Peace possible

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To those who ask what will define the Aquino presidency, today is a defining moment!” That was President Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda exulting on Twitter last Sunday, minutes after the negotiating panels of the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed the fourth and last annex of a proposed peace deal that would pave the way for the cessation of hostilities in Mindanao.


The Annex on Normalization, as it is called, mandates the gradual decommission of the MILF’s arms and, with congressional approval, the grant of amnesty to its members facing rebellion-related charges or pardon to convicted ones—a gesture meant to facilitate “the healing of the wounds of conflict and the return to normal life,” as the document puts it. After a comprehensive peace deal is signed, the two panels will next buckle down to writing a Bangsamoro basic law that will create a new Bangsamoro autonomous region.

The measure will then have to be certified urgent by the President and submitted to Congress for approval. Once it’s enacted into law, it will be the subject of a plebiscite in which qualified voters in the identified territories of the new Bangsamoro region will take part. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao will be deemed abolished once the Bangsamoro law is ratified by popular consensus, with a Bangsamoro Transition Authority appointed in the interim to govern the territory. Full normalization will take place with the election of a Bangsamoro government by 2016.

Clearly, it’s still a long road ahead for the Mindanao peace process, and many substantive hurdles remain. But Lacierda may be forgiven for his excitement last Sunday. Prudence is a good virtue in any exercise with still too many variables, but it would also be churlish to diminish, or deny, the import of what had just taken place.


With the signing of the final component of the proposed peace agreement, the Aquino administration has managed to go the farthest than any before it in its quest to find peace for Mindanao—after 17 years of intermittent negotiations with the MILF and an even longer war that has left some 150,000 dead in the region since the 1970s. All four administrations after the Marcos dictatorship had taken their own swing at the Gordian knot—from Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos’ foundational work to bring Nur Misuari’s original Moro National Liberation Front to the fold with the creation of the ARMM, to Joseph Estrada’s brutal all-out war against the MILF and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s proposed memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain that was eventually deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

None has come this close to a final peace deal as the Aquino administration appears to have at this time, with optimism running high on both sides of the negotiating table that a momentum has been achieved for the critical final push.

His recent caper in Zamboanga City showed that Misuari can still throw a monkey wrench into the peace process—though Malacañang’s decisive response to that bloody siege has, for now, made the former ARMM chair even more irrelevant, his followers on the run, and his political standing in tatters. But Misuari’s legacy of adventurism still runs rampant in many parts of Mindanao. The breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters is at this moment engaged in fresh battles with government forces in Maguindanao, with over 9,000 civilians reportedly having fled the fighting.

In a preview of what can be possible with a peace deal in place, the MILF is said to be actively helping the military against the splinter group of its former commander Ameril Umra Kato. That commitment to cooperate with the government will surely be further tested once a final peace deal is signed and the processes of ratification and normalization are under way. This, in other words, is a most delicate time, requiring the greatest transparency and continuing good faith from both sides to resolve whatever new impediments may be posed by vested interests intent only on keeping the status quo in Mindanao.

This is a historic moment for the country, and it, not the mauling of a TV celebrity in tony BGC, deserves to be front and center in the public attention. A critical consensus has been reached on how to bring peace to perennially war-torn Mindanao. Filipinos must pay greater attention to this development, or risk losing the chance once again.