Duterte seeks reboot of Mindanao peace push amid Marawi standoff

Philippine president could potentially use the peace accord as a lever for other rebel groups to lay down their weapons

Gulf News

Manila: President Rodrigo Duterte is seeking to revive a peace accord aimed at ending decades of insurgency in Mindanao in the southern Philippines, where government troops have battled Daesh-linked militants for two months.

As much as 30 per cent of the bill that Duterte’s predecessor failed to pass has been revised, with the draft now providing for other Muslim groups to be included in the process, Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said on Monday at a forum in Manila.

Mineral deposits in Mindanao, a region that holds half of the country’s reserves, will be co-managed by the government and the Muslim autonomous region, he said.

The proposed bill will be submitted for Duterte’s approval at the presidential palace this afternoon, his spokesman Ernesto Abella said at a briefing. Duterte, who was mayor of Davao City for two decades before becoming president, will also push for the measure in a meeting later Monday with lawmakers. The heads of the Senate and House of Representatives are both from Mindanao.

The government is targeting to pass the bill in the first quarter of 2018, its chief negotiator Irene Santiago said.

Duterte, who has been grappling with the standoff between the army and militants in Marawi City, could potentially use the peace accord as a lever for other rebel groups to lay down their weapons. An end to the insurgency could also help unlock investment in the south. As many as 200,000 people have been killed in four decades of rebellion.

‘Greater Chance’

“We have a greater chance of having the Bangsamoro bill passed this time,” Santiago said at the forum in Manila. “We have all things going for us now. We have a president from Mindanao, and even congress leaders from Mindanao.”

The Moro National Liberation Front, a separate rebel group founded by Nur Misuari, is expected to submit its own version of the bill, presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza said last week. Misuari’s group, whose siege of Zamboanga City in 2013 led to the deaths of at least 203 people, was excluded from peace talks under then-President Benigno Aquino.

Misuari has offered to help the government fight the Maute militants linked to Daesh in Marawi where more than 500 people have died since clashes started on May 23.

Aquino, who signed a pact with the Moro Islamic group in March 2014, failed to get the Mindanao bill through parliament before he left office, hindered by a public backlash over a botched antiterrorism raid in early 2015 where Muslim rebels killed 44 police commandos.

“I never doubted that President Aquino was serious and committed in having the bill passed,” Iqbal said. “I see the same thing with President Duterte. The only difference is that Aquino is from Luzon and President Duterte is from Mindanao.”

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