The Philippines and the Muslim rebels sealed the historic final peace agreement Saturday, ending the decades-long rebellion in the southern part of the country. Officials of the Philippines and the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, have signed the last annex of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
According to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, “The U.S. government congratulates the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for concluding negotiations toward an historic, comprehensive peace agreement.”
The Philippines was represented by Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and the rebels by Mohagher Iqbal, who both certified the agreement in the presence of Tengku Datuk Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, the Malaysian facilitator. Malaysia, a neighboring country of the Philippines, is helping both sides to broker the negotiation. Other countries, like the U.S. and those from the European Union, are also expected to assist in the implementation of the peace plan by offering aid and advice on good governance. All countries involved in this historic peace agreement aim to end Islamic rebellion raging in Mindanao, the southern part of the Philippines, which leaves the region still mired in poverty and underdevelopment.
Saturday’s agreement is the final detail of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement both sides initiated in October 2012. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has been pushing for secession from the national government for decades and in the process has claimed hundreds of innocent and combatant lives already.
The Philippines is a predominantly Christian country and the peace agreement calls for the creation of an autonomous Muslim-dominated Mindanao. The new political entity, which will still be under the national government, will have a large share in the revenues from the region’s wealth of natural resources as well as a greater say in managing its own security needs to curb the violence of the other militant groups operating in the region.
The agreement also calls for the decommissioning of the rebel’s 11,000-strong fighting force and the turn-over of all their weapons to the government. Three foreign experts and four local experts to be jointly nominated by the two parties will comprise the independent decommissioning body that will oversee this specific requirement of the accord. The rebels’ six camps will also be transformed into “peaceful and productive communities,” allowing the fighters to ease into their new civilian lives. Many of them will also be allowed to join the regular Philippine armed forces.
Included also in the agreement is to “take the immediate steps through amnesty, pardon and other available processes toward the resolution of cases of persons charged…in connection to the armed conflict in Mindanao.”
The peace agreement may still pose some challenges for its sustainable implementation, especially from some militant groups who refused to join the peace agreement. Included in this group is the Al-Qaeda backed group Abu Sayyaf who engaged in bombings, kidnappings and other terroristic activities. Nonetheless, the peace accord can be considered as an achievement under the leadership of Pres. Benigno Aquino III, who vowed to end the conflict through peaceful means. According to Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science lecturer, this historic peace agreement is an opportunity to finally end “The world’s longest-running intrastate conflicts.”
The armed conflict in Mindanao between Christians and the Muslim rebels has been raging since the late 1800’s. Ever since the Philippines became an independent state in 1946, every president has struggled to end the conflict either politically or militarily but fell short of expectations.
Many are now hoping this historic peace agreement between the Philippines and the Muslim rebels will finally end the decades-long revolt and pave the way for greater and sustainable peace and prosperity not only in Mindanao but in the whole country as well.
By Roberto I. Belda