Analysis: Philippines’ Zamboanga siege a legacy of failed peace talks
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Analysis: Philippines’ Zamboanga siege a legacy of failed peace talks

There is no arguing that the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro gave war-weary residents of southern Mindanao hopes for a final resolution to the centuries-old conflict in the southern Philippines island.

The Mindanao conflict is deeply rooted in the island’s recorded history that is replete with heroic resistance as well as unprovoked violence from either side of the conflict.  From the epic war waged by early Mindanaoans, who refused to be conquered and subjugated by a succession of invaders and colonizers, to the present wars of ‘national liberation’ by organized armed resistance of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its predecessor – the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), this island has known violence for a long time.

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There have been two major peace agreements and one botched peace deal which sought to address the internecine war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives – combatants and civilians – and displaced more than a million people.

Two of these peace agreements were forged between the Philippine government and the MNLF. Unfortunately, both the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Jakarta Final Peace Accord have only spiralled to more vicious wars.

The 1976 Tripoli Agreement, brokered by Libya, had all the makings of a failure even before it could be implemented as it was merely used as a ruse and a pacifier by former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos who wanted to legitimize his martial rule. By the time it was halfheartedly implemented the scope and area of coverage was already mutilated and the whole peace agreement mangled beyond recognition.

Only a couple of years later several key leaders of the MNLF, led by the late Salamat Hashim, broke away and formed the MILF.  Salamat and his group not only rejected the Tripoli Agreement, they also repudiated Nur Misuari who they claimed fell into a trap laid out by the Marcos dictatorship.  Misuari himself and the MNLF would resume their armed struggle.

When Marcos was ousted 1986 his successor President Corazon Aquino broke protocols and met with Misuari in an attempt to end the almost genocidal war in Mindanao.

It would not be until 1996 – during the term of President Fidel Ramos – that Misuari again accepted a peace deal with the Philippine government through the Jakarta Peace Accord.

Misuari however again walked into another trap, as he increasingly became frustrated and eventually ending up being swallowed by the system he once waged war against.  Once a unifying figure among the Moro people, he became a polarizing force and eventually lost his ascendancy among Muslim militants. Thus, the rise of MILF as the amalgamating force for a peaceful resolution to the Mindanao conflict despite bearing arms against the government.

The road to peace however is not as easy as announcing breakthroughs, communiqués and draft agreements. President Benigno Aquino III followed his mother’s footsteps and met with MILF chair Ibrahim ‘Al Haj’ Murad in Tokyo to fast track the peace process. But as proved by the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain drafted under the Arroyo government, resistance and reactions to any peace agreements could come not only from within the ranks of warring forces.  It can come, as it has come, from forces left behind by the peace process.  Worse, the people will even turn their backs against and repudiate whatever peace deals are reached between the MILF and the Philippine government.

The not-so-distant Sabah invasion by the heirs of the Sulu Sultanate is a mere fallout of the peace process.  With the Zamboanga siege on Monday, the war in Mindanao has again come full circle. A war that is interrupted by peace agreements only to be dismissed and rejected by spurned protagonists.  Or call them antagonists.  Many may see a crackpot developing in Misuari.  It would be easy to dismiss him and whatever remains his once formidable force.

One thing the history of the Mindanao conflict has taught us is that for every failed peace agreement, there will rise a more militant and ideological group that will carry on the war of liberation for a Moro homeland.  This group may not come from Misauri’s MNLF faction.  It could just be around waiting for the opportunity to do its acts.

These are the fallouts every peace negotiator from both sides will have to address to achieve the long-cherished and lasting peace for Mindanao.