Peace is not imminent in the predominantly Muslim areas of the southern Philippines, but government efforts to stabilize the archipelagic region took a major step forward last week. On September 10, Philippine Pre-sident Benigno Aquino 3rd submitted a draft law to Congress creating a new autonomous government in the southern region, to be known as Bang-samoro. The submission ended a tense three-month period of deliberations with rebel nego-tiators over the law’s finer details and is the product of nearly two decades of violence-marred negotiations between the go-vernment and Moro rebels. The draft aims to address some of the underlying drivers of the violence by giving the region a greater share of resource and tax revenues and a largely independent parliament, police force and civil judiciary.
However, even if fully imple-mented, the law would not completely pacify the restive region, which is home to numerous militant groups, clan-based feuds, and entrenched criminal networks that will continue to deter the development of the region’s vast economic potential.
Nonetheless, mounting economic and political incentives, a decline in militant capabilities, and Manila’s fundamental geopolitical imperatives will continue to generate momentum for a solution.
The primary obstacles to passage are now procedural: The Aquino administration is urging Congress to pass the law by early 2015, positioning it to be ratified in a referendum in Bangsamoro by the end of the president’s term in 2016. But ratification is just a preliminary hurdle. Any new government will struggle to assert control over the fractious region, home to myriad ethno-linguistic groups and a geographic landscape ill-suited for unity. Militant groups sidelined during the recent peace negotiations are unlikely to recognize the legitimacy of a regional go-vernment led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), par-ticularly in the Sulu archipelago, which is the stronghold for the rival Moro National Liberation Front (the MILF’s parent organization). This group rejects the new law on the grounds that it will abrogate its own agreement for semi-autonomy reached with the government in 1996. Meanwhile, more radical groups—namely Abu Sayyaf and the communist New People’s Army—will continue attacks that will complicate the implementation of the law, irrespective of what-ever progress is made between the government and the MILF. Still, progress in Mindanao has become politically imperative for the Philippine government, increasing its incentive to make this plan work.
© 2014, STRATFOR
Republishing by The Manila Times of this analysis is with the express permission of STRATFOR.