The problem with insurgency is that it mutates itself. That makes it difficult for countries fighting this malaise to find a permanent solution. Usually insurgency starts with a single group, and when it grows, it splits, and splits again, finally resulting in the formation of a few, or even several groups with the same lethal influence and fighting power.
The Philippines is facing a similar problem in its fight against Muslim rebels in the southern island of Mindanao. The resource-rich island has been devastated by a four-decade insurgency that has so far killed 200,000 people and caused indescribable damage to the economy and development. At the root of the problem is a belief by Muslims in Mindanao that Christians from the north have oppressed them and exploited their resources.
But hopes were high recently of an end to the conflict. In August 2011, President Benigno Aquino flew secretly to Tokyo to meet the leader of Mindanao’s largest separatist group, Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which led to a landmark October 2012 framework agreement for peace. But those hopes have suffered a huge dent in the past few weeks as fighting started anew with rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front, a group that was not included in the 2012 peace agreement. For a week now, Philippine troops have been battling street to street in the city of Zamboanga, supported by strikes from helicopters. The military has now recaptured 70 percent of the territory seized by the MNLF forces since it began its offensive on September 9. The troops have also rescued dozens of hostages after pushing back the rebels.
Though the latest fighting has created a huge setback, the government of Aquino must persist with its peace efforts and implement the terms of the deal it has agreed with the MILF. There is no alternative to peace, and though MNLF, frustrated at being left out and pursuing its own agenda, is likely to launch more attacks, the government will be able to fight them back with the support of MILF.
It is encouraging that two days of talks between Aquino’s government and Malaysia, which is facilitating talks with rebels, ended on September 14 in Manila on a positive note. The two sides “looked forward to a final peace agreement to be concluded in the near future,” Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry said after the meeting.
At the same time, President Aquino must extend an olive branch to other insurgency groups, whether they are open to negotiations or not. The government and MILF must make sure that they have the full support of people in Mindanao for their peace deal, and once this support is guaranteed, fighting other rebellious rebels will not be difficult•