The much-awaited implementation of a peace deal that could usher in a new era of stability and development in southern Philippines is at risk of being derailed after a bloody clash between rebel groups and members of the Philippine National Police which resulted in more than 60 deaths. The majority of the casualties were members of a special police unit engaged in a counterterrorism raid in Muslim-dominated Maguindanao province on the island of Mindanao.
Development donors and implementers said that while the tragic incident may have an effect in terms of how they operate in the conflict-ridden areas in southern Philippines, the event should and will not hamper their long-term commitment to the region and the country’s development progress.
“The short answer is that our programs are affected by the incident, not because it causes us to avoid the area but rather because the tragedy itself and the varied reactions to it form part of the environment in which we work,” Steven Rood, country director and regional adviser for local governance at The Asia Foundation, told Devex.
Several donors and implementers, including the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Australia, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the European Union, and the Millennium Challenge Account, have several long-term projects and commitments to help the region and the country’s development.
Guy Ledoux, head of the European delegation in the Philippines, said on local television that the EU will remain committed to Mindanao — with several projects involving the peace process in place — and that “the hope for peace remains.”
Rood, who is also a member of the Third Party Monitoring Team overseeing the peace process, echoed this sentiment revealing that “any one incident is not likely to lead them to reevaluate that basic stance.”
The Asia Foundation is spearheading several projects in Mindanao funded by Australian, U.S. and U.K. aid. These projects focus on the peace process, community-level conflicts response and governance.
The Jan. 25 incident, which eerily occurred nearly one year to the day the final details of the peace deal were ironed out, has aroused passions from the different sides of the negotiating table, including the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest militant group in the south which is the principal party to the pending agreement.
See more stories on Mindanao:
● Amid high hopes for peace, USAID scales back Mindanao program
● In Mindanao, an optimism fused with caution
● Engage local leaders, respect process to work in Mindanao
● High hopes for Philippine development after peace deal
● Philippines’ MDG progress report: A mixed bag
“The disastrous encounter had resulted not only in the tragic deaths and casualties from both sides, including the displacement of families forced to flee their homes, but have shaken the trust and confidence reposed in the ongoing peace process,” according to a statement from the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy.
The details of exactly what transpired and who is to blame remain murky, but some analysts worry that suspicion and finger-pointing could lead to another collapse of the peace process, similar to what happened in 2008. Two Philippine senators have already withdrawn their support of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which provides the legislative framework for the peace deal and establishment of a new political entity for Muslim areas in Mindanao.
“We call for sobriety and urge our legislators and officials to exercise prudence in their statements. We believe the peace process cannot and should not be held hostage by the Mamasapano incident, tragic though it may be,” declared PCID. “Incendiary statements are reckless and serve no purpose but to unnecessarily fan the flames in an extremely tense environment.”
Rood contended that the incident may delay the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, but it likely will not derail the entire peace process.
“The likely effect is to delay the consideration of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Such delays, of course, make implementation more difficult,” he said.
Despite the Philippines’ strong economic growth in the past couple of years, the country remains bogged down by the long-standing conflict in Mindanao, an island with abundant natural resources and its own economic potential. The Philippines ranked ninth out of 162 countries surveyed in the Global Terrorism Index in 2014 by the Institute for Economics and Peace and just behind notorious countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, among others.
“Incidents such as [the one that] occurred in Mamasapano certainly frighten off investors,” Rood said, adding that there are “no technical solutions” to bring peace and development in conflict areas like Maguindanao, but that any long-term solution will require the support of the international development community.
“Unrest in Muslim Mindanao is particularly important for new investors and other outsiders who are considering the Philippines,” he concluded.
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