By Sheli DeNola

The battle for the Philippines rages on as negotiations between the Philippine government and Islamic fundamentalist forces have faltered in past weeks.

Since it received independence from the United States in 1946, the Philippines has been a divided nation. Communist insurgents have been ruling the north, the middle of the country by the central government in Luzon, and the south by the Muslim separatist movement. Both northern and southern factions have been in constant conflict with the authorized Philippine government.

“Both of these insurgencies are decades in the making,” said Kent Eaton, a UCSC professor of politics who specializes in international relations and the Philippines. “With the decentralization of [the government’s] power, a lot of local governments have come under insurgent’s power. There’s a lot of speculation on whether [the new] government will survive.”

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has sought an independent Islamic state since the 1970s. However, it has only recently become radicalized. In 2000 and 2001 the MILF broadened its military tactics with increased kidnapping and murders.

John Ciorciari of the H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University commented on the Philippines government’s approach to dealing with the growing Muslim insurrection.

“They’ve tