A new agreement aims to end separatist violence and establish democracy in conflict-ridden regions of the Philippines
On 15 October 2012, Philippine president Benigno Aquino and rebel group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed an historic peace deal, ending 40 years of on-off separatist violence.
A new semi-autonomous region, Bangsamoro, on the island of Mindanao, will recognise the Moro people’s identity and provide independence in key policy areas such as justice, policing and religion.
The framework agreement will see the gradual decommissioning of military forces in Bangsamoro, replacing them with police. Democratic representation will be established for the region’s four million Muslims, in tandem with central government, in what is a predominantly Christian country.
A more ‘comprehensive document’ will be drawn up by the end of the year, with final implementation due in 2016.
President Aquino, announcing the news to the international press, said: “This framework agreement paves the way for a final and enduring peace in Mindanao.”
MILF’s vice chairman for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar struck a similar note: “We are very happy. We thank the president for this.”
The news has been welcomed by Filipinos nationwide as conflict has ravaged the country for 40 years, resulting in over 120,000 deaths.
Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, who has brokered negotiations between the Philippine government and MILF for 15 years, called the signing an “historical deal” based on mutual compromise.
The Aquino government has conceded that the first semi-autonomous region (set up in 1996) did not go far enough in establishing peace and independence, and some are wary that the latest agreement may suffer the same fate after similar negotiations broke down in 1976 and again in 2008. But many correspondents, peacekeepers and commentators are optimistic.
Larry Jagan, a South East Asia affairs analyst, said: “I’m hopeful. We’ve seen these peace negotiations in the past fail, we’ve even seen peace agreements fall apart. But this time it seems to be a much more inclusive process, and a process that understands that there has to be political, social and economic solutions for Mindanao, not just a peace agreement.”