While public attention is focused on peace negotiations between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Communist Party of the Philippines, a third, much quieter peace process has been underway in Mindanao. Since 2003, the Revolutionary Worker's Party of Mindanao (Rebolusyonaryang Partido ng Manggagawa ng Mindanao - RPM-M) has been in negotiation with the government to end three decades of conflict.
Mediated by Balay Mindanaw, a local NGO, and conducted locally, transparently, and with the involvement of the affected communities, this "other peace process" is focused on identifying and meeting the needs of villagers before an agreement is signed.
By giving all affected parties ownership over the process, focusing on the needs of communities rather than politicians, and avoiding high-profile international involvement, the process has avoided much of the chaos, violence and media posturing that mars negotiations with the MILF and the CPP. Unfortunately, corruption and insincerity on the part of the government and government contractors (and the unwillingness of international agencies to give aid before a final agreement is brokered) threaten to undermine the process. Villagers often do not see the infrastructure projects they are promised -- and every time the government fails to deliver its side of the bargain, it becomes more difficult to reengage communities in the peace talks.
I had the chance to meet with Balay Mindanaw president Kaloy Manlupig earlier this week, and was very impressed by his commitment to the peace process. I'm hoping to visit the affected areas this summer, so more on this later...
(And I'm going to quickly note here that US involvement in the region is, of course, complicating this process as well -- partly by pushing the Philippine government further towards a manichaean division between "good guys" and "bad guys" that discourages negotiation with "enemies" and "terrorists" like the RPM-M and the villagers who support them, and partly by threatening to disrupt the ceasefire in its hunt for "terrorists" in Mindanao.)