ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
MANILA, Dec 10 (Xinhua) - The power-sharing deal signed by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front ( MILF) in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday has drawn mixed reactions from the other armed groups in Mindanao, the Philippine media, and also from President Benigno Aquino III.
Aquino has warned that "contentious" issues remained to be resolved before a final peace agreement is signed.
In a press briefing on Monday, Aquino cautioned that the next round of negotiations, scheduled in January next year, could be even more difficult because it involves convincing the MILF's 12, 000 fighters to hand over their weapons and return to mainstream society.
"This is not going to be simple because here we would have to demonstrate our full trust in each other," Aquino said. "When we talk of normalization, this will mean their return to the folds of the law, and one aspect is the safeguarding of their arms."
Aquino, however, remains optimistic that a final peace agreement with the MILF could be signed before he leaves office in 2016.
In a joint statement, Pailig Development Foundation, Ecoweb Inc. , and the Mindanao State University Institute for Peace and Development said the breakthrough "emboldened our hope that a comprehensive peace agreement is really just around the corner".
The groups also hailed the "firm resolve of the peace panels, reflected in their joint statement, to conclude the comprehensive agreement by January next year".
But any peace deal with the MILF would not automatically mean the end of the decades-old internecine fighting in Mindanao.
In fact, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the forerunner of the MILF and the original advocate for an independent Muslim state in Mindanao, has announced that it will launch new attacks in Mindanao in responding to the power-sharing deal.
MNLF spokesman Absalom Cerveza said that the signing of the annex on power-sharing has further convinced them to pursue their original demand for a separate and independent Muslim state in Mindanao.
"They can sign everything. If they want to continue, then let the war continue," Cerveza said.
To show that it is still capable of creating trouble in Mindanao, forces loyal to Nur Misuari, erstwhile MILF chairman, launched a coordinated assault of Zamboanga City in September, killing scores of persons, including MNLF militias, government soldiers and innocent civilians.
The Zamboanga siege, which started on Sept. 9, was finally declared solved by the military on Sept. 28 or after three weeks of intensive firefight that also displaced tens of thousands of city residents and destroyed properties worth billions of pesos.
Aside from the MNLF, there are other armed groups in Mindanao that have vowed to continue fighting the government, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) led by Ombra Kato, a former top MILF commander. Lately, Kato's armed militias have launched attacks against police outposts and Christian communities in Central Mindanao.
There is also the fundamentalist Abu Sayyaf, which is reported to be backed by the Al Qaeda and Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah.
Some sectors in the Philippine media have also questioned the propriety of the government's move to share power with the rebel group and the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity.
Federico Pascual, former newspaper editor and now columnist of a leading Manila daily, said that once the Bangsamoro acquires a defined territory and functioning government of its own and recognized by foreign governments, it could spin off as a separate state.
Pascual said that other regions in the Philippines with ethnic minorities that are also harboring grievances against the Manila government would be watching the Bangsamoro initiative, insinuating that they could follow suit.
"The irony is that the United States, which claims to be on our side as a mutual defense partner, has been facilitating what appears to be the coming Balkanization of strategic areas in the Southern Philippines," Pascual said.
The United States and its allies, including Britain, Australia, Japan, and the European Union have promised to pour massive assistance and investments in the region to be governed by the MILF once the peace accord is in effect.
Under the agreement now being forged, while foreign policy, defense, monetary policy, immigration and global trade will remain under the control of the national government, the Bangsamoro government will have powers over agriculture, employment, urban development, public works and environmental protection.
The Bangsamoro government will also have "exclusive powers," to be exercised within its "territorial jurisdiction," over 58 items, including budgeting, creation of sources of revenue, and barter trade and countertrade with countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
It could also put up its own corporations and financial institutions, receive grants and donations, and regulate games and amusement operations.
Letters that do not contain full contact information cannot be published.
Letters become the property of AseanAffairs and may be republished in any format.
They typically run 150 words or less and may be edited
submit your comment in the box below