Autonomy Granted To Southern Philippines Aims To End Conflict With Muslim Separatists

Violence on the Southern Philippines island of Mindanao has continued from 1969 until as recently as July 31st,2018, when nine soldiers and civilians were killed by a suicide bomber in a truck according to The Economist. However, President Rodrigo Duterte is hoping that this conflict is brought to an end by the passage of the new Bangsamoro Organic Law. This new piece of legislation, passed officially on August 6th, sets the Muslim majority region of Bangsamoro aside as a special autonomous region of the southern island of Mindanao. The armed separatist movement begun in 1969 as the Muslim majority region sought to break away from the majority Christian country and has resulted in 120 000 deaths in the period since, Arab News reports. The bill is part of an agreement negotiated with the chief rebel group; the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and was originally part of a 2014 peace agreement under a previous administration which was delayed following violence during the negotiation process. The conflict has become of urgent concern to both sides as the poor conditions in the region have resulted in the lowest rates of many economic indicators such as employment and education. This in turn has made the region a target of Islamic State (IS) influence and radicalisation. In fact the July 31st attack was claimed by IS.

Both the government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are hopeful that this can bring about a solution favourable to both parties. Duterte has been quoted by Channel News Asia as saying “I hope (the law) will finally end the decades-old conflict that is rooted in the Bangsamoro’s fight for self-determination and the recognition of their unique identity.” Meanwhile his peace adviser Jesus Dureza was even more optimistic describing the legislation as “a long-awaited dream coming true.” Mohaqher Iqbal, chief negotiator for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front , has welcomed the deal but also told Reuters that “we will not stop there, we will continue to engage government until amendments are made in the law later to get what we really wanted.”

While the deal may prove controversial it is the most expedient solution for peace in the region. Continuing the fighting longer increases the risk of casualties and strengthens the cause of radical groups and influences. Dangerous groups abound such as the splinter faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front , the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters who have pledged allegiance to IS and Abu Sayyaf, another IS affiliated group thought responsible for the July 31st attack, as detailed by The Economist. By ending the conflict with Moro Islamic Liberation Front the Philippines’ government is now able to work towards a more stable and prosperous region in Bangsamoro.

The agreement comes on the heels of a violent siege situation last year when jihadists took control of the city of Marawi. The Philippines army was called in to destroy much of the city to free it from this attack. Continued large scale conflict such as this threatened to cause further damage to the lives of civilians in the region and the Bangsamoro economy. Both the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front agree that economic development will be an effective way to combat radicalisation and hence the new autonomy law could be a step in the right direction. Averting radicalism and violence with continued dialogue and economic development is a path to peace in Mindanao which is long overdue after nearly 50 years of separatist conflict.

Ethan Beringen