WITH the Duterte administration now engaged in talks with the three major armed groups in Mindanao, peace prospects in the region are brighter than ever.
President Duterte invited founding chairman Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to see him in Malacañang last Thursday, November 3. There was a warrant for his arrest in connection with the 2013 attack by his people in Zamboanga City in which over 200 were killed. A Pasig court granted Misuari’s motion to suspend proceedings against him and stop the enforcement of warrants of arrest. With a copy of the court order in hand, Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza sought out Misuari in Sulu and then accompanied him to Malacañang.
It was the second time in just five weeks that Malacañang hosted leaders of a rebel group that had long been fighting the government. Last September 26, members of the National Democratic Front (NDF), including recently released Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, were received by the President at a dinner in Malacañang, preparatory to their departure to join the peace talks with the CPP-NDF-New People’s Army in Oslo, Norway.
The third major Mindanao fighting force, the Moro Islamic Liberation Force (MILF), was able to win concessions from the previous administration of President Aquino – an agreement for the establishment of a Bangsamoro region. Congress was not able to approve the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law before it adjourned last June but President Duerte has assured MILF leaders that their goal of a Bangsamoro region is within reach in a federal form of government. Last Monday, he created an expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission – with both MILF and MNLF members – that will craft a new enabling law for the Bangsamoro.
There are issues that stand in the way of a peace agreement with these groups. The officials of Zamboanga City, in particular, vow to pursue charges against Misuari over the death of hundreds of Zamboangueños in the siege of 2003. Similarly, there are charges against MILF fighters over the death of the 44 Special Action Force commandos in the 2014 Mamasapano tragedy.
In any long-standing rebellion, there are bound to be acts of violence and lawlessness that may have been committed by partisans. President Duterte and his peace team led by Secretary Dureza have a lot of work to do before all the details of a peace agreement can be worked out.
The President has shown he can reach out to all these groups that have long been fighting the government. We are confident that he will also be able to work out a peace agreement that will be accepted by all concerned, including those who may have suffered from raids and other operations of the MNLF, the MILF, and the NPA all these many decades.