In this issue of P’s Pod, we have focused on the peace process between the Government of the Philippines and Moro separatist groups to end a four-decade long conflict in the Southern Philippines. Particularly in the wake of the October 2012 signing of historic Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) between the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), we are at a critical juncture to test ourselves to find whether we, both the parties to the agreement and their international partners, can materialize the goals of this important initiative. It is a valuable common ground on which people in the region should explore the ingenious ways to imagine, learn and practice to live together peacefully and those of us outside should extend whatever support we can to further push all the positive developments on the ground.
This would be no easy task, as this is one of the protracted conflicts in the world whose causes are complex and the fault lines cannot be drawn simply over the difference in religious beliefs, such as between Christianity and Islam; it is a conflict whose cause lies in the nature of the history of the modern Filipino nation-statehood. In spite of these difficulties, however, both the Government of the Philippines and the MILF jointly took brave steps to reach this laudable agreement. Moreover, as an internationally supported peace process, it may be distinct in that it involves a variety of mediating actors, especially states in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Japan, too, has been involved in this process since 2006 as part of its peacebuilding diplomacy in East Asia, trying to play a useful role as an Asian, non-Christian and non-Islamic country. In fact, it has been a unique endeavour on the part of Japan as it attempts to play a role outside its usual comfort zone of working within the United Nations-mandated framework or as an ally of the United States.
It is our aim to be fair, impartial and objective in treating this issue of peace and conflict in the Southern Philippines. However, given the complexity and political sensitivity of as yet a volatile peace process, we cannot hope to cover all of its aspects—including the divergent views of the parties involved—in a single issue. Moreover, it is an on-going process and we can only capture a momentary snapshot of a segment of a dynamic whole. Therefore, we thought it appropriate as a starting point to look at the recently signed FAB. The FAB was indeed considered a breakthrough in the peace negotiations between the two of the contending parties at the time, but its significance and challenges in the overall path to comprehensive peace has yet to be properly understood nor fully appreciated by outsiders as it may be by those who are party to the process. Thus, providing the adequate context and constructive analysis of the FAB is what we are trying to do in this issue.
To this end, this issue has been extremely fortunate to have two significant contributions from the Philippines. Mohagher Iqbal, Chairman of the MILF Peace Panel, insightfully reflects on the FAB’s significance, while Soliman Santos, well known for his commentaries and analyses on the subject, provides an excellent profile of the important role of Islamic diplomacy in the efforts to bring an end to the conflict. In addition, Kei Fukunaga, an officer from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) working as member of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) sheds light to Japan’s involvement through the project, J-BIRD. Our contributing editor, Masako Ishii, has provided us with a useful overview of the peace process, set in the context of the history of the conflict, as well as a brief chronology of events since the 1970s. Meg Kagawa, our monitor based in the area, has contributed a brief on the recent stir in Sabah, a region that borders Southern Philippine and Malaysia.
In the coming P’s Pod issues, we intend to take up the other aspects of the peace process not covered in this one, in the hope that they contribute to the better understanding of the situation and developments in the Southern Philippines.
Toshiya Hoshino, March 2013
Read the full issues of P’s Pod vol 1 no. 2