Philippines, Muslim Rebels Forge Wealth-Sharing in Peace Accord

The Philippines and Muslim rebels signed a wealth-sharing agreement yesterday after eight months of talks, bringing President Benigno Aquino closer to ending four decades of insurgency on resources-rich Mindanao island.

“In a show of true commitment, the parties extended the meeting, originally scheduled for four days to six days, to be able to overcome their concerns and reach an agreement,” the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front said in a statement. The pact provides “sufficient guidance” to draft wealth-sharing and revenue-generation provisions of a law expanding Muslim autonomy in a region to be known as Bangsamoro, they said.

Muslims will get a 75 percent share of metals resources and an equal split on fossil fuels, Ghadzali Jaafar, the front’s vice chairman, said in a phone interview yesterday. “We are going into the meat of the final deal,” he said. The statement didn’t provide details on the agreement.

Ending one of Southeast Asia’s most entrenched conflicts could help bring investors to Mindanao and unlock mineral deposits worth an estimated $312 billion. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao had per capita gross domestic product of 26,004 pesos ($599) in 2011, about a fourth the national average of 103,366 pesos and the lowest among 17 regions, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board.

“We have a good package, one that we believe would make fiscal autonomy in Bangsamoro a reality,” Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the chief government negotiator, said in an e-mail yesterday.

Muslims account for 5 percent of the Philippines’ 103 million-strong population, according to estimates by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

‘Failed Experiment’

Aquino forged a cease-fire with the rebels on Oct. 15, seeking to end an insurgency that has killed as many as 200,000 people on the southern island. Agreements on power-sharing and disarmament remain to be negotiated, with Jaafar yesterday saying a completed deal must be signed this year or there won’t be time to win Congressional approval before Aquino’s term ends in 2016.

The accord preserves a cease-fire and provides a road map toward Bangsamoro, a political entity to replace what Aquino has called the “failed experiment” of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The president aims to persuade the 11,000-strong rebel force to abandon its pursuit of a separate state in return for more power, revenue and territory.

Negotiations on power-sharing and disarming the rebels will be as difficult as the wealth-sharing talks, Benito Lim, a political science professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, said in a phone interview yesterday.

‘Need Guns’

“The reason for the framework agreement is precisely to stop the violence and conflict in Mindanao,” Lim said. “Aquino can press for disarmament but the rebels can argue that they need guns if they are going to be in charge of peace and order in the autonomous region.”

Negotiations have excluded other Mindanao rebel groups that broke away from Moro Islamic Liberation, including the Moro National Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. Bangsamoro Fighters clashed with government troops this month, with at least 12 people killed.

The Philippines targets $1 billion of investment in Mindanao following a peace agreement, then-Board of Investments head Cristino Panlilio said on Oct. 15. A unit of First Pacific Co. is looking at possible sites for a palm oil plantation on the island, Chief Executive Officer Manuel V. Pangilinan said in May.

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