Broadly, the agreement represents a compromise. On the one hand, the MILF has given up its dream of a separate Muslim state in exchange for a semi-autonomous region, to be known as Bangsamoro. The government, for its part, surrenders a lot of control over the internal affairs of Bangsamoro while retaining overall sovereignty. The exact demarcations, in terms of wealth, territory and political control, have been left hazy, and are currently being thrashed out in further rounds of talks between the two sides’ negotiators. They will probably be at it for some time. The hope is to have everything settled by 2015.
In the meantime lingering doubts over whether the agreement will actually stick don’t seem to be bothering the MILF. Helped by Bangsamoro’s main international backer, Muslim-majority Malaysia, the head of the MILF, Al Haj Murad, has been on a roadshow drumming up support and investment for the new, non-sovereign entity. The week before last he was an honoured guest at the eighth World Islamic Economic Forum in Johor Bahru, where his hosts, led by Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, treated him on a par with heads of state and national representatives. Very nice for the MILF, but also good politics for Malaysia. With a general election coming up, the Malaysian government wants to claim as much credit as it can for the peace agreement, which it helped to broker.
Mr Murad is keen to play up the economic potential of Bangsamoro and to minimise the risks of ongoing negotiations in the Philippines going awry. Previous agreements, after all, have failed to evolve into a final and conclusive peace. The last deal was struck down at the last minute by the country’s Supreme Court.
A real obstacle this time, for example, is that other, smaller Islamic militant groups in Mindanao do not back the peace plan—which could make it impossible to implement. The Moro National Liberation Front, for example, the MILF’s main rival, has just filed a petition with the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the agreement. Mr Murad acknowledges the problem, but argues that the MILF has “opened its doors to dialogue with the other groups and they have been very receptive.” In the end, he says, they all have a common objective: “The framework agreement is not just for the MILF, but for the Bangsamoro people.”