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Philippines peace deal no guarantee of end to violence

How does Manila tame a generation that knows only war?

Philippines peace deal no guarantee of end to violence

Moro fighters raise their firearms in celebration in a rebel camp in central Mindanao (file photo by Mark Navales)

Joe Torres, Manila

March 27, 2014

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The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which was signed by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front this week, will only end the armed struggle waged by the rebels since it broke away from the Moro National Liberation Front in the late 1970s. But violence and conflict will continue unless myriad issues are addressed.

The peace deal will bring the rebels into the forefront of a legal struggle for recognition by, if not attention from, the Manila-based government, an experience not so different from what the initial rebel group underwent after it entered into a peace deal with the government in the mid-1990s.

Although we do not want to pour cold water on the euphoric celebration, we also want to look at the reality. Part of that reality is the existence of spoilers of the peace process.

Early this week, government security forces in Mindanao were placed on "red alert" to deter possible attacks that might be launched by groups opposed to the peace agreement.

One of the most serious spoilers to peace in Mindanao is the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a rebel breakaway group that the military described as "capable" of launching attacks.

This breakaway group stands to lose a lot with the normalization of the situation in Mindanao, when government troops can freely enter rebel territories.

Another spoiler is the Moro National Liberation Front, which proved itself capable of attacking the highly urbanized city of Zamboanga last year, displacing at least a million people who continue to live in temporary shelters.

The Abu Sayyaf, which has been touted as having links with the al-Qaida terror network, continues to challenge the capability of security officials to curb, if not totally stop, kidnap-for-ransom incidents in the provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi in the autonomous Muslim region.

Realities on the ground also include the social history of Muslim Mindanao that has made it a land of “permanent war.” This reality includes, for instance, the Yakan ethno-linguistic group that forms the majority on the island province of Basilan, but has been dispossessed by a migrant Christian population.

Other factors include addressing the issue of how, for instance, 75 percent of land in an island province with a 71 percent Muslim population can be owned by Christians, while an ethnic Chinese population control 75 percent of local trade.

It is indeed a combustible mixture that can produce resentful recruits, as proven in the past, who can spoil the peace process.

Added to this, pockets of resistance and banditry in the form of abductions and attacks on military outposts in hinterland villages have been met with military operations, warrantless arrests, illegal detentions of suspects and blatant human rights violations.

We don't even have to go into details of Moro clan politics that led in the past to the massacre of 58 people, including 34 journalists in the province of Maguindanao, or the alleged prevalent corruption involving local government officials in the Moro region.

Leftist congressman Isagani Zarate rightly warned that while a new organic law is yet to be passed by Congress to create a new Moro region, “we have to be on the lookout over attempts to place the future of the Bangsamoro in the hands of people who will profit greedily from further liberalization of our economy and privatization of our basic services.”

The government and the rebels have less than two years left to implement the peace deal before President Benigno Aquino steps down in 2016. The next step after this week’s signing of the deal is the crafting and passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress.

The future of the Moro people’s dream for peace will now depend on a few legislators, some of whom are against the agreement. Meanwhile, Moro fighters will have to start decommissioning their weapons, a process that is expected to be painful, especially for a people who have relied on their guns to survive.

The peace deal is not the end. It is just the beginning, not only for the Moro people, but for all people of Mindanao, to work harder to achieve their dream of peace, genuine development, and self-determination. It will not end the war. It might begin a new one.

Joe Torres is UCAN's Philippine correspondent based in Manila.

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