A welcome breakthrough in Mindanao
BANGKOK — The government of the Philippines took a bold step late last week towards permanent peace and stability in the restive region of Mindanao when President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law. It grants the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) greater control over local affairs in the Muslim region. The signing effectively began the process of implementing an agreement reached between two formerly conflicting parties.
The MILF and the government have shown they are committed to peace and to tackling a variety of challenges through comprehensive and inclusive legislation. While the law will not bring about a blanket peace in the strife-torn region, the breakthrough with the MILF is indeed a step in the right direction.
There are other armed separatist groups in the same area, as well as extremists and radical outfits who appear uninterested in entering into any peace process. So Islamic militancy remains a problem, but let’s hope this breakthrough demonstrates to them that, regardless of the difficulties involved, peace can prevail.
The negotiations between the MILF and the government in Manila garnered a great deal of support from the international community, whose representatives helped formulate the mediation process and established an International Monitoring Team.
Its job was to monitor a ceasefire and other negotiated points. It was hardly a smooth procedure, but contributing nations were not complacent. They remained committed to the process through thick and thin, maintaining a focus on the stability of Mindanao, a resource-rich region and yet, because of the long-lasting conflict, one of the poorest in the country. A Malaysian delegation oversaw the mediation with the help of international organizations and several other foreign governments.
The organic law will give four million Moro Muslims the right to self-govern through an elected parliament and a wide range of control over many aspects of their lives. From education to taxation, as well as embracing Islamic principles, they will now have the right to chart their own future. MILF rebels will oversee this evolution and form a “transitional authority”. It will not be an easy transition and the Moros will need all the help they can get in carrying out the implementation.
Nevertheless, the ball is in the MILF’s court and it owes it to its own members and others who fought and died to reach this juncture. The MILF must be true to what it has preached and demonstrate to Manila and the world that it can make the transition from rebellion to peaceful administration for all people of the region, not just Muslims.
As noted, there are other rebel groups and factions that are still committed to fighting for Mindanao’s independence. They too will pose a challenge for the MILF transitional authority, which, under the agreement, must work towards full disarmament.
In a region where violence is used as a negotiating tool, the MILF will have to deal carefully but effectively with the armed groups, which might not respect Moros’ territorial integrity and newfound mandate. If the fighting in Marawi told us anything, it was that the central government still has a long road ahead before comprehensive peace is achieved. Those who opposed the organic law will do their utmost to discredit the breakthrough. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance for the pro-peace camp to make sure the transition succeeds. Any mistakes made will certainly play into the hands of the groups that refuse to come to the negotiating table.
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