Posted on October 8, 2012
By Rosemarie Francisco and Stuart Grudgings | Reuters – Sun, Oct 7, 2012
Reuters/Reuters – Philippine President Benigno Aquino shakes hands
with Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Secretary Teresita
Quintos-Deles after his speech on national television at the
MANILA/KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – The Philippine government and Muslim
rebels agreed on a deal to end a 40-year conflict that has killed more
than 120,000 people, President Benigno Aquinosaid on Sunday, paving the
way for a political and economic revival of the country’s troubled
The agreement begins a roadmap to create a new autonomous region in
the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country before the end of
Aquino’s term in 2016, giving the Muslim-dominated area greater
political powers and more control over resources.
Expectations are high that after nearly 15 years of
violence-interrupted talks, both the government and the country’s
largest Muslim rebel group will keep their pledges in the agreement, to
be signed on October 15 in Manila and witnessed by Aquino and Malaysian
Prime Minister Najib Razak.
“This framework agreement is about rising above our prejudices. It is
about casting aside the distrust and myopia that has the plagued
efforts of the past,” Aquino said via a live broadcast from the
The new entity, whose exact size will decided by plebiscites ahead of
elections in 2016, will be called Bangsamoro — the term for those who
are native to the region and which Aquino said honored “the struggles of
our forebears in Mindanao”.
The south’s volatile and often violent politics could still hamper
the plans. There is a risk that radical Islamic factions could split off
from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and carry on fighting in a
region that has a history of links with al Qaeda militants.
Shortly after the announcement, a breakaway group said it would continue to fight for an independent Islamic state.
“We do not care if the government and the MILF reached an agreement.
We do not want the Bangsamoro entity or whatever they may call it,” said
Abu Misry Mama, spokesman of theBangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, in
the southern city of Davao.
The group launched attacks on army positions in the south in August
as government and rebel negotiators held talks in Kuala Lumpur, but were
repulsed by government troops.
Another threat comes from powerful clans who control some areas in the region and may fear a loss of political influence.
The MILF and the government still need to thrash out details of their
broad agreement in the months ahead as a 15-member commission drafts a
law by 2015 to send to Congress.
The two sides agreed only that there would be “just and equitable”
sharing of resources, which are believed to include large reserves of
natural gas. Determining how much power the area will have over law,
such as its scope to administer sharia justice, is another remaining
challenge for negotiators.
Philippine chief negotiator Marvic Leonen told reporters in Kuala
Lumpur, where the talks were held, that many hurdles remain and that the
agreement was just the beginning.
“Peace processes are not easy. The agreement only heralds a change of
the status of the parties vis-a-vis each other, from enemies perhaps to
partners,” he said, following the talks that have been brokered by
Muslim majority Malaysia.
Hopes of peace have been raised in the past only to be dashed, most
recently in 2008 when the Supreme Court declared a deal unconstitutional
in a decision that set off rebel attacks and a fierce military
offensive that displaced 750,000 people.
The prospects seem brighter now, analysts say, because Aquino
commands strong political capital and has committed to a final
settlement by the end of his term.
A spokesman for the armed forces, Colonel Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos,
said a successful implementation of the deal would now allow the
military to focus their resources on defending the country’s territorial
rights in a row with China over the South China Sea.
The deal could also reap economic benefits as the Philippines defies
its reputation as a laggard with strong growth and a resurgence in
After four decades of conflict, the MILF leaders are ageing and,
analysts say, eager to see some fruit from the years of peace
They said the leadership may be motivated by the prospect of
royalties from huge untapped deposits of oil, gas and mineral resources
in rebel areas, part of an estimated total of $312 billion in mineral
wealth in Mindanao. France’s Total has partnered with Malaysia’s Mitra
Energy Ltd. to explore oil and gas fields in the Sulu Sea off Mindanao.
The deal is unlikely to have much immediate impact on the economy of
Mindanao, said Steve Rood of the Asia Foundation, citing concerns about
the region’s poor infrastructure, education and health services.
He said investors should take a longer view in the tourism and
agricultural sectors, where Mindanao could become a hub for
certification of halal products, those prepared under Islamic
guidelines. The global halal industry is valued at around $2.1 trillion.
The new entity and its jurisdiction, expected to cover five provinces
under the existing autonomous region plus parts of Lanao del Norte and
North Cotabato provinces, will be determined through a plebiscite after
the passage of the organic law.
Presidential peace adviser Teresita Quintos-Deles said the areas to
be added had previously voted to be part of the autonomous region. She
added the southern cities of Isabela and Cotabato may also be covered by
the new entity.
The Muslim area will gain powers such as the right to impose taxes to
cut central government subsidies, a bigger share in revenues from
natural resources and a more active role in internal security.
But the Philippine government will continue to hold exclusive powers
of defense and security, foreign policy, monetary policy, and
citizenship and naturalization.
“This framework agreement paves the way for a final, enduring peace
in Mindanao,” Aquino said. “This means that hands that once held rifles
will be put to use tilling land, selling produce, manning work stations,
and opening doorways of opportunity for other citizens.”
(Additional reporting by Manny Mogato in Manila; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
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