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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches 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.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid