A new agreement between the Philippines government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front could end four decades of fighting on the island of Mindanao. If that happens, it will be good news for the Philippines and the United States.
Some 500 U.S. Special Operations forces are stationed on Mindanao in support of Philippine troops who are fighting the insurgents. President Benigno Aquino has put a conclusion to the conflict high on his list of priorities.
Mindanao has lagged behind the rest of the Philippines in economic development, as investors are deterred by its violence and instability despite its resources, which include natural gas and oil. Negotiations to end the conflict have been underway since 1997.
Problems remain. Two other Muslim rebel groups — Abu Sayyaf, which seeks to create a strict Islamic state on Mindanao, and the Moro National Liberation Front, which took and briefly held a city on the island last year — have not come to terms with the national government.
Another issue is the future relationship between the majority-Christian central government in Manila and the new, predominantly Muslim regional state. The agreement provides for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to assume responsibility for security in the new state and to get 75 percent of tax revenue from the region’s plenteous mineral resources.
If the agreement holds, and if the other insurgent groups can be brought on board, the U.S. forces can be withdrawn and the standard of living of the people of Mindanao should rise.
Given the long-standing relationship between the Philippines and the United States, and America’s interest in security and development in that nation, the United States should welcome the new accord and hope that it works.