Aquino visits rebel stronghold
PHILIPPINES: Philippine President Benigno Aquino paid a
historic visit Monday to rebel territory in a bid to speed up efforts to
end one of Asia’s longest and deadliest insurgencies.
Four months after his government agreed on a roadmap with the Moro
Islamic Liberation Front for a final peace deal by 2016, Aquino
travelled to the insurgents’ stronghold in the far south as a
“We have just three years and four months left. We have to speed up
everything we are doing now to make this (peace) permanent,” Aquino said
on a stage alongside MILF chief Murad Ebrahim just outside the rebels’
The deadline for peace coincides with the end of Aquino’s six-year
term as President. The constitution limits him to one term and there are
concerns that the next president may not be able, or may not want, to
pursue the peace agenda.
The 12,000-strong MILF has been fighting since the 1970s for
independence in Mindanao, the southern third of the mainly Catholic
Philippines that the country’s Muslim minority claim as their ancestral
An estimated 150,000 people have died in the conflict with Muslim
rebels, although a ceasefire in place since 2003 has largely held.
However Aquino expressed confidence that the negotiations would yield
significant results within weeks, and that a final peace pact could be
achieved by 2016. “We’re very close to agreements on all the points,” he
The key event on Monday, held just outside the MILF’s heavily
fortified Camp Darapanan, was the launch of joint development projects
seen by both sides as crucial to the peace process. It was the first
peace mission by a president to the MILF’s powerbase.
Then-president Joseph Estrada travelled to the area in 2000 but only
at a time of heavy fighting, shortly after government troops overran
another base that was then the rebels’ main camp.
Estrada infamously brought pork and beer to the Muslim areas so
government troops could celebrate their victory.