MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has moved a step closer to a landmark peace deal with the country’s largest Muslim insurgent group, but significant obstacles to an end to violence remain.
The two sides have reached agreement on sharing power in Muslim-dominated parts of the southern Philippines and hope to reach a final deal by January, according to a statement released Sunday.
“We are in the homestretch,” said Amado M. Mendoza Jr., a political science professor at the University of the Philippines who is monitoring the negotiations.
The deal seeks to bring peace to the southern Philippines, which has been racked by violence for more than a century. Many Muslims in the region believe that the Christian-dominated government in the north has oppressed them and taken their resources.
Muslim separatist groups, fueled by such sentiments and by grinding poverty in the country’s south, have been fighting for an independent state for decades. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and has caused the resource-rich southern Philippine island of Mindanao to lag behind the rest of the country in economic and social development.
In October 2012, the Philippine government signed a framework peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s largest Muslim insurgent group. That was followed in July by a wealth-sharing deal in which the two parties agreed that 75 percent of the tax revenue from metallic minerals mined in the region would stay in Mindanao. In addition, 50 percent of the taxes collected from fossil fuels developed in the region would remain.
The details on the power-sharing agreement reached Sunday were not released, but government officials had indicated that the national government would retain authority over national defense, foreign policy and monetary issues. The newly formed autonomous region, to be called Bangsamoro, is expected to have broad local powers.
The announcement noted that the two sides were still negotiating an agreement on what was termed “Bangsamoro waters.” This is probably a reference to the control of coastal resources in the autonomous region, Mendoza said. The Philippine Department of Energy has identified untapped oil and gas reserves in the Sulu Sea, along the coast of the Bangsamoro area.
Another aspect of the agreement to be negotiated involves what the two parties call the “normalization” of armed fighters in the insurgent group. This would involve incorporating the fighters into the Philippine military, the local police or other government security forces.