Peace in Mindanao – At What Price?

Meantime, Malaysia, Libya, and the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) tried to persuade the MILF to drop its secessionist goal, work for an expanded autonomy and, at one point, to adjust its hard position against the constitutional framework of the negotiations. This stance complemented the USIP’s peace formula regarding an expanded autonomy with legal authority for the MILF and for the GRP to soften its constitutional rigidity.

The MoA-AD, the signing of which was aborted by a Supreme Court (SC) temporary restraining order, articulates a compromise deal with the MILF in which its historical ancestral domain claim is recognized by the government in principle but makes its actualization conditional. The implementation of this claim, along with the ownership of natural resources and the exercise of jurisdictional authority, will need to pass through the gauntlet of more contentious negotiations leading up to the Comprehensive Compact, plebiscite, and a constitutional amendment that will establish a federal system. More importantly, the agreement binds the MILF to honor private landholdings, corporate plantations, foreign investments particularly in energy resources, as well as the presence of foreign forces in Bangsamoro.

II. The Peace Process and U.S. Role

The critique that the U.S. had a hand in crafting the MoA appears to be not without basis. The agreement – the whole peace talks for that matter – is a by-product of a new peace formula whose underlying goal is to enhance the U.S.’ comprehensive security strategy in Mindanao and the whole Southeast Asian region. Among other instruments, the superpower’s security imperatives, i.e., economic, geo-political, and military objectives, are promoted through the now spurious “war on terrorism” defining the region as the second front. This post-9/11 declaration, backed by Arroyo, became the entry point for an indefinite forward deployment of U.S. forces and basing facilities particularly in southern Philippines.

With the USIP and other policy thinkers in Washington, however, this strategy has been reformulated to adopt what is described as the “political economy of security.” Basically, this new formula postulates that U.S. security imperatives are better advanced by transforming the Bangsamoro into a governable zone and a stable extension of global capitalism supported by international funds and investments in a post-conflict scenario. Mindanao, particularly the Bangsamoro homeland, holds the key to U.S. security goals in Southeast Asia and the MILF is seen as a major player for undercutting the influence of anti-American extremism particularly among the region’s Muslim populations. The non-resolution of the Moro problem now will have far-reaching implications to U.S. security imperatives in the region in the future.

What this means is that, using the classic “carrot and stick” policy, U.S. special forces will continue to pin down the Abu Sayyaf Group and other alleged terrorist networks through surgical military strikes and expanded intelligence, but the politico-diplomatic approach will moderate the MILF by tying it down to a protracted peace process and cutting its ties to the ASG and extremist politics. As far as the U.S. is concerned, the push for the MILF’s abandonment of secessionism matched by the Arroyo regime’s dropping of its constitutional rigidity with the support of Malaysia and other countries is a positive step for moving the peace process forward.

MILF disarmament

But this formula will only succeed if, among other conditions, the MILF is finally disarmed and transformed into a mass-based political party thereby enhancing – in the language of the peace process – its legitimate political authority. It also depends on the cooperation and, more important, the political will of the Arroyo government even as, in the eyes of the USIP and other U.S. policy strategists, it is weak and incapable of delivering peace and development in the Moro communities (3). In the post-conflict scenario, it is almost inevitable for the U.S. with its military presence in Mindanao to head an international mission to guarantee the security of a new Bangsamoro.

The cooperation of the Arroyo regime and the MILF in this new peace formula is assured by internationalizing the peace process – the icing on the cake, so to speak. Supportive of the “peace and development” policy for Mindanao, a coalition of donor countries led by the U.S., Japan as well as the World Bank is committed to fund the Bangsamoro’s economic reconstruction. Aside from infusing 60 percent of its economic assistance to the Philippines in Mindanao, the USAID has committed a multi-year Mindanao Peace and Development Agreement worth $190 million and increased its economic support fund (ESF) to $25.9 million. Japan, besides joining the International Monitoring Team (IMT), has committed $400 million in Mindanao. Japan, which is also the U.S.’ chief security partner in East Asia, is working closely with the MILF’s development arm, Bangsamoro Development Agency. Similar commitments have come from Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Libya, and the OIC.

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