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Asia

Duterte wants Mindanao peace, does MILF want it too?

Last week, armed rebels with links to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front attacked a jail in the southern Philippines and freed their leaders. Are the group's lower ranks getting frustrated with the ongoing peace process?

DW: After the jailbreak, what future do you see for the peace process in Muslim-majority Mindanao?

Jasmin Lorch: First of all, we should be careful because some Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commanders deny that one of their splinter groups was responsible for the jailbreak. At the same, several sources have attributed the attack to a splinter group of the MILF and the radicalized or criminal elements within the MILF ranks.

MILF was involved in the peace process when President Aquino was at the helm. Now President Duterte has also expressed his intention to continue the dialogue. At the same time, the peace process has not yielded any concrete benefits or improvements for the MILF and the country's Moro population so far. These, of course, are factors that promote radicalization and fragmentation in the MILF ranks.

The Mindanao conflict in the Philippine's south is not only between the Christian majority and a Muslim minority; it is also about land rights and poverty. A peace agreement has been negotiated, but why are things not moving forward?

A peace agreement was reached in 2014, but what the Philippines needs is a law that could implement it. It is only through a law that the autonomous rights, which the MILF demands, can come into force. Under the Aquino government, the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was prepared. But it has not been adopted yet. This means that the peace treaty exists, that the Duterte government wants to continue the dialogue, but that nothing has changed on the ground. Administrative reforms and the transfer of responsibilities have not yet taken place.

Can radical MILF members jeopardize the peace process?

The current MILF leadership mostly consists of an older generation and these people are interested in the peace process. But in the group's lower ranks you will find some militant elements who think that the peace agreement that was reached is not enough. Moreover, as long as there is no implementation of the deal, there will be resentment among MILF members. The longer it takes to implement the agreement, the greater the risk of fragmentation.

Jasmin Lorch Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP)

Jasmine Lorch: 'What we need is the implementation of the 2014 peace agreement'

The conflict has persisted for several decades, as a result of which different types of armed groups have evolved, and they are not going to disappear soon. A renegade brigade or a commander can cause considerable instability in the region. Armed attacks like the jailbreak can jeopardize the peace process because they can lead to a situation in which leading politicians and parts of the Christian majority population reject the process.

President Duterte is the first Philippine leader to hail from Mindanao. What difference can that factor make?

Considering how Duterte has acted in other situations, it is encouraging that he is signalling his readiness for dialogue when it comes to the peace process. But the structural problems of the Mindanao peace process are more complex and they won't be solved just by the fact that Duterte himself comes from Mindanao.

Duterte says his government wants to increase economic activities in the country's southern region. For example, the president wants to build a railway line with Chinese help. Can economic uplift make the peace solution more likely?

Economic issues are central to almost any major conflict in the world. But large-scale infrastructure projects in a conflict zone always come with problems. Who controls which area? Which armed groups are in a particular region? And, of course, who profits from such large-scale projects? These are the questions that will be raised.

In my view, smaller projects aimed at addressing the needs of the population will be more helpful than the mega projects.

Jasmin Lorch is a political scientist and a Southeast Asia expert at the Hamburg-based GIGA Institute for Asian Studies.

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