MUSLIM MINDANAO: Four Years after the Peace Agreement
In September 1996, the Government of the Philippines and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) signed a Peace Agreement. At the time there were many who hailed the agreement as bringing to an end a conflict between Muslim and Christian Filipinos which had begun with Spanish settlement in the Philippine islands in the sixteenth century but had entered a new, violent phase in the early 1970s.
Such optimism, however, was poorly founded. For one thing, the Agreement, which was subtitled "The Final Agreement on the Implementation of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement" [between the Government of the Philippines and the MNLF], covered the thirteen provinces which constituted the MNLF's minimum territorial demand for an autonomous "Bangsa Moro" (or Moro Nation). Already by 1976, only five of these provinces contained a Muslim majority population and in 1977, and again in 1987, attempts to promote a peaceful settlement through the establishment of an autonomous region had failed when autonomy was rejected, in mandated plebiscites, by the non-Muslim majority in most of the thirteen provinces. In 1996, the holding of a plebiscite was postponed, but the requirement that a plebiscite eventually be held hung over the newly established Special Zone of Peace and Development (SZOPAD) and its Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD). Secondly, the 1996 Peace Agreement was specifically between the Government of the Philippines and the MNLF. It did not include the other major Moro faction, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which vowed to maintain the armed struggle for an independent Bangsa Moro. Thirdly, it was clear, even in 1996, that the Philippine Government and the SPCPD were not going to be able to meet the exaggerated developmental expectations of the Philippine Muslims, and that the promised integration of former Bangsa Moro Army guerrillas into the Armed Forces of the Philippines was unlikely to proceed smoothly.
In the event, even the sceptics might have been disappointed at the way things have developed since 1996. …