MILF to end bloody conflict in Philippines?

Poor peace is better than a good war. This saying is very fit for the current situation in the Philippines. After 40 years of the bloody conflict, the government signed a peace agreement with the Islamists who fought for the autonomy of the southern region of the country. The peace does seem a bit shaky because the fighters may break the agreement at any moment.

The leaders of the Philippines signed a truce with the Islamist organization known as "Moro Islamic Liberation Front." MILF was formed in 1978. To date, the organization has 12,000 fighters in its ranks. For over 30 years the Islamists fought a guerrilla war for the independence of the south. During that time, nearly 120,000 people both in the government forces and rebel groups were killed. The agreement will be formally signed on October 15 in Manila. The President of the Philippines, head of the rebels and the Prime Minister of Malaysia are to be present at the signing.

"Moro Front" undertakes to cease fire in exchange for the wide autonomy for the south of the country. It should be noted that there are approximately five percent of Muslims in the country, and most of them live in the southern region of the state. The Philippines is home to 101 million people, of whom the vast majority are Roman Catholics (81 percent) and Protestants (11.5 percent).

The term of the performance of the agreement is 2016, the same year when the term of the current President Benigno Aquino is over. He said that the new autonomous region that occupies part of Minandao Island and a number of small islands to the south of it will be named Bangsamoro in honor of the Moro peoples living in these territories. This area will include five southern provinces, and six cities of the provinces of North Cotabato and Davao, as well as Northern cities, such as Cotabato and Isabela. The exact size and boundaries of the autonomous region will be determined by a referendum to be held before the presidential election.

Under the framework agreement a "transition committee" will be established that will develop a legal framework for the implementation of the peace agreement. Over four years, the "Moro Front" should gradually disarm the guerrillas. In turn, the government Army of the Philippines will transfer law enforcement functions to the Bangsamoro police in several stages. The local authorities will have greater rights and will be able to independently allocate their resources. It should be noted that these islands are rich in natural gas.

According to experts, the peace agreement was met with great relief by many, because the negotiations have been ongoing for over 15 years and were constantly interrupted by the fighting.

Both parties are happy with the results of the negotiations. The Philippine leader in his radio address said that this framework agreement was a confirmation of overcoming prejudice. The agreement makes people forget about the short-sightedness and lack of confidence that undermined previous peace efforts.

MILF representative Ghazali Jaafar said: "We are very happy and are especially grateful to the president for this, but there are a number of details that both sides still need to discuss."

Many experts have called this event historic. The government of the country has managed to reach a preliminary agreement on peace with MLIF that has been seeking independence for over 30 years with the help of sabotage and clashes with the army. All previous attempts to create the autonomy have failed. In fact, this agreement is a "road map" of the settlement of the ethnic conflict in the southern region of the country.

A well-known political scientist and orientalist Stanislav Tarasov commented on the situation:
"If the ceasefire does occur and the practical implementation of the agreement begins, this fact will be an outstanding political event of historical nature. Amid numerous conflicts with the various Islamic groups, such dialogue existed, but has never ended in a successful outcome. This will be the greatest event and an example of a transition of militant groups and authorities from confrontation to a peaceful existence. "
However, some experts express concern that the turbulent political situation in the southern regions of the country may undermine all agreements. There is a chance that the most radical faction of the Philippine Muslim rebels with ties to al-Qaeda will not accept peace and will continue fighting.

Head of the Center for Asian Studies of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences Dmitry Mosyak said that in the last decades such agreements were declared more than once. However, there are always radical groups that refuse to recognize the truce, insisting on creating their own state. In addition, the power struggle within the autonomy may cause serious conflicts between the Islamists. The problem, according to Dmitry Mosyakov, is that the authorities make significant concessions, but then radical Islamists have their own issues. Part of them signs such agreements, but then there are others who refuse to recognize the legitimacy of these agreements. There is absolutely no guarantee that after a few weeks or months we will not see a new group of Islamists who will announce that those who signed the agreement are renegades, and will continue the armed struggle. In the autonomy the struggle between those who are in power and those who did not receive any power may begin.

The threat to a peaceful solution also comes from the fact that several powerful clans in the south may lose influence if an autonomous Muslim settlement is created. Therefore, experts prefer not to jump to conclusions.

The Philippines is not only known for its resorts. The country, in addition to the problems of extremism, has complex external economic relations with its powerful neighbor - China. The Philippines include over seven thousand islands, but a number of islands are claimed by China and Taiwan. In the South China Sea, there are many disputed areas that China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have been arguing over for many years. There are frequent conflicts associated with fishing boats and military vessels that pass by the islands.

The tension in the region has particularly increased in the last few years. The Philippines Foreign Ministry wants a diplomatic solution to the conflict. But China is not going to abandon the islands. Frictions with China forced the Philippines to seek support from the U.S. Philippine President Benigno Aquino supports the U.S. and works with the authorities of this country on many issues. Since Benigno Aquino took office in 2010, the economic situation in the country has gradually begun to change. Aquino began to destroy the old political system based on corruption and built a different business climate.

Many experts believe that by 2050, the Philippines will be the 16th world economy if the country overcomes its many challenges. The Philippine authorities believe that they will obtain the help of the U.S. However, Washington has repeatedly said that it would not support any side in the conflicts in the South China Sea, expressing a concern about the increase of tension in the region. At the same time the U.S. plans to place a Marines unit in the Philippines to monitor the situation in the South China Sea in the near future. It is planned to place 50 American Marines on Palawan island.

The plan also includes creation of a joint command center, where a new runway will be built that could accept large U.S. cargo planes. It is expected that the Philippines will host a total of about four thousand U.S. Marines.

Perhaps, the U.S. wants to strengthen its presence in the region using the Philippines, simultaneously pressuring China. This may lead to future further deterioration of the relations between the Philippines and China, which may adversely affect the domestic politics o of the Philippines. Time will tell if a long-awaited peace in the Philippines is truly possible.

Sergei Vasilenkov


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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov