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Moro Islamic Liberation Front

The biggest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines on 27 March 2014 signed an historic pact with the government to end one of Asia's longest and deadliest conflicts. "The comprehensive agreement on Bangsamoro is the crowning glory of our struggle," Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Murad Ebrahim said at the signing ceremony in Manila, using the local term that refers to a Muslim homeland.

On 07 October 2012 it was announced that the Philippine government had reached a preliminary peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the countrys largest Muslim rebel group, to end the four decade long insurgency that had killed more than 120,000 people. Under the agreement, a new political entity will be created in Mindanao, in the the southwestern of the Philippines, where there is a Muslim majority. The new entity will be authorized to raise its own sources of revenue and to levy taxes. The civil court system in the area will be improved, while the Shariah justice system for Muslims will be expanded. The national government retains jurisdiction over defense and security, foreign policy, monetary policy and coinage, citizenship and naturalization and the postal system.

The Philippines was under Spanish rule for more than 300 years and the Spanish name Moro for Moors referred to Muslims. But during that time, the southern parts of the island group was not considered part of the Spanish East Indies. The MILF is the vanguard of the Islamic movement in the Bangsamoro homeland in Mindanao and the neighbouring islands. The MILF continues to view itself as the principal victim in its quest for Moro autonomy, wronged by the U.S. and history at the moment of Philippine independence, and struggling to reassert itself ever since in a region that has become home to increasing numbers of Christian migrants and that remains dominated by powerful Muslim clans.

The MILF was formed in 1977 when Hashim Salamat, supported by ethnic Maguindanaos from Mindanao, split from the Moro National Liberation Front, advocating a more moderate and conciliatory approach toward the government. In January 1987, the MNLF signed an agreement relinquishing its goal of independence for Muslim regions and accepting the government's offer of autonomy. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the next largest faction, refused to accept the accord and initiated a brief offensive that ended in a truce later that month. By one estimate the Mindanao-based Moro Islamic Liberation Front fielded around 3,000 troops.

Islam in the Philippines has absorbed indigenous elements, much as has Catholicism. Moros thus make offerings to spirits (diwatas), malevolent or benign, believing that such spirits can and will have an effect on one's health, family, and crops. They also include pre-Islamic customs in ceremonies marking rites of passage--birth, marriage, and death. Moros share the essentials of Islam, but specific practices vary from one Moro group to another. Although Muslim Filipino women are required to stay at the back of the mosque for prayers (out of the sight of men), they are much freer in daily life than are women in many other Islamic societies.

Because of the world resurgence of Islam since World War II, Muslims in the Philippines have a stronger sense of their unity as a religious community than they had in the past. Since the early 1970s, more Muslim teachers have visited the nation and more Philippine Muslims have gone abroad--either on the hajj or on scholarships--to Islamic centers than ever before. They have returned revitalized in their faith and determined to strengthen the ties of their fellow Moros with the international Islamic community. As a result, Muslims have built many new mosques and religious schools, where students (male and female) learn the basic rituals and principles of Islam and learn to read the Quran in Arabic. A number of Muslim institutions of higher learning, such as the Jamiatul Philippine al-Islamia in Marawi, also offer advanced courses in Islamic studies.

Divisions along generational lines have emerged among Moros since the 1960s. Many young Muslims, dissatisfied with the old leaders, asserted that datu and sultans were unnecessary in modern Islamic society. Among themselves, these young reformers were divided between moderates, working within the system for their political goals, and militants, engaging in guerrilla-style warfare. To some degree, the government managed to isolate the militants, but Muslim reformers, whether moderates or militants, were united in their strong religious adherence. This bond was significant, because the Moros felt threatened by the continued expansion of Christians into southern Mindanao and by the prolonged presence of Philippine army troops in their homeland.

