Mindanao peace: All eyes on OIC
By : Susan V. Ople
PEACE advocates in the Philippines welcomed the announcement that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has initiated a dialogue between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on a common peace agenda next week in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
These two groups represent separate Muslim secessionist movements in southern Philippines though the MILF is a breakaway group from the much older MNLF. Both rebel groups entered into separate and distinct peace agreements with the Philippine government albeit under different administrations.
Abdulbaki Abubakar, in his capacity as secretary-general for foreign relations will represent the MNLF while Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief peace negotiator and the chair of its information committee, will represent the MILF.
Under the Aquino administration, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, signed in March 17, 2014 between the government and the MILF, offers more resources and wider latitude for regional governance in addition to what was obtained under the GPH-MNLF Final Peace Agreement in 1996. But, the most recent peace pact with the MILF will require the passage of a law to operationalize nearly all of its provisions, particularly on the abolition of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao and the creation of a ministerial Bangsamoro regional government.
The OIC-brokered dialogue on June 14 in Jeddah is critically important because it could pave the way for mutual acceptance of the Bangsamoro peace agreement, as a document that builds on the gains of prior peace pacts. In short, it could open the doors to formal or informal peace and governance dialogues between the two Moro movements.
Filipinos are tired and weary of conflict in Mindanao. It took 17 years of protracted negotiations with the MILF spanning several decades before its leadership finally arrived with a peaceful compromise with the government. Much of the credit must go to President Aquino’s leadership in building trust between both negotiating panels and the constituents that they represent. Today, local and foreign investors are knocking on Mindanao’s doors, eager to do business and provide jobs and incomes to families in conflict-affected communities. Both rebel groups need to realize that this may yet be their defining moment, in transforming the lives of the people whose interests they claim to be fighting for.
The OIC must exert its moral leadership in the name of peace, in enabling both the MNLF and MILF to reach an agreement guided solely by what is best for the Bangsamoro people.
A common understanding between the MNLF and MILF for the sake of peace until the regional elections are held shall help accelerate the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. It will help ease tensions especially in the light of the devastating siege staged by MNLF supporters in Zamboanga City that has led to numerous casualties and the burning of homes.
We hope and pray that Saudi Arabia as the host of the dialogue and the other OIC member states can convince both the MNLF and MILF to set aside their differences and give peace a chance because to be honest, there can be no better time than now to forge it.