NEXT month of February, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) is scheduled to host a meeting between the Philippine Government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to mediate knotty differences between the latter two over the implementation of their 1996 peace agreement.
The OIC had earlier expressed its own doubts toward the government's assertion that it had fulfilled its obligations in the pact. Nonetheless, if the government will let detained MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari attend the meeting, as the OIC demands, that will be reason enough for the Islamic union to afterwards issue a diplomatic and glowing report about the projected conference along newfound satisfaction over the progress of the 1996 accord.
If and when that happens, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will find itself under new and stronger pressure to sign a final – or, if not, an interim but comprehensive – peace agreement with the government, effectively breaking the months-old impasse in their negotiations. Other but almost subtle developments have been happening to lend hope that such a GRP-MILF settlement is likely this year.
Death in the hands of the Armed Forces of some top Abu Sayyaf terrorists and the capture of their comrades is one such sign. The degradation of the terrorist band, which has often been linked to the MILF, undermines very substantially the latter's strength or its capability to tie up the military in diversionary terrorist tactics in case another "all-out war" would occur.
During the ASEAN meeting in Cebu, the member countries signed a tough anti-terrorism treaty, even as President Arroyo was hailing her government's Mindanao peace program as a "model" for the increasingly terror-prone supra-region.
The local elections in May may also spur the President to conclude – successfully – the GRP-MILF talks to boost the chances of her administration's senatorial and congressional bets.
The threats of presidential impeachment and the unfinished Cha-cha will continue to confront her in the remaining balance of her term. Hence, she needs to maintain a majority in both parliaments.
On the other hand, with their war in Iraq going daily from bad to worse, the Americans may be anxious to balance that fiasco with more optimistic developments from their military interventions in the Southeast Asian theater, particularly the Balikatan in the Philippines, wherein they likewise wage a "global war" against terrorism.
Furthermore, the MILF has been recently dutifully issuing statements re-affirming their own optimism that an agreement is in the offing, or is not far-fetched despite the deadlock. It has been urging the government panel to hurry up with a more acceptable proposal, betraying an eagerness and flexibility that has been noted in an increasingly moderate MILF leadership.
Part of the credit for this positive outlook belongs to the vigorous peace-building efforts of Mindanao's as well as other places' civil society groups. Last year especially, our fellow NGOs were quite relentless in keeping peace issues and stories on top of the news and public agenda.
Women peace advocates made headlines by telling American soldiers to watch it and tread softly the sacred ground of Sulu, or else. Books about the Mindanao problem and the peace process flew thick and fast. Ceasefire watchdogs patrolled the boondocks to keep the guns silent.
Many foreign foundations and religious and other cause-oriented organizations gave – and continue to give - money to support these advocacies and initiatives. Their investments are beginning to produce the hoped for results.
Let's hope 2007 will be a jubilee year for the Big P (that' s peace). (Peace Advocates Zamboanga in an NGO based in Zamboanga City.Ed)