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The Philippines is often seen as a democratic corner of Southeast Asia: authoritarian ex-military President Ferdinand Marcos was famously ousted through peaceful civilian protest in 1986 and Filipino ‘people power’ has been a potent check on governments ever since.
Manila is also an Asian rule of law success story:the steps of the Supreme Court of the Philippines are flanked by two bronze heroes: the first Chief Justice Cayetano L Arellano, who served under the American Civil Government from 1901 to 1920, and the fifth Chief Justice, José Abad Santos y Basco, killed by the Japanese occupation forces in 1942 for refusing to cooperate.
They tell a story of legal independence and national triumph over colonialisers: the Spanish, the Americans and the Japanese. Filipino lawyers enjoy high prestige and are proud of the public interest litigation that has propelled signifi cant legal and social reforms in their country.
Fly south from Manila, however, and this narrative of progressive politics and sophisticated law evaporates in one of the world’s most heavily militarised places: the southern island of Mindanao. Here and in the surrounding islands, armed separatists have been waging war on the government and each other for more than 35 years.
The intensity since the 1970s has seen a rising death toll and the internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians. President Benigno Aquino, however, has taken an historic step by negotiating a comprehensive peace settlement with the largest of the separatist groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
A Framework Agreement between the parties was mediated by Malaysia in 2012 and a Comprehensive Agreement signed in March this year. Currently the stakeholders are drafting the implementing legislation: the Bangsamoro Basic Law. This would create a politically and legally self-governing sub-region that will be ‘the home of the Moro’, or Muslim Filipinos: the Bangsamoro.
Read the entire article in the winter edition of Advance.