March 27, 2014 marked the historic signing of the long-awaited peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s largest militant group in Mindanao.
There is optimism that the agreement will be the catalyst to spark development progress in the conflict-ridden southern region of the country.
The pact — a milestone after 17 years of tough negotiations and almost 4 decades of armed conflict that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives — envisions the establishment of an autonomous government in Muslim-majority areas of Mindanao, in exchange for disarmament and enduring peace.
It’s truly a sign of good things to come — not just for the Philippines and Southeast Asia, but also for the world’s development progress and trajectory, according to U.N. Development Program Administrator Helen Clark.
“[To see the agreement] being sealed is extremely significant,” Clark said during a press conference in Manila.
The former prime minister of New Zealand added that only peace can ensure that development progress is effective and efficient, while war and conflict only makes people “drown deeper” in poverty.
“What happens is when a region experiences conflict, it affects development and you can't make good results for the people involved and they suffer,” she explained. “The prospect of having an enduring peace in Mindanao is a very exciting one.”
A year and a half on from the landmark Framework Agreement that paved the way for today’s formal peace agreement, the relatively rapid pace of the peace process — despite some opposition from radical Muslim groups — has raised the hopes of local and international aid organizations.
Indeed, these groups now expect Mindanao to open the floodgates for development programs, which will in turn bring a brighter future for the rest of the Philippines.
Taking the lead
Clark mentioned that the peace deal can be a precedent for other conflict-ridden nations and regions, encouraging others to view the Philippines as a best-practice example.
For instance, nations such as Myanmar or South Sudan could study how to apply lessons learned from the Mindanao discussion experience to help find a negotiated end to their own internal conflicts.
Meanwhile, for the Philippines the peace agreement is only the start in redefining its role in the region.
The UNDP chief highlighted that the country can and should play a larger role in pushing for more urgent climate change dialogue and programs — as well as disaster mitigation and response initiatives — given its position as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to natural calamities as a consequence of global warming.
“Climate change programs should be used by the Philippines as a platform in pushing for climate change initiatives, because of the country's direct experience of how changes in the climate can affect people's lives,” she explained.
Almost 5 months ago, Typhoon Haiyan claimed the lives of more than 6,000 people and destroyed millions of properties in the central Visayas region. Although affected areas are slow to get back up on their feet, Clark commended efforts implemented to fast-track relief and rehabilitation processes.
This is an opportunity that the United Nations and the rest of the international development community could take and contribute greatly to, she noted after coordination woes between the government and foreign aid groups slowed down relief operations in the initial phase of the response.
“What needs to be done is for the U.N. system to align itself behind the plans the government has developed and the work that has been done these past months. There is development and [this] should support capacity on the ground,” Clark said.
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