September 8, 2008 · Posted in: Governance, i Report Features, In the News

New names, old war

FOLLOWING the fallout over the bungled ancestral domain agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Arroyo government has disbanded its peace negotiating panel and announced a shift in its strategy of dealing with the Bangsamoro rebellion. That is, it will hereon negotiate with the rebels only within the context of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR).

The MILF leadership was however quick to point out that the DDR, as part of a successful conflict resolution, should be “the last item in the talks.” Taking it up ahead of a comprehensive peace settlement, says Ghazali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs, is a policy shift that signals a military approach to the decades-old conflict.

Peace negotiations between the MILF and the Philippine government have been going on for 11 years now. In January 1997, the government of then President Fidel V. Ramos expressed willingness to engage the MILF in peace talks. The rebel group, which broke away from the Nur Misuari-led Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that entered into a peace agreement with the government a year earlier, had after all taken over where the former had left off. Its ranks had been growing steadily with defections from the MNLF camp brought about by disgust over the outcome of the peace agreement. Such feelings had increasingly been made known through numerous bloody confrontations with government troops and the MNLF.

In a special report in the July-September 1997 issue of the defunct i magazine, broadcast journalist Ed Lingao described the MILF as a “more radical insurgent group” compared to the MNLF. Being the offshoot of the dissatisfaction with Misuari’s “willingness to bend,” the MILF, posited Lingao, would likely pose a more complex challenge to the government in its efforts at peace negotiations.

Lingao’s report provides interesting background on the bumpy beginnings of the peace talks with the MILF, even shedding light on how it approached the controversial issue of ancestral domain then. The rebel faction was actually willing to accept Islamic rule coverage to only the Muslim-dominated areas, instead of the 13 provinces and nine component cities that were promised in the 1976 Tripoli agreement.

Eleven years later, such talks have yet to usher in a second Mindanao peace agreement.

Read “New Names, Old War.”

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