Peace “talks” between the government and both the MILF and the MNLF have already been concluded.
CANBERRA, Australia — The Duterte administration waging a brutal war against illegal drugs has earned the Philippines all sorts of global attention. Yet another campaign promise, bringing lasting peace to Mindanao, has somehow been relegated to the sidelines.
A book launched Sept. 2 at the Australian National University (ANU) here, following a first launch in Manila in July, should serve as an important resource to achieve that goal.
The 306-page Mindanao: The Long Journey to Peace and Prosperity contains essays that analyze in-depth the historical, economic and political dimensions of the ongoing peace process in the country’s restive south.
“While it is indeed a happy occasion to launch the book again today, we know that the enterprise in which we are engaged is the chronicle of a very long standing and deeply complex conflict,” said Paul D. Hutchcroft, editor of the book and professor of political and social change at the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs.
The conflict “has yet to be concluded despite protracted peace negotiations going back at least four decades to the 1976 Tripoli Agreement,” Hutchcroft added in a speech during the book launch which concluded the first day of the two-day Philippine Update Conference at the ANU.
The idea for the book emerged during the last Philippine Update Conference in 2012, he said.
“We originally thought of it as a conference volume, examining what appeared then, 2012, to be the impending successful culmination of the peace process,” Hutchcroft said.
In October that year, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), which paves the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity that would replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
In March 2014, both parties signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), a final peace settlement after 17 years of negotiations.
The basic law that would enact these peace deals, however, failed to pass in the 16th Congress under the Benigno Aquino III administration. (See The Aquino Legacy: A Thwarted Peace)
The nonpassage of the bill followed the bloody encounter in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao, after a botched counterterrorism operation left dead 44 members of the Philippine National Police Special Armed Forces, 18 members of the MILF and five civilians.
“As it turned out, the volume has turned out to be an examination of the latest stage of the ongoing peace process,” Hutchcroft said.
“While we must acknowledge the peace process itself has succeeded in bringing sustained periods of cease fire in recent years,” he said, “the real celebration must await the end of the conflict between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro liberation forces in Mindanao.”
President Rodrigo Duterte, who replaced Aquino in May, in his first state of the nation address (SONA), had urged Congress to legislate the basic law “minus the constitutional issues that are contentious.”
Unconstitutionality of certain provisions of the draft basic law, for example in matters of territory and sharing of powers between the central and Bangsamoro governments, had been one of the stickiest issues the bill had faced in the last Congress.
Notably, Duterte has not been clear on how the Bangsamoro autonomy would work alongside the planned move toward federalism. (See Is that so? Duterte unclear on BBL)
At any rate, that Duterte hails from Mindanao bodes well for peace, said Teresa Jopson, one of the convenors of the Philippine Update.
“For the first time in Philippine history, not only the president comes from Mindanao, but also the Senate President as well as the House Speaker,” added Jopson, who was also a former president of the ANU Filipino Students Association (ANUFA)
This makes “favorable conditions” to make peace in Southern Philippines, she said.
“It seems that this book that we are relaunching today is a good preliminary map to get there,” Jopson said.