March 28, 2014
With 150,000 Filipinos dead and millions displaced, and after more than a decade of negotiations, the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a comprehensive peace accord yesterday that put an end to 40 years of war. After 32 rounds of peace talks over nine years, the parties had signed a preliminary framework agreement on Oct. 12, 2012 that set the agenda and methodology for reaching yesterday’s final agreement. The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, as it is called, grants greater political authority to Muslim areas in southern Mindanao in exchange for an end to armed rebellion. It addresses the roots of the conflict and seeks to close the gap between this impoverished, largely Muslim area, and the rest of the predominantly Christian country. As my colleague, Kristian Herbolzheimer, from Conciliation Resources, reminds us in the program below, the signing of the agreement is one important step in a longer process:
Al Jazeera attributed the breakthrough in the Philippines peace process to a meeting in Japan between the President Benigno Aquino III and Murad Ibrahim, the head of the MILF. While such high-level meetings can be critically important, there is a thick web of individuals, relationships, and activities that underpin any peace process and are necessary to its success. The Philippines agreement would not have come about without the persistent efforts of Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, lead negotiator for the government; Teresita Quintos-Deles, presidential advisor to the process from 2001-5 and 2010-14; and the government and MILF teams. Women, with 9 of 12 spots on the government negotiating team, played a key role, as did other civil society groups, including religious leaders who carried out inter-religious dialogues; communities that engaged in humanitarian activities; everyday citizens who generated resistance to the war and created local zones of peace; and individuals, organizations, and communities that delivered proposals to the peace table, and created peace infrastructures at the local, regional and national levels. The Mindanao Human Rights Action Center, Mindanao People’s Caucus, Muslim Organization of Government Employees, and Nonviolent Peace Force have been essential to establishing and ensuring implementation of a ceasefire that was put in place in 1997. The Mindanao Peoples Caucus, an all-women civilian protection team, has monitored abuses against civilians and reported ceasefire violations. It was also critical in promoting dialogues with women Muslim leaders to reconcile sharia law and women’s rights. Such initiatives are only a few of the many civil society initiatives that will provide the foundations for the implementation of the peace accord.
The international community supported the peace process in a number of ways and its continued support will be critical to effective implementation of the accord. The government of Malaysia brokered the talks, and an International Contract Group (ICG), coordinated by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD), has accompanied the process. The ICG is unique in that it includes four governments (Japan, United Kingdom, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia) and 4 non-governmental organizations (CHD, Conciliation Resources, Asia Foundation, and Muhammadiyah). An International Monitoring Team, including internationals, locals, civil-military, government, and NGOs, has been supported by Malaysia, Brunei, Norway, and the European Union. The framework agreement for the peace talks signed in 2012 acknowledges a role for continued international support. It noted,”The Parties recognize the need to attract multi-‐donor country support, assistance and pledges to the normalization process,” and agreed to establish a Trust Fund for “capacity building, institutional strengthening, impact programs to address imbalances in development and infrastructures, and economic facilitation for return to normal life affecting combatant and non-‐combatant elements of the MILF, indigenous peoples, women, children, and internally displaced persons.”
The comprehensive peace accord signed yesterday is an important milestone, but it is not the end of the process. The key to implementation will be local ownership, inclusive participation across sectors, and strong international support. Expectations for rapid change will need to be managed, as structural reforms will take time and resources. But the course is now set and hope reigns.