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“HISTORIC” MINDANAO PEACE AGREEMENT October 21, 2012

Posted by wmmbb in Nonviolence, Peace, South East Asia.
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Peace agreements too often founder with the opposing parties returning to violence.

So it has been the reports of the peace agreement on the southern-most of the Philippines three major islands between the government and  a Muslim-based insurgency.  Violence between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Government began in the 1960′s. There have been agreements to stop hostilities in the past that have not worked. In 1976, for example, a peace agreement, brokered by Muammar Gaddafi, failed and lead to the creation of the MILF in 1984. The  history of violence and intermittent peace agreements has continued until the recent agreement  on the 7th October 2012.

President Benino Aquino  set out the details of the framework agreement creating the autonomous region of Bangsamoro. He observed, “This framework agreement provides the way for a final and enduring peace in Mindanao”. The President during the course of his remarks gave credit to several nations:

We would like to thank the government of Malaysia, who stood as facilitators as we realized our aspirations for peace; we thank in particular Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohammad Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, whose commitment remained firm despite considerable political and personal risk. We would also like to thank the members of the International Contact Group: the governments of the United Kingdom, Japan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, and also international [SP]NGOs like Conciliation Resources, the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, the Asia Foundation, and Muhamadiyah. Our people are also grateful for the help of the International Monitoring Team composed of the governments of Malaysia, Brunei, Libya, Norway, Indonesia, the European Union and Japan. We would also like to thank the United States, Australia, and the World Bank, among several other countries and institutions, have also provided invaluable support during the course of this process.

(The speech was made  in Tagalog followed by English and finally Tagalog. )

Given the history, of such agreements, and the political risks they carry, it is perhaps not surprising that the media can be sceptical. The Asia Sentinel, for example, reports:

As leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front jetted into Manila for the signing Monday of the initial peace agreement between the Philippine government under President Benigno Aquino III, they had to know that they were taking a chance that could cost them. While the agreement was described as historic, it was not unprecedented. And in the previous attempts lie the seeds of potential trouble.

Previous agreements have been wrecked by a Congress dominated by landlords and big business who saw any political accommodation of the Moro people as a threat to their continued reign in Mindanao.The Philippines is 81 percent Catholic, with Christians slowly intruding into what was one a largely Muslim island, a long-simmering issue The failure of the past agreements has led to the marginalization of at least one Mindanao leader who tried to put it together and badly weakened his organizaion.

MILF leaders headed by chief Murad Ebrahim arrived to sign the framework agreement, as it is called, in a ceremony attended by Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, whose country helped to broker the deal.

The agreement calls for the establishment of a new autonomous region on Mindanao, to be called the Bangsamoro, or Muslim Nation, by 2016 and hopefully to end 40 years of bloodshed that have taken an estimated 150,000 lives and stunted the economic growth of the region.

Both Ebrahim and independent analysts and others have warned that Monday’s signing does not guarantee an end to the conflict although the MILF’s 12,000 guerrilla fighters are supposed to disarm by 2016.

Ebrahim’s deputy, Ghazali Jaafar, stressed that “this is just the beginning of the peace journey.” Despite the fact that Aquino said it involves a broader swathe of the Muslim south, for instance it leaves open the question what to do about the Abu Sayyaf, the murderous Islamic sect with alleged connections with Al Qaeda that has been responsible for numerous kidnappings and killings in the south.

So it is not surprising, the idea gains ground that “peace is impossible” now “Mindanao is broken” which gives rise to “A Cry for Peace” sung by Leann.

At Open Democracy, Tim Wallis, Philippines Peace Agreement: Why this one is different  argues this peace agreement is “historic”.

When the last peace agreement failed and the ceasefire broke down on the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines in 2008, fighting broke out across the island, there were some particularly nasty massacres and over 600,000 people were displaced from their homes. But there was one new element in the equation that had not been there before: the presence of international unarmed civil society observers from a little-known group called the Nonviolent Peaceforce.

These Nonviolent Peaceforce observers had been quietly working away on the island, building relationships with both sides of the conflict, establishing their credentials as a neutral, independent, impartial actor willing to help both parties to find solutions to practical problems they faced on the ground – like how to avoid unnecessary bloodshed without appearing to be weak or to be seen to be backing down; how to ensure safe passage for civilians caught in the crossfire without losing ground militarily; how to maintain contact with the ‘enemy’ and avoid misunderstandings while at the same waging a war against them; how to put out feelers for a ceasefire without appearing to give in…

Nonviolent Peaceforce helped both sides of this war to be more civilised and more respectful of civilians and as a result, when a ceasefire was finally agreed, both sides asked Nonviolent Peaceforce to play an official role in the ceasefire mechanism that would hold both sides to their commitments and obligations under the ceasefire. It is not that unusual for two sides to appoint an intermediary to monitor a ceasefire. Often the UN plays that role, other times another country or set of countries will be invited to do it. But never before in the history of war has a non-governmental organisation made up of unarmed civilians from civil society been asked to play a role quite like this. This was – and is – historic, and is why the peace agreement just signed in the Philippines is also historic.

There have been many other innovations associated with this particular peace agreement, and they all deserve attention because this is a new way of making peace in the 21st century. As well as using a non-governmental organisation to help monitor the ceasefire on the ground, the parties to this conflict also agreed to have non-governmental organisations supporting the negotiations in Kuala Lumpur, as part of the ‘International Contact Group’. This is unprecedented for a peace process like this. And on the ground, local organisations were also given official status in support of the ceasefire monitoring and protection of civilians. Other countries have of course played an important role, but the really significant innovation has been having unarmed, international civilian ‘peacekeepers’ on the ground monitoring a ceasefire.

This is one peace agreement that bears watching. We might have thought that the failure of the peace agreement in Sri Lanka brokered by Norway in 2002 would be without ramifications. Now we a political party espouses a policy of  “turning back the boats”. The displacement of people included those who fled to nearby Sabah.

It is interesting to reflect that the Philippines have been dealing with the impact and consequences of Imperialism since the 17th Century. I am wondering what significance the success of the People Power Movement had in the acknowledgment of the civilian peacekeeping might have been beyond the involvement of Nonviolent Peaceforce.

Then knowledge about how to work the peace process to a successful outcome is useful and relevant beyond the region of Australia’s immediate concerns, now for the next two years with representation at the Security Council.

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