Barely two years after the Philippine government and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a peace deal, children in the country’s restive south face anew the risk of massive displacement.
Last weekend President Benigno Aquino’s key legislative allies sounded the death knell for the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a draft bill on Moro self determination, dashing the hopes of a minority that has seen centuries of armed struggle in defense of their homeland.
More than 5,000 Muslim Filipinos, many of them young people, staged a protest in Marawi City in Mindanao on Feb. 2, calling Aquino a “traitor.”
Several religious leaders, including Catholic bishops, have already warned that disappointment over the government’s failure to pass a law on expanded autonomy strengthens extremist groups already exerting pressure on the rebel’s aging leaders.
Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat of Ifugao said the setback could jack up Mindanao’s child displacement figures from the current annual estimate of 30,000 to 50,000.
The failure of the centerpiece to Aquino’s peace program also comes at a time when Southeast Asia faces a growing threat from the group calling itself Islamic State.
Despite strong U.S. support for anti-terror drives in Mindanao, urban centers across the archipelago remain vulnerable to bombings and attacks that have plagued the country in the past decade.
Baguilat said the Philippine government and civil society have the daunting task of pursuing the peace dialogue as Muslim Filipinos lament a second major defeat for the peace process.
The first came in 2008 when the Supreme Court struck down a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the rebels and the administration of then president Gloria Arroyo, leaving rebels, the government and foreign sponsors aghast.
Fighting that followed the debacle displaced more than 750,000 people in the southern Philippines, that year’s highest displacement figure worldwide.
Muslims in Manila call for legislators to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law that would allow them to create an autonomous Moro region in Mindanao. (Photo by Maki Macaspac)
In 2014, veteran rebel and government troops wept as peace negotiators signed a comprehensive peace agreement in Manila.
At Moro headquarters in Cotabato City, rebel combatants and their wives cheered and clasped children to their breasts as the senior government peace adviser dedicated the peace process to Mindanao’s children.
Peace negotiator Teresita Deles spoke of hope “that, henceforth, no family shall be forced to drive their children away for fear of their being maimed and wounded by conflict; and that no child has ever again to cross a raging river and knock on a stranger’s door to beg for protection.”
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Story reposted with permission from Ucanews. The writer is Inday Espina-Varona, an editor and commentator based in Manila.