Mindanao's middle class Muslims do not necessarily share the MILF's vision for an autonomous region steeped primarily in Moro culture and tradition. While some Mindanao Muslims wish to see an enhanced role for Shari'a law in both civil and criminal matters in a new autonomous region -- as the MILF does -- they also want to retain democracy and strong roles for civil society in government oversight. Muslim civil society groups would closely monitor the MILF after a peace agreement, aware of the potential for corruption and mismanagement because of the MILF's lack of governance experience. Some young Muslim professionals, expressed concern that the MILF's vision of a "Moro homeland" was too exclusive of other kinds of Muslims and was not sufficiently worldly in its outlook. Some young Muslims from Mindanao consider their "Muslim" or "Filipino" identities more central to their character than their "Moro" identity.

Formal negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have been occurring since 1997, although they break down repeatedly without major breakthroughs. After breaking off peace talks in Manila in April of 2000, the MILF mounted several terrorist attacks in the southern Philippines against Philippine security and civilian targets. Philippine officials also suspect MILF operatives conducted bombings in Manila, including two at popular shopping malls in May. Other groups, including the Communist Party of the Philippines New People's Army, and the Alex Boncayao Brigade, mounted attacks in the archipelago.

The MILF claimed to have observed a cease-fire since 2003 although the Philippine government attributed some terrorist attacks to the organization. The MILF denied any involvement and claimed that bombings attributed to them were committed by splinter groups not under their control.

Formal peace talks between the MILF and the government began in April 2004, when a peace deal was scheduled to be signed in September 2006. In 2008, when both parties were in the very last throes of hashing out a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) agreement, the Philippine high court called some provisions unconstitutional and this sparked a rebellion within the MILF that left hundreds dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

It seemed like a distant hope in early 2009 that the government could revive peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The Philippine's version of the draft agreement would draw on the constitution and existing laws in its formula for granting Mindanao's Muslims' more meaningful autonomy under a new governance structure, but it likely would not expand the proposed territory beyond the current boundaries of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The two parties reached a ceasefire agreement just days before President Arroyo's July 2009 visit to Washington, however, ending a year of intense fighting in central Mindanao, and laying the groundwork for a full resuscitation of peace talks. The ceasefire enabled thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return to their homes. By 2010 the MILF was increasingly concerned about the government's ability to negotiate an interim peace agreement because of its poor leadership and "phobic" unwillingness to acknowledge points from the defunct 2008 territorial agreement.

Assailants in the southern Philippines 23 November 2009 killed a group of Muslim women from the politically prominent Mangudadatu family, including the Vice Mayor of Mangudadatu municipality and the wife of the Vice Mayor of Buluan municipality, their staff members, and accompanying journalists en route to register one of the clan's leading members for a provincial gubernatorial election. Eyewitnesses blamed the massacre on the Ampatuan clan. Rival Ampatuan clan patriarch and former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., and another son, former Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Zaldy Ampatuan, were detained in Mindanao on charges of rebellion, which stemmed from their acquisition of a significant arsenal and efforts to block the massacre investigation. Zaldy Ampatuan played a constructive role in coordinating the acts of local militia groups aligned against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Both the Ampatuans and the Mangudadatus are affiliated with the Lakas-Kampi-CMD ruling party, and they have at times cooperated in political matters. Both maintain well-armed militias.

Given its popularity among the Moros of central and western Mindanao, the MILF has increasingly positioned itself as an antidote to the mix of money, violence, and clan power that has saddled development in the region and led to the 23 November 2009 massacre of 57 civilians in Maguindanao province. The autonomy sought by the MILF not only returns to the Moros their ancestral homeland, but also enables them to transition away from the region's broken political culture.

In a May 2010 report, the UN noted the progress made with the MILF when its representatives signed the 2009 action plan to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers and to release children from all MILF units. During the April 2011 visit of the special representative of the UN secretary general for children in armed conflict (SRSG-CAC), MILF leadership agreed that the process of registration of children associated with the armed group would be completed in nine months, after which a period of reintegration and rehabilitation of the children would begin. The government continued its support of the UN-MILF action plan on the issue of the recruitment and use of children in the armed conflict in Mindanao.

