By Marte Hellema* and Augusto Miclat Jr.**
On 27 March a historic agreement was signed in the Malacanang Grounds in the Philippines. The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) promises to bring peace, stability and prosperity
to a region that has been terrorized by violent conflict for decades. But those who believe they can sit back and relax now are in for a shock. With the signing of the peace agreement it is now time to get to work, as the hardest part of the peacebuilding process is yet to come.
To begin with, it only requires looking back at recent history to see that significant agreements such as this do not always translate into real peace. The Final Peace Agreement of 1996 between the Philippine Government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) simply opened the door to
the formation of a new armed movement, the MILF, now the main party to the conflict with the Government. While the Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) of 2009 was blocked by the Supreme Court as being unconstitutional. This does not mean that this new agreement is doomed, but given that similar forces are at play, it will be important to make sure that lessons from the past are used to prevent history from repeating itself.
Furthermore, while the Philippine Government and the MILF might be the main parties to the conflict, and therefore to the peace process at the moment, there are many others who could still derail the process. Most notably some factions of the MNLF, which is also still in existence, but also
the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Abu Sayaf and entrenched local warlords have the ability, and in some instances the intention, to upset the process. The recent violent confrontations
in Sabah, Malaysia and in the city of Zamboanga in the Philippines were warning signs that more destabilising activities could be in the making.
Most importantly though, as with all peace processes, the implementation is more complicated than the writing. All the complex details of translating the Agreement to real life will put the desire for peace of the different parties to the test, in particular when it comes to challenging processes
like demobilisation, disarmament and transitional justice. About a third of all peace agreements worldwide collapse into violence within five years of being signed, partly because politicians tend to underestimate post-conflict processes. Starting a war is easy, it is much harder to make peace.
All of this does not mean that the peace process in Mindanao is doomed. On the contrary, lessons have been learned from previous failures, and these will contribute immensely to the ability of the key players to avoid similar disasters. The most important lesson of all of these is the need to ensure
that the peace process is inclusive.
Many people were involved in the realisation of the CAB, most importantly, perennial survivors and the victims of war themselves, the evacuees, the displaced grassroots communities, the widows and the orphans of war, but also civil society organisations, local business entrepreneurs, local officials, local churches, women, youth and even the international and donor community.
Yet, the inclusiveness needs to go beyond these. It will need to go beyond the MILF, and include parties like the MNLF, BIFF and local warlords. It will need to go beyond the regular stakeholders of a peace process and include business people, church, religious and indigenous tribal leaders. But maybe most importantly, it will need to go beyond the people of Mindanao and include all Filipinos.
Because only when public and political support of the entire nation is realized, will the peace agreement really stand a chance.
The signing of the CAB was a historic moment, which was realized after much hard work by many. It will require another Herculean effort to translate the agreement into real peace, an effort that the people of Mindanao and the entire Philippines more than deserve.
* Ms. Marte Hellema – Programme Manager Public Outreach and Regional Coordinator Asia Pacific – Global Secretariat of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC)
**Augusto N. Miclat, Jr. is the Executive Director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) based in Davao City, Mindanao, the Philippines (www.iidnet.org). He is also the Regional Initiator for Southeast Asia of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC-SEA).