UK to Filipinos: Rally behind Bangsamoro deal

Paterno Esmaquel II
This is the best way to quell groups described by the government as 'spoilers,' UK's top diplomat says during his Philippine trip

BOOSTING TIES. Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (right) welcomes British Foreign Secretary William Hague (left) on Jan 30, 2014 during the British official's one-day visit to Manila. Photo by Gil Nartea/Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – To quell unrest from rebels denounced by the government as “spoilers,” the United Kingdom (UK) challenged Filipinos on Thursday, January 30, to support the newly negotiated “Filipino solution” to the 4-decade rebellion in Mindanao.

In a media briefing during his Philippine visit, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “I think the best thing now is for everyone to rally behind the agreement that has been made, and for all groups in that region to support the agreement that has been negotiated. And that is the quickest way for us to bring to an end any fighting that remains.”

Hague said this days after the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) agreed on a historic arms deal on Saturday, January 25.

Clashes between government forces and an MILF breakaway unit followed this agreement as President Benigno Aquino III vowed to crush the “spoilers” of the peace process.

Hague said the UK can relate to the Philippines.

Protestants vs Catholics

The UK, after all, dealt with its own peace process, involving a “unionist and overwhelmingly Protestant majority” and a “nationalist and republican, almost exclusively Catholic minority,” according to a BBC briefer.

The majority wanted to remain part of the UK, while the minority sought to belong to the Republic of Ireland.

Called the “Troubles,” the conflict began in 1968 and ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, which, the BBC said, “restored self-government to Northern Ireland and brought an end to the Troubles.”

Despite this agreement, the BBC said “many significant issues remained unresolved in 1998, not least the decommissioning of republican and loyalist weapons.”

Hague recalled this in a speech later on Thursday.

“We know from our own experience in Northern Ireland that implementation brings its own challenges. But it will also bring rewards, both in Mindanao and for the whole of the Philippines,” the British foreign secretary said.

“You have found a Filipino solution to a problem that has divided the Philippines for too long, and I have no doubt that it can be an inspiration for other countries who are struggling to overcome their own conflicts or divisions,” he said.

Top donor after Haiyan

The UK describes itself as a “firm supporter of the Mindanao peace process.” It sits as a member of the International Contact Group, which includes Japan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and international non-governmental organizations to observe peace negotiations in Kuala Lumpur.

The UK supported the Philippines, not only in the peace process, but also in rebuilding after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

In fact, it has pledged the highest amount of foreign aid for Yolanda survivors – P4.347 billion ($96.354 million), according to the Philippine government’s Foreign Aid Transparency Hub.

The United States, the Philippines’ strategic partner, has pledged the second highest amount at P2.786 billion ($61.764 million).

“I am particularly pleased to visit so soon after the successful completion of negotiations for a comprehensive peace agreement to bring to an end the conflict in Mindanao. After the tragedy of the typhoon, this news is all the more welcome,” Hague told reporters on Thursday.

He said this against the backdrop of a broader strategy to engage a “stable, secure, and prosperous Asia-Pacific.”

“Our engagement in Asia,” he said, “is as much about security as it is about trade and prosperity, since these are all inextricably linked.”

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario thanked Hague for, among other things, being “the highest incumbent British official to visit the Philippines in more than 15 years.” – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.