Philippines, Muslim Rebels Nearing Deal on Wealth, Power Sharing

Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines are close to a power and wealth-sharing deal with the government, rebel leader Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said, signaling that the group’s 40-year insurgency is near an end.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front expects to complete the agreement by the end of the year to attain broad autonomy and divvy up taxes and other income from the region, Murad said today in an interview in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino signed a framework pact with the rebels on Oct. 15 as he tries to end an insurgency that has killed as many as 200,000 in the southern island of Mindanao. He’s also pushing to end death squads, clan wars and kidnappings that have blocked companies from tapping mineral deposits worth an estimated $312 billion.

“There seem to be no major differences in the negotiators’ positions,” Ramon Casiple, executive director of Manila-based Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said by telephone. “There’s optimism about the parties being able to finish this before Aquino leaves office in 2016. The issue is how to package it in such a way that it will be accepted by the president, Congress and the Supreme Court.”

The peace accord provides a road map to establish a political entity called the Bangsamoro that will replace the failed Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao set up in 1989. The 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front must abandon its pursuit of a separate state in return for more power, revenue and territory, according to the deal, which must be passed by Congress and approved by a local referendum.

Handling Defense

The sides are now considering a proposal for a 75 percent share of revenue in the autonomous region in favor of the Muslim rebels, Murad said, adding that the Bangsamoro administration may be allowed to own natural resources. The central government will handle defense, monetary policy and foreign affairs, while the autonomous region may set up its own police force, he said.

“This will be a long process, so it’s not outright, but what is important now is the amount of violence on the ground has gone down,” Murad said. “So we just want to sustain that and gradually promote peace in the area.”

Negotiators are discussing whether the central government or Bangsamoro should have authority to direct the police, Murad said. “There is exclusive power for the Bangsamoro government and this will allow them to enjoy a certain limit of self- governance with less interference from the central government.”

Most Entrenched

The Mindanao conflict is one of the most entrenched in the region, along with a separatist movement in southern Thailand and decades-long ethnic minority rebellions in Myanmar. While peace in Thailand remains evasive, Myanmar’s government has reached cease-fire agreements with 10 armed groups.

Indonesian authorities in 2006 reached a peace agreement with rebels in Aceh province after a three-decade conflict that had killed about 15,000 people. Sri Lanka’s military defeated Tamil guerrillas in May 2009 to end a 26-year war that killed as many as 40,000 civilians in its final stages.

The Philippines is targeting $1 billion of investments in Mindanao following the peace agreement, Board of Investments head Cristino Panlilio said on Oct. 15. The nation is also in a renewed push to attract Shariah-compliant investors to the region.

“The power-sharing and the wealth-sharing scheme will be fair” to both the government and the rebels, Aquino’s spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, said. Asked about the wealth-sharing ratio, he said it’s still being worked out.

The ARMM has per capita gross domestic product of 26,000 pesos, the lowest among the 17 provinces and below the national average of 103,366 pesos, according to the government’s National Statistical Coordination Board. Muslims account for 5 percent of the Philippines’ 103 million population, according to estimates by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Catholic settlers outnumber the Muslim population by about five-to-one in Mindanao, home to about a quarter of the country’s people.

To contact the reporters on this story: Norman P. Aquino in Manila at naquino1@bloomberg.net; Klaus Wille in Singapore at kwille@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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