Philippine’s Framework Peace Agreement

Posted: November 12, 2012 at 3:47 pm, Last Updated: November 12, 2012 at 3:56 pm

by Andrew Guth

Introduction:

Forty years of conflict that killed 120,000 people in the southern Philippines is hopefully coming to an end with a framework peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) (Big News Network, 2012).  This paper examines the framework agreement, the challenges still to come, and the economic possibilities in the region.  It concludes that while the agreement is certainly a step forward, past failed agreements and the overwhelming challenges such as lack of support, disarmament, mistrust, corruption, and political violence to name a few make it extremely difficult to believe that this agreement is somehow different.

The Framework Agreement:

The preliminary framework peace agreement establishes a “transition commission” that is charged with meeting three main goals for a final peace agreement.  First, the commission must establish a new Muslim autonomous region named Bangsamoro – presumably with larger boundaries.  The new region replaces a similar Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that was established in another peace agreement with the MILF in 1989.  Second, the commission must establish greater political and economic powers for the new Bangsamoro government, including greater autonomous control of Bangsamoro’s people and resources.   Third, it must establish a plan of how and when MILF will disarm.  In exchange for a new Muslim autonomous region with greater political power and economic control, MILF agreed to disarm its 11,000-12,000 fighters and no longer pursue an independent Muslim state (Big News Network, 2012).  While the commission has until 2015 to fully design a final peace agreement, it has until only December 2012 to establish what the new Bangsamoro government’s fiscal and legal powers are, as well as the disarmament plan (The National, 2012).

The Challenges:

The thirteen-page framework agreement does not itself bring peace to the region, rather it allows for boundaries (territorial, political, and economic) to be installed so that peace can be made.  This suggests that many challenges still exist.  First, not everyone is supportive of the agreement.  Several politicians believe that a military solution is more beneficial for the country in resolving the conflict and point to the forty years of failed negotiations – including peace agreements in 1989, 1996, and 2008 (Mogato & Francisco, 2012; The National, 2012; The Seattle Times, 2012).  Also, the region has several other rebel groups that are either not supportive or only partially supportive of the agreement.  These include the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), National People’s Army (NPA), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, and the Abu Sayyaf to name a few.  These groups are either cautious of any peace agreement with the Philippine government (e.g. MNLF) or benefit by having the region in conflict because is it easier to perform criminal and or terrorists activities (e.g. Abu Sayyaf) (Read, 2012; The National, 2012; Unson, 2012).

The area may be of particular interests to Abu Sayyaf because of its connections with Jemaah Islamiya (JI), Al-Qaeda, and similar organizations (Read, 2012; U.S. Department of State, 2009).  Due to the Philippines weak banking system and Hawala networks, the conflict region is desirable as a financial center for these organizations (Read, 2012).  Additionally, rebel groups use the region to raise funds for either purely monetary purposes (i.e. criminal activity) or to fund terrorist activity.  In addition to kidnappings for ransom, bombings, and extortion, local rebel groups are connected with Chinese criminal organizations that use the conflict as cover to more readily import precursor drugs, establish methamphetamine laboratories, and distribute the drug within and outside of the Philippines (U.S. Department of State, 2009).  The groups may also be moving into fake pharmaceuticals – either importing through the region or possibly setting up laboratories for production (ABS-CBN News, 2012; PhilStar, 2012).

Second, convincing MILF fighters to give up their weapons is an extraordinarily difficult task.  The framework agreement is based on the Northern Ireland agreement with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) (Mogato & Francisco, 2012).  In that peace negotiation, the most difficult segment of the agreement was getting IRA members to disarm.  It may be even harder in Mindanao because there are other rebel groups in the region that will not disarm.  It may be particularly difficult for MILF fighters to disarm when most farmers, “Islamic factions, feuding clans, and communist rebels” retain weapons (Mogato & Francisco, 2012).  This affects the overall security for the entire region (The National, 2012).

Third, there are decades and even centuries of mistrust between the local Muslims and minority Christians in the region.  The MNLF have forty years of broken negotiations with their Christian counterparts in the Philippine government.  And rumors in Cotabato City, an economic center in the region, have already begun about Muslims wanting to retake their ancestral farmland from ethnic non-Muslims (e.g. Chinese Filipinos).

Fourth, there is a lack of competent public servants in the region.  Replacing the region’s army with a regional police force is a difficult issue to overcome, and in fact was one of the biggest sticking points during the framework agreement negotiations (China.org, 2012).  It was decided that former rebel fighters, who are qualified, may become part of the new police force.  Additionally, public administrators are needed.  Again, former rebel fighters will join the workforce by being trained in book keeping, computer literacy, legal affairs, and other needed skill sets at the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (The National, 2012).

Fifth, challenges that have inhibited past success must be overcome such as corruption, political violence, kidnappings for ransom, extortion, and economic stagnation (The National, 2012; The Seattle Times, 2012).  Additionally, many ARMM leaders accused Manila of not properly supporting them politically and economically (The National, 2012; The Seattle Times, 2012).  For the new framework peace agreement to work, cooperation and support by all sides is needed.

 Economic Possibilities:

If the above mentioned challenges can be overcome, either partially or entirely, then the economic resources are plentiful in Mindanao.  Mindanao contains 40% of the Philippines total mineral reserves of gold, copper, nickel, iron, chromite, and manganese with an estimated value of $312 billion (Mogato & Francisco, 2012; The National, 2012).  It controls 40% of the country’s food supply and 20% of the entire world’s processed pineapples (Mogato & Francisco, 2012; The National, 2012).  It has oil reserves off the coast and an abundance of palm oil for export.  Additionally, businesses are eager to develop information technology, outsourcing, utilities, mining, and agriculture in the region (Mogato & Francisco, 2012; The National, 2012).

But as with most segments of Philippine society, corruption remains a major barrier to development.  And even if the region moves away from conflict, major issues of corruption must still be overcome in the licit economy.  Mining and logging permits are allegedly given out illegally by corrupt judges, politicians, and officials in the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) (Cullen, 2012).  The mining permits are often given over ancestral land, and in turn, have forced some natives to turn to armed resistance against the corporations (Cullen, 2012).  Numerous stories of corruption plague the region.  If this corruption is not curbed, the corporations and corrupt officials will continue to reap the financial benefits, while the people remain oppressed and region is stripped of its natural resources.

Conclusion:

The expectations of the transition commission are high and the time limited.  It has just weeks to establish the new Bangsamoro government’s fiscal and legal powers, as well as the disarmament plan for MILF.  Even if this is successfully accomplished, it then has years of further work to establish a full peace agreement.  Additionally, in the midst of the commission’s work, the challenges such as lack of support from politicians and rebel groups, centuries of mistrust between Muslims and Christians, lack of qualified public servants, corruption, political violence, etc… must all be addressed.  Perhaps not completely overcome, but certainly addressed, reduced, and started down a path of being controlled.  So, while the efforts of the MILF and the Philippine government should be applauded, it is difficult to see how the framework agreement is going to overcome the challenges involved – particularly the challenge of dealing with other rebel groups in the region that favor continued conflict.

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