Philippines: Peace Deal With Moslem Separatists


July 22, 2008: Peace negotiations with the Moslem separatist MILF finally paid off after nearly a year of last minute glitches. The haggling was mainly over real estate. The three million Moslems in the south still claim "ancestral rights" (to administer, and collect taxes from) many areas that have become largely Christian in the past decade. The Christian majority (95 percent of the population) has been encroaching, on the sparsely populated areas of the Moslem south, for over a century. But this movement has accelerated as the economy has improved in the last decade. Many Moslems see their culture threatened, but armed resistance has not done much to help. Most Moslems want a peace deal, one that guarantees them some protection from these trends. The peace deal won't really stop the future from arriving, but it will reduce the violence and allow for more economic development.

There will now be a vote by the Moslems in the south, in about 700 villages, to approve or disapprove the deal. Even if approved, there will still be some diehards who will keep on fighting. This is to be expected, as the current battles with the MILF are the aftereffect of a deal made in the 1990s, with another Moslem separatist group (the MNLF). That deal calmed down a lot of the Moslems, but not all. The pattern is expected to repeat with the MILF. Indeed, there are already MILF splinter groups, like Abu Sayyaf, which refuse to make any deals with the government. But most Moslems are tired of the violence, which has been going on since the 1960s. Over 100,000 people have died, and two million driven from their homes (at one time or another). The separatist struggle has been a net failure, and the Moslems now want peace more than a separate Islamic state.

The communist NPA rebels have been more active of late, attacking commercial targets, especially those in remote areas (like mines or construction projects.) Businesses have been more reluctant to pay protection money to the NPA, and have spent on improved security, and lobbying the government for more troops and patrols. This has led to more NPA casualties each month, but desperate (to get paid) NPA groups have been attacking facilities of companies that refuse to pay up. The army has sent another 700 troops south, to chase down an NPA group that is trying to extort protection payments from a mining company that is constructing a multi-billion dollar copper project. The government considers the NPA to be mostly a bunch of politically motivated bandits, and has made the destruction of this group a high priority. While the NPA operates like a criminal gang, they still have many members who are hard core true believers in the communist cause (of world revolution and communist dictatorships everywhere). These people will fight to the death, and the police is not sure how many of these desperados there are out there (a few dozen, a few hundred, or even more.)




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