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Will Duterte finally agree to self-rule in Mindanao?

Under the leadership of Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, the once-reviled Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s alliance with the Philippine government has added momentum to the struggle for self-rule among the nation’s Muslim minority

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (R) gestures as he speaks with Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim (L) in the town of Sultan Kudarat, Philippines, 16 June 2015. Photo: EPA/Ritchie B. Tongo

Who is he?
The chairman of the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Al Haj Murad Ebrahim’s involvement with the struggle for an autonomous Muslim state in the southern Philippines began after he dropped out of university just one semester before graduation to join the then-dominant Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Shortly after defecting to the MILF as the MNLF splintered, Ebrahim took command of the new faction’s military wing and earned a reputation as a stern leader with a brilliant tactical mind. Despite his military pedigree, Ebrahim has been a key player in the fractious peace process with the government.
Why is he in the news?

Illustration by Antiochus Omissi

As the Philippine army struggles to stamp out radical Islamist militants in the three-month battle for Marawi City in Mindanao, President Rodrigo Duterte has reached out to the government’s erstwhile foes to form a united front against the IS-aligned Maute group. With the MILF sending rescue teams into the warzone to recover civilians, Duterte announced his renewed support for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a proposal that would grant Bangsamoro – literally meaning ‘Muslim nation’ – its long-fought-for autonomy and self-rule.
What does this mean for Bangsamoro?

For a start, the culmination of almost half a century of bloody fighting for the right of the Muslim Moro people to form an independent state. It would effectively abolish the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and establish a new Bangsamoro political entity under a parliamentary form of government after a short period led by a proposed transition authority. Duterte has pledged that the proposal, which MILF vice-chairman Ghazali Jaafar described as “the best antidote to violent extremism”, will be passed this year.
Why is this happening now?

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chair of the peace panel in the negotiations with the MILF, told Southeast Asia Globe that the organisation had fought hard to win the trust of government forces. “I think the MILF has been very prudent,” she said. “It has not given the administration any reason to wage war against the MILF – in fact, it has given it all the incentives to support the political process with the MILF. Its humanitarian corridor in Marawi, its observance of the ceasefire and cooperation against drugs in the area – these are all positive indicators appreciated by the military.”
Will Duterte keep his word?

Mindanao-born Duterte has spoken of his support for the Bangsamoro Basic Law since his time as mayor of Davao City. With peace negotiations between Duterte’s government and Mindanao’s communist alliance faltering, Ferrer said that the president could ill-afford to let talks with the MILF fall apart. “The government could be hard-pressed to face war on many fronts,” she said. “If the whole of Maguindanao and Cotabato goes up in flames in a war with the MILF, you’ll have millions of people displaced.

This article was published in the September edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine. For full access, subscribe here
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