THE troubled southern island of Mindanao is potentially closer to peace than at any time in four decades since Muslim insurgents started fighting for independence, according to a published report by a transnational independent organization.
But the report said the substantial progress over the past six years is also fragile.
It warned that the greatest danger to peace is that the restive South will lose faith in the process and return to guerrilla warfare or tip deeper into lawlessness.
The study recommended that the most effective way of avoiding these dangers is for the new government to pass enabling legislation that delivers as much autonomy as promised by the Aquino administration.
The report, titled “The Philippines: Renewing Prospects for Peace in Mindanao,” was published by the International Crisis Group (ICG) and funded by the European Union (EU).
It was a result of more than a year of research where dozens of stakeholders–from key figures in both the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), to community activists, to ordinary citizens of Bangsamoro–were interviewed.
Tim Johnston, Asia program director for the ICG, said the Duterte administration needs to move fast with practical measures, including substantial financial support, to convince skeptical constituencies that Manila is still committed to the key promises made in the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro, and will deliver tangible material benefits.
“The next few months will make or break this process,” Johnston told a recent roundtable discussion hosted by the EU delegation in Manila.
The report highlighted the group’s particular concern at the prospects for Bangsamoro youth.
The conflict, it said, has limited the educational, economic and social prospects of the young Muslims, who have most to gain from a successful peace deal and the most to lose from a long hiatus.
Adding to the concern, the report added, is the active recruitments by Islamic State and other self-described jihadist groups and their calls to foment disorder outside the Middle East.
Although passing a basic law to grant autonomy to Bangsamoro will be a critical step, it is only one step in a long journey, the ICG said.
It added that it will be crucial to win the support of the broader Philippine population and follow through to ensure that the economic and social dividends of peace are felt by all.
International assistance and investment from organizations such as the EU and individual countries can play a key role in this process.
The European Union has been a key partner for both the peace process in southern Philippines and ICG.