peace in mindanao
Cartoon by Roni Santiago

A security agreement signed by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) last Jan. 25 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is a laudable development in the efforts to bring peace to troubled Mindanao.

Although the final peace agreement has yet to be hammered out, the signing of the security pact is nevertheless a step towards peace.

But while this engenders hope for a peaceful Mindanao, we are keeping a guarded optimism as more steps have yet to be taken for peace to finally descend on that unstable region. And granting that the final peace agreement will be eventually signed, the implementation of it will be a most crucial step.

In the past, the implementation of the Tripoli agreement entered into between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) went awry. As a consequence, MNLF headed by Chairman Nur Misuari has maintained its belligerent stanch against the government.

But for whatever its worth, peace-loving Filipinos should laud the signing of the new security agreement between the MILF and the government. And it is just proper for us to commend those who had worked hard on the accord.

No less than UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed the signing of the agreement and congratulated the negotiating teams for “their perseverance, courage and commitment in having reached this important milestone in the peace process.”

He also commended President Aquino and the MILF chairman, Murad Ebrahim, for their “vision and leadership throughout this historic peace process.”

The accord calls for Muslim self-rule in parts of the southern Philippines in exchange for the deactivation of the rebel force. Military presence in the proposed autonomous region would be restricted.

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Under the accord, the 11,000-strong rebel forces are tasked to maintain security in areas that would come under their control. The issue of whether or not they will be able to maintain peace is being raised as at least three other smaller Muslim rebel groups, including al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf, could sabotage the implementation of the agreement.

The two other rebel groups – the MNLF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters headed by MILF renegade Ameril Umbra Kato — could launch attacks to show that they are still forces to reckon with. This is precisely the reason MNLF placed parts of Zamboanga City under siege last August. (Latest reports stated that BIFF is opposing the security pact.)

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the government’s chief negotiator, said  the signing of the security accord “marks the beginning of the bigger challenge ahead which is the challenge of implementation.”

But peace would remain elusive if the Moro rebel groups in Mindanao do not set aside their own selfish agenda and support the enforcement of the new accord.

We believe that unity among the Moro rebel groups is a sine quanon for a genuine peace to finally reign in Mindanao.