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          Volume 10 |Issue 31 | August 12, 2011 |


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Step Towards Peace


Philippine President Benigno Aquino III's secret meeting with chairman Murad Ebrahim of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front last week in Tokyo is both good and bad. Good because the meeting could speed up the process of bringing to an end the conflict in Mindanao, which has stunted the growth of the region, killed tens of thousands of combatants and non-combatants and caused a lot of misery to the people. But it was also bad because it violated diplomatic protocol, implicitly recognised the MILF as an autonomous entity, virtually accorded Murad the status of head of state and set a questionable precedent.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front wants to create a substate in the Philippines.

It may be academic now, but the talks could have been conducted by Teresita Quinto-Deles, the presidential peace adviser, or former dean Marvic Leonen, an expert in constitutional and international law, chair of the peace panel, or both of them. The government did not send foreign secretary Albert del Rosario to avoid giving the talks an official colour, but what can be more official than the presence of the President himself?

Inquirer columnist Amando Doronila, a former diplomatic reporter, said that in holding the meeting with Murad, and in a foreign country at that, the President implicitly recognised the MILF as an autonomous entity and accorded MILF leader the status of head of state. Will this now be considered a precedent, and allow Jose Ma. Sison of the National Democratic Front to demand the same treatment?

To be sure, this was not the first time that a Filipino president met with the head of a separatist movement. Aquino's mother, President Corazon Aquino, on Sept 5, 1986 met with chairman Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front and agreed to negotiate an end to the 14-year-old rebellion. But nowhere else in the world has a head of state or head of government met with the leader of a separatist movement. It did not happen in Northern Ireland, not with the Quebecois of Canada, not with the Basque separatists of Spain.

Still Aquino's unusual move seems to have accomplished the most welcome outcome of pushing the peace process forward.

The MILF is the largest and now the most influential Islamic movement in southern Philippines. It is a religious and political organisation engaged in a liberation struggle based in their traditional homeland embracing parts of Mindanao. The news that the 12,000-man MILF has dropped its demand for an independent Moro state but is now focused on autonomy is good and augurs well for a peaceful and legally acceptable resolution of the decades-long conflict.

But as many legislators and other interested parties have suggested, the Aquino administration must be transparent and inform the entire country about the terms of any proposed peace agreement. Another proposed peace agreement put together by the Arroyo administration in 2008 was kept secret from the people until the time it was about to be signed. It turned out that it would have given the MILF control over vast tracts of land in Mindanao.

Expectedly, the Supreme Court struck down the agreement as unconstitutional, causing rogue MILF commanders to launch attacks on Mindanao cities and towns that left 400 dead and more than 750,000 displaced and homeless. We do not want a repetition of that catastrophe.

The Tokyo meeting was a step in the direction of peace. Peace is something we have not had for decades, for more than half a century, in Mindanao. It has prevented the development of a huge area of the country that has vast natural resources and immense potentials. It is high time we gave peace a chance.


Editorial Desk
The Philippine Daily Inquirer.


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