Optimism growing for Mindanao peace


MANILA - A breakthrough may be in the offing to resolve the decades-old southern Philippine conflict, following the pronouncement by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that it is no longer demanding an independent state. “This will definitely pave the way to finding an understanding for a politically feasible arrangement that maintains the territorial integrity and the fundamental premise of people’s sovereignty in one Republic,” said Dean Marvic Leonen, newly named chair of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) peace panel negotiating with the MILF.

“We welcome the announcement of the MILF that they are no longer demanding an independent state,” Leonen said.

We will listen to their proposals and are willing to work with them to find a just, comprehensive and lasting peace,” Leonen added.

Talks between the GRP and MILF have been off-and-on since 1997 when the MILF formed its own faction following the signing of the peace accord between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) on Sept. 2, 1996 which they objected.

Fighting between government and MILF forces erupted time and time again, the biggest of which was in 2000 when then President Joseph Estrada ordered an all-out war against the Muslim rebels led by Hashim Salamat attacked government forces and civilian areas in Central Mindanao.

All 49 MILF camps and strongholds were captured by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) after two months of intense fighting.

Fighting erupted anew in August 2008 following the aborted signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) which the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional.

News reports said that Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF chief negotiator, stated that the MILF will propose the creation of a Muslim “sub-state” in southern Philippines when peace negotiations resume.

Iqbal said the MILF would drop the idea of a Bangsamoro juridical entity that was incorporated in the MOA-AD. He said what the MILF would propose is the creation of a sub-state but will not include the creation of its own national defense, foreign affairs, currency and postal services.

The sub-state will be under the control of the national government, Iqbal said.

At present, there is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) consisting the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi an Marawi City.

The ARMM was created following the signing of the 1996 peace agreement with the MNLF. Resumption of the peace talks is one of the priorities of President Benigno C. Aquino III during his six-year term.

The Mindanao conflict which erupted in 1974 has claimed the lives of over 120,000 and wounded and displaced tens of thousands the past 36 years.

Photo of MILF fighters rallying around their flag.

Asia, ConflictBen Cal