Philippines' peace process in tatters

2016-02-07 20:04
Lion dancers make their way through a narrow street in Manila's Chinatown to perform on the eve of Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations. (Bullit Marquez, AP)

Lion dancers make their way through a narrow street in Manila's Chinatown to perform on the eve of Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations. (Bullit Marquez, AP)

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Manila - The Philippines may have just lost its final chance to bring about peace to its troubled southern island of Mindanao, which has been racked by one of the world's longest-running insurgencies.

After eight months of consultations, 200 hours of debates and 51 hearings among lawmakers, the Philippine legislature failed to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which would have established a new autonomous Muslim-majority political entity in Mindanao.

With the Philippines entering a new election season, most lawmakers even failed to show up during the deliberations and crucial vote counts. But more than the chronic absence of quorum at the legislature, the peace agreement ultimately fell victim to politicking by opposition leaders as well as grandstanding among ambitious legislatures, who didn't share the Benigno Aquino administration's commitment to establish the foundations of peace in the conflict-stricken south.

With the Aquino administration entering its twilight months in office, there is little guarantee that its successor will build on recent gains and find a mutually-acceptable agreement with the country's most powerful insurgency group, the 12 000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the leadership of which has favoured negotiations over war.

Creative attempt

Uncertain about the prospects of newly stalled peace negotiations, the Philippine government is scrambling for ways to avoid a renewed eruption of conflict in Mindanao.

The conflict in Mindanao also carried huge strategic costs for the Philippines. The Philippine government ended p dedicating the bulk of its limited military resources to fighting insurgencies in Mindanao. And this explains why a country like the Philippines has disproportionately invested in its ground troops and army instead of navy. This precariously deprived the Philippines of much-needed resources to defend itself against external threats, especially in light of Chinese territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.

Over time, however, successive Filipino administration managed to negotiate peace agreements with the key rebel groups. The Aquino administration, which came to power on the promise of change and genuine reform, embarked on a courageous and creative attempt to explore lasting peace in Mindanao.



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