILF splinter group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, has promised to keep fighting the government until full independence is achieved, and Abu Sayyaf, a militant Islamist group said to have ties to Al-Qaida, also operates in the area.

In Manila, Philippine Congress must also pass a "basic law" to create the political framework for the autonomous region, which will be called Bangsamoro. There will also be significant pressure to approve the deal by the time President Aquino's term in office ends in mid-2016.

While the pact calls for disarming rebels and private armed groups operating in the region, conflict-resolution experts say its success depends on the central government’s ability to deal with smaller factions that are not happy with the agreement.

The country's justice system, experts have said, needs to be strengthened to stop the regular practice of residents settling grievances with arms.

According to Nathan Gilbert Quimpo, an associate professor at Japan's University of Tsukuba, the deal will be more successful than the previous two efforts to achieve peace with Muslim rebels in 1976 and 1996.

"The process that led to the [current] eventual agreement has been more open and participatory," he told VOA. "I think also the two sides have worked out the details much more, for example wealth and power sharing, access, revenues, and those things."

Under the agreement, revenue from the autonomous self-governing region's vast natural resources would be split with Manila, and the region would have its own police force and regional parliament. The central government, however, would oversee citizenship, currency, national defense and postal services.

The Asia Foundation's Steven Rood tells VOA the deal stands to be economically beneficial for all involved.

"[Mindanao] has vast agricultural potential, it has mineral potential, and it has gas and oil potential — all of which has been held back by conflict," he said. "That boost alone will be useful. Of course, making the Philippines more attractive for foreign investment as a whole will also be encouraged by a peace agreement."

Don Emmerson, director of Stanford University's Southeast Asia Forum, tells VOA that while the deal will not immediately end all of the country's rebel conflicts, it will likely help.

"I think it's fair to say of all the various rebel presences in the Philippines, it's this one in the south in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago that has been the deadliest and done the greatest damage to the Philippine economy," he said. "So I think if this one can be resolved, the others will become more manageable."

Emmerson cautions that much depends on how much progress is made in implementing the deal by the end of Aquino's term, and how committed his successor is to such a peace deal.

The deal is on a tight timeline, because officials want everything in place in time for the 2016 elections.

A transition committee is drafting a law that would be the basis for forming the Bangsamoro region. The Philippines congress has to approve the measure, which negotiators want passed by the end of this year.

Residents of the proposed area will vote in a referendum next year to determine whether they want to be included in the new entity. Once its borders are defined, they will elect leaders during the 2016 national elections.

VOA's Victor Beattie contributed to this report.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the years More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Beninio from: Philippines
March 28, 2014 1:36 AM
There is no peace when Islamofascists are involved.
Smarten up people. Go to Atlas Shrugs, google Walid Shoebat. There are more but this is a good start to get the education you need

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs