The path to peace is often the most difficult to walk, one that requires tenacity and patience, fortitude and determination. Yet now, after decades of simmering violence across the southern islands of the Philippines, there is the prospect of an enduring peace — one brought about and underlined by President Rodrigo Duterte as he presented a signed copy of a new law passed last month to the leaders of that region’s largest Muslim rebel group that grants greater autonomy there.
The campaign by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and others had been the longest-running in the nation and claimed more than 150,000 lives in the Mindanao region since the 1970s. Yes, there had been times before when it seemed as if peace was at hand, only for political obstacles to scuttle those hopes. Now, with the formal adoption of the autonomy laws, the millions living in Mindanao can look to a future that includes a greater say in how their region will run, lessening the impact and influence of Manila.
The Bangsamoro Organic Law supersedes an earlier autonomous zone that comprised five provinces, but benefited few Muslims, pushing many more Muslims and the region further into an unending cycle of violence of poverty.
Manila, however, will still retain control over the police and military, while militants hand over their stockpiles of weapons.
While Duterte is often criticised for his anti-narcotics policies and straight-talk, he deserves full credit for bringing this legislation to fruition and laying the conditions for peace for all Muslims across Mindanao. Crucially, too, it deprives the extremists of potential support by showing compromise and community commitment work.