Clashes between the MILF and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) continued and caused the number of IDPs to fluctuate. Two years after hostilities ended between the AFP and MILF, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) reported in July 2011 that 4,538 displaced families -- a substantial reduction from previous years--were living in camps and relocation sites in southern Mindanao, with a majority in Maguindanao Province. The NGO Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) reported a February figure of approximately 15,000 IDPs remaining in camps. Other IDPs were living in informal settlements or with host communities in both rural and urban areas, but they were not included in official government data.

During the year 2011 Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) operations killed 166 insurgents (57 suspected New Peoples Army (NPA), 54 Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG); and 55 MILF members). Military sources reported that 113 AFP members were killed in action during encounters with rebel and terrorist groups during the year: 61 by the NPA, 32 by the MILF, and 20 by the ASG. Violent land disputes especially among factions of Muslims are more prevalent than government-versus-separatist clashes.

Entering office in June 2010, the new Benigno Aquino III administration signaled an intent to forge peace in the resource-rich region in order to attract more foreign investment to the country. In their primary document submitted to the Aquino peace panel in February 2011, the MILF scaled back their land claims -- they want a sub-state in which they remain Filipino citizens but keep their Muslim identity. They are no longer considered as a separatist movement because the agenda on the table no longer included independence. On August 04, 2011 Philippine President Benigno Aquino met with the chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), amid peace negotiations between the two sides. It was the first time a Filipino president met with the head of the countrys largest Muslim rebel group. The Muslim group came to the meeting not as separatists but as Filipinos.

The Government and the MILF met again on August 22 and 23, 2011, and during this meeting the Government submitted its counterproposal to the comprehensive compact submitted by the MILF. The MILF rejected the plan and stated that it would refuse to hold further direct talks with the Government until it agreed to discuss the MILFs demand for an autonomous Muslim sub-state in the southern Philippines. On October 19, 2011, 19 AFP troops were killed in a firefight with MILF rebels in the southern province of Basilan. Despite this clash, the Government and the MILF resumed peace talks in early December 2011.

In April 2012, the Government and the MILF agreed to a set of principles to guide the substantive agenda of future negotiations and to work for the creation of a new autonomous political entity that will share power with the Government. On July 19, 2012, the Government concluded the twenty-ninth formal exploratory peace talks with the MILF. Over the course of the three days of talks, the two sides discussed the realization of a new autonomous political entity to replace the ARMM. Both sides agreed to hold further discussions in August 2012.

In exploratory talks held from August 7 to 11, 2012, the Government and the MILF both organized their respective technical working groups on power sharing and wealth sharing. The technical working groups reached consensus on certain issues relating to power sharing, revenue generation and wealth generation. Both parties noted progress in the discussion of a framework agreement and agreed to hold further discussions.

On October 7, 2012, the Government and the MILF concluded the thirty-second exploratory peace talks with the release of a draft framework peace agreement (the Framework Agreement), which provides a framework for replacing the ARMM with Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity. The Framework Agreement defines the powers and structures of the new Bangsamoro entity and describes the principles, processes and mechanisms that will shape relations between the Government and Bangsamoro.

The Framework Agreement provided that the new entity will, subject to certain limitations, have the power to levy taxes, borrow funds from foreign and domestic lenders and share in the revenues generated through the development of natural resources within its jurisdiction. The Framework Agreement reserves the powers of defence and security, foreign policy, monetary policy and coinage, citizenship, and naturalization to the Government. The Government and the MILF signed the Framework Agreement on October 15, 2012.

In March 2014, the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which paves the way for the creation of a new, autonomous political entity by 2016 that will replace the existing and inadequate Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). As of the reporting period, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, a body consisting of Philippine and MILF representatives, have completed a draft of a Bangsamoro Basic Law, which the President plans to submit to Congress for review, followed by a region-wide plebiscite for approval.




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