MANILA- Philippine President Benigno Aquino is on the brink of an accord to end one of Asia’s longest and deadliest rebellions, but renegade guerrillas, hostile politicians and the nation’s highest court lie in potential ambush.
After completing negotiations last month, Aquino is expected to sign within weeks a final peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for a power-sharing arrangement with the nation’s Muslim minority in the south.
In a process patterned on the 1998 Good Friday accord that ended the Northern Ireland conflict, the MILF would then gradually disband its 12,000-member force and put its weapons “beyond use”.
If successful, the accord would end a conflict that began in the 1970s, claimed an estimated 150,000 lives and condemned large parts of the fertile southern Philippines to violence-plagued poverty.
The Philippines’ Muslim population of about five million people regard the south as their ancestral homelands, and the MILF has led the armed quest for independence or autonomy.
But, after 18 years of stop-start negotiations that produced repeated false dawns, even Aquino’s peace chiefs are warning that the toughest stages are yet to come.
“We can expect that there will be a lot of difficulties,” said university professor Miriam Ferrer, who led the government negotiators.
“If the negotiations were hard, so much more the implementation.”