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The Philippines in 2010 and 2016

No chief executive of any government welcomes the emergence of any group that seeks to overthrow the established government or to divide the country’s territory.

At the same time, it is every chief executive’s wish to rule a country whose borders are secure and whose citizens are all behind established authority.

Unfortunately, that is not the situation that has existed in the Philippines for many decades, and will not be the country that the next president will govern beginning in the second half of 2016.

Insurgency costs lives, both of combatants and civilians, and hamper a country’s development. Industries cannot be developed in areas where they cannot operate in peace. The result is lost opportunities for employment and livelihood for the innocent residents of these areas.

This, in turn, result in unequal progress. People in the cities, towns and provinces where insurgents are not able to operate enjoy better living standards, and their economies faster development than areas where people live in fear and businesses could barely thrive.

Mindanao has a long history of conflicts, with armed groups, including Muslim separatists, communists and criminals are all active, according to a BBC report titled “Guide to the Philippines conflict,” which was published online in 2012.

The Muslim groups include the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which were both founded to seek a separate state from the Philippines, and the Abu Sayyaf, a breakaway faction of the MNLF, which is considered as a terrorist group because of its kidnap-for-ransom activities.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its military wing, the New People’s Army (NPA) do not seek separation but the overthrow of the democratic government.

Several administrations, from President Ferdinand Marcos to President Fidel Ramos, had conducted peace negotiations with the MNLF, which was founded in 1971 by Nur Misuari.

The negotiations eventually led to the establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) at the initiative of President Corazon Aquino, but failed to establish lasting peace in Mindanao.

In 1981, Salamat Hashim, who left the MNLF in 1978, founded the MILF, which is now considered as the country’s largest Muslim rebel group.

The government signed a comprehensive agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014 to pave the way for the establishment of lasting peace in Muslim Mindanao, but the success of the agreement will depend on the enactment of the proposed Basic Bangsamoro Law (BBL).

As I observed at the start of this series, I am not optimistic that the BBL will be enacted under the current administration because of constitutional and other issues. If it is enacted, I don’t think it will be accepted by the MILF, because of the revisions being considered by Congress.

Enactment of the BBL was derailed following the deaths of 44 members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) during a police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last January.

The massacre, which happened in an area controlled by the MILF, prompted both houses of Congress to launch investigations, which led to a review of the BBL provisions.

The review of the BBL measure, in turn, drew questions about the constitutionality of some of its provisions.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on September 10 claimed that a diluted Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) would delay the decommissioning of its armed combatants and its firearms.

In an editorial posted on its website luwaran.com last month, the MILF said: “For sure, the MILF will reject it (diluted BBL) outright, and worse the various aspects of the normalization process including decommissioning of its weapons (and combatants) will come to a halt.”

The communist insurgency, which also mounts anti-government campaigns from Luzon to Mindanao started earlier than the Muslim separatist movement. In a report in February 2011, the non-government organization International Crisis Group said the Philippine government had been unable to “develop large parts of the country because of the long-standing communist insurgency,” which had lasted more than 40 years and killed tens of thousands of combatants and civilians.

The government has been conducting talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF), the CPP’s political arm, for years. The peace talks in mid-2000 were suspended after the United States included the CPP-NPA in its list of terrorist groups.

The government also conducted talks with the CPP in the Netherlands in 2011, but the negotiations failed to produce a peace agreement.

Instead, the talks were suspended in 2013 after the government rejected the CPP-NDF’s demand to release some of their leaders who were being detained for criminal cases.

At present, the peace negotiations with the Muslim and communist groups are effectively on a standstill, and this is affecting the people and businesses in the areas where clashes with government forces happen.

The long-time insurgencies are also exacting a heavy toll on the Philippine economy and impeding the country’s development. The recent abduction of four people, including three foreign nationals, in a resort on Samal Island has prompted foreign governments to discourage their citizens from visiting the area.

It is regrettable because tourism has the potential to become a major contributor to the economy as well as in generating employment in areas outside urban centers.

At a time when the Philippines needs long-term investments to develop its industries, it is difficult to convince investors to put up factories in places where they cannot operate safely.

This is what the next president must cope with when Malacañang changes hands at the end of June 2016. The best thing to do right now is not just to prepare for the elections, but to prepare for a new campaign to resolve the insurgency problems. (To be continued)

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