I wanted to write about this last week, when the following story ran in the news columns. The government was looking forward to finally concluding a peace treaty with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the next few months, Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz said.
"If we are able to conclude the final peace agreement with the MILF, we’ll have dramatically improved the security, stability in central Mindanao," Cruz told reporters.
He said Manila was "confident" that a political settlement would be reached before the start of Ramadan.
Good thing Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo sang the same refrain today in a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur; I get a second chance to write about it.
"I believe before Ramadan, which is in September. Hopefully even long before Ramadan," Romulo said when asked when he expected an outcome for the MILF talks.
Romulo told reporters at a meeting here of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) grouping of mostly developing countries that the two sides were working on the issue of ancestral domain, or traditional Muslim lands. [Inq7.net also carries the AFP wire story, here.]
My two cents: The renewed government emphasis on concluding a peace agreement with the MILF is a function not only of a less recalcitrant MILF but also of a more single-minded AFP. I believe the armed services have come to the conclusion that it is really best to settle the MILF problem peacefully, in order to focus on finishing off the communist insurgency.
One set of "proofs," which I (but maybe not too many others) find convincing enough: The institutional bias of the AFP is against a peace treaty; if not to oppose one outright, then at least to drag its feet. I am reminded of the shift in perspective in Eduardo Ermita’s worldview, when he left the office of Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process to become Secretary of National Defense. Unfortunately, all I can find on the Net right now is this filed-away column of Bel Cunanan’s, which reminds me of the impressions I had then.
… At the time of his appointment to the defense department, he was thick in the peace process as the government’s point man in the talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF, an offshoot of the MNLF-ed) which are about to resume in Kuala Lumpur.
But while familiarity with the secessionist problem in Mindanao is a decided advantage for Ermita, he has to be conscious that his perspective on the peace process now has to change somewhat, to reflect the demands of the Armed Forces.
If I remember correctly, his perspective did change. But over time, both Ermita’s attitude to the MILF peace talks and that of the AFP became tempered, more flexible, especially after the MILF disavowed links with al-Qaeda and the Abu Sayyaf. Cruz, as near as I can tell, has pushed peace with the MILF since assuming the defense portfolio. I gather he met less resistance from the generals, in part because of the (new) focus on the communists.