An agreement reached Saturday between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front could bring an end to decades of fighting on the island of Mindanao.
If the accord kills the 40 years of violence, it will be good news for the Philippines and the United States. Five hundred U.S. Special Operations forces are stationed on Mindanao in support of Philippine troops who are fighting the rebels.
President Benigno S. Aquino III has put ending the conflict high on the list of priorities for his six-year term, which began in 2010. The southern island has lagged behind the rest of the Philippines in economic development as investors are deterred by the violence and instability in spite of its resources, which include natural gas and oil. Negotiations, aided by Malaysia, have been underway since 1997.
As usual, problems remain. At least two other Muslim rebel groups, Abu Sayyaf, which seeks to create a strict Islamic state on Mindanao and the Moro National Liberation Front which took and held briefly the city of Zamboanga in September, have not yet come to terms with the national government.
Another issue is the future relationship between the majority Christian central government in Manila and the new, predominantly Muslim regional state, to be called Bangsamoro. The agreement provides for the MILF to assume responsibility for security in the new state and to receive 75 percent of the tax revenues from the region’s mineral resources.
If the agreement holds, and if the MNLF and Abu Sayyaf can be brought into the tent by the MILF and the Manila government, the American forces can be withdrawn and the standard of living of the people of Mindanao should rise. Given the longstanding relationship between the Philippines and the United States, and America’s interest in security and development in that nation of 97 million, the United States should welcome the new accord and hope that it works.