Lower house of Congress 30 May and Senate 31 May passed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) bill, which paves way for creation of self-governing Bangsamoro region in southern Philippines, in accordance with 2014 peace agreement between govt and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). President Duterte 29 May certified BBL bill as urgent, meaning both House and Senate could approve their versions of bill before Congress adjourns 1 June. Bill now set to go to bicameral conference committee during recess to reconcile House and Senate versions of bill, before being sent back for both houses to ratify 23 July in time for Duterte to sign ahead of his state of the nation address. MILF peace panel chair, Mohagher Iqbal, 30 May said he hoped reconciled BBL would be faithful to peace agreement. MILF filed complaint with govt peace panel after police in Mindanao shot dead nine MILF members during operation as part of Duterte’s war on drugs 25 May. Duterte late month said he had agreed to resumption of peace talks with Communist rebels, but that they had to take place in Philippines, not Norway. Representatives of govt and Communists reported they had agreed in back-channel talks early May on interim ceasefire, amnesty for political prisoners and rural development reform. Netherlands-based leader José Marìa Sison reported sides had agreed to sign interim peace agreement in late June for resumption of formal talks. Late-month clash between New People’s Army (NPA) and military saw three rebels killed in Mindanao. Authorities arrested NPA leader Elizalde Cañete 12 May. On one-year anniversary of start of five-month Islamic State (ISIS) siege of Marawi city in Mindanao, anger continued over govt approach to reconstruction and inability of many residents to return – Red Cross reported some 230,000 remain displaced. Military 25 May rejected calls to lift martial law in region. Several killed in continuing clashes between military and Abu Sayyaf group in southern Basilan and Sulu provinces.
Hopes are high that one of the world’s longest-running civil conflicts can be resolved in the Philippines. The newly-elected president must act on his commitment to the outgoing administration’s promise of autonomy for the southern Bangsamoro (Muslim Nation) population. Failure to do so risks more lawlessness or reigniting the insurgency.
The Philippines has had some recent success in winding down decades-long negotiations with rebel groups, but achieving peace with the country’s biggest insurgency, in Mindanao, requires both new energy and fresh thinking.
The next round of talks between the Philippines’ largest Muslim insurgent group and the government is a crucial step towards implementing a sweeping peace agreement signed in October.
Politics in the Sulu archipelago could be an unforeseen stumbling block for a negotiated peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the southern Philippines.
The Philippine government and Muslim rebels need to take concrete steps to address the precarious situation of indigenous peoples, known as the Lumad, to secure their support for the peace process on the southern island of Mindanao.
The Philippine government is experimenting with a creative but risky new strategy to resolve the conflict in Mindanao.
If [President] Duterte can move this [the peace deal] forward during this honeymoon period rapidly, it has a much better chance of going through. I think it's an opportunity that's a tragedy to lose.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has put his weight unequivocally behind efforts to bring a negotiated end to more than four decades of conflict in the south of the country, but uncertainty is bleeding momentum from the process and the clock is ticking.
Originally published in The Interpreter
Cooperating on oil won't work - but fishing might.
Originally published in The National Interest
The southern Philippines is potentially closer to peace than at any time in the four decades since Muslim insurgents started fighting for independence, but the substantial progress over the past six years is also fragile. The new President, Rodrigo Duterte, needs to build quickly on the foundations laid by the last administration or the process risks collapse.