On Sunday in Asia, the Philippine government reportedly signed a preliminary peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), according to the Associated Press and other services in Manila. If this deal is successful, it would end an insurgency that has raged in the south for decades, and which at times has seemed impossible to shut down —the rebels and various Philippine governments have been negotiating over a potential ceasefire and peace deal for more than fifteen years. In between negotiations, various governments would step up the military’s attacks on the MILF, and for a period in the 2000s, any peace seemed hopeless. According to the AP and other sources, some 120,000 people have died in the fighting in the Philippines’s south, and the violence also has seriously hindered economic growth in the south.
But there are reasons to believe that this time, the peace is for real. For one, the Philippine armed forces increasingly realize that they have other threats to focus on, namely China —a threat for which they are woefully unprepared, as reflected by the horrendous state of the Philippine navy, which has been exposed in the current crisis over the South China Sea. Secondly, the agreement offers people in the south more than previous negotiations, promising them a potential Muslim autonomous region in the south that would be better governed, and less likely to descend into a mafia state than previous efforts at autonomy. Third, President Benigno Aquino III seems to enjoy more genuine trust from rebel leaders, and people in the south, than previous presidents dating back to Joseph Estrada. Finally, this proposed peace deal, by creating the possibility for real economic development, offers the chance to reduce inequality in the south, and reduce the anger among poorer Muslim groups in the south against the generally wealthier Christian minority in Mindanao.