Peace in Mindanao – At What Price?

Cold war

Peace process as a paradigm finds its birth in the 1970s when it was coined by U.S. policy strategists to reduce tensions between Israel – a U.S. ally – Egypt, and Syria following the 1973 Yom Kippur war. The first peace process involving Israel and Egypt was choreographed by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, considered dean of the realist diplomacy, as part of their détente strategy for winning the cold war in the Middle East. While there had been agreements forged, the process itself – hyped as the “roadmap to peace” – has been incremental for 40 years. Meantime, while tensions have aggravated in the Middle East today, the net effect of this peace process, among others, has included the rise of Israel as a nuclear power occupying a major swathe of the Palestinian land claim, the taming of the Palestine Liberation Organization by giving it a symbolic political authority, and a pro-U.S. Egypt.

After the cold war, peace process has been introduced in several flashpoints in the world including Northern Ireland, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Aceh, East Timor, Bougainville, Kosovo, Kenya, the Basque region in Spain, and now, in Mindanao. As a politico-diplomatic track adopted in the global anti-terrorist war, peace process is the entry point for the U.S. purportedly to bring stability and governance in so-called “ungoverned” and “contested” territories such as Mindanao followed by a post-conflict program of international aid and security guarantee.

Global capitalism

The major political-economic goal of the peace process is to extend and embed market-driven global capitalism in these areas. A British scholar, Jan Selby, notes that the peace process is more of “a stalling mechanism for the powerful” whose central purpose “is to forestall radical or revolutionary political change” as well as to “reconsolidate hegemony and/or legitimacy.” Meanwhile, this peace formula has given birth to a global “peace industry” that involves multilateral agencies, think tanks, academic consultant groups, corporate investors, media, and elite stakeholders.

In Mindanao, the USIP itself anticipated that the MoA-AD would face strong legal and constitutional resistance and predicted Arroyo’s lack of capability in pushing the peace process to the end. Indeed the draft agreement has lit a wildfire of resistance from powerful non-Muslim politicians and landlords who have threatened war against the MILF unless it is shelved. How to bring stability and governance that would make the MILF the political authority which is only possible if the Muslim sultans and non-Muslim oligarchs disengage from dominant power politics is a daunting task.

This underscores the inherent failure of the peace process – the reason why, according to Selby – the whole exercise, which involves deliberate, well-calibrated long and tedious phases, does not provide substantial basis for sustainable, lasting peace. But if the net effect – which appears to be an underlying motive in the “peace process” – is to at least pacify a rebel army toward its eventual capitulation or accepting an exit strategy from war, then that itself can be claimed as an accomplishment by the peace architects.

But, at what price? The peace process can bring about a simulated peace – but not the final solution to the Bangsamoro people’s historic and just grievances. Moro leaders should be wary with other external parties’ facilitation programs that put into greater harm the core interests not only of the Bangsamoro people but the sovereign and territorial rights of the country as a whole.

The challenge to both parties, particularly the MILF, is how to address the Bangsamoro people’s historic and just grievances by pursuing peace talks based on sincerity, independence, and non-interference by external parties except a transparent and facilitative role of a third party negotiator. The call for full transparency in the talks should include full consultations with Lumads and non-Muslim communities in the disputed territories.

As the MILF leadership itself said when Hashim announced their 50-year jihad in 2000, if peace cannot be achieved now under Arroyo it will do so with her successor and thereafter. Posted by (


(1) Implementing Guidelines on the Security Aspect of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement of Peace of 2001.
(2) Reports said that it was Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. who convinced Salamat Hashim to write Bush in January 2003. Pimentel is the architect of federalism that aims to transform Bangsamoro into a federated state.
(3) In fact, some Washington policy experts on this issue see the Arroyo government as the main problem and not the MILF.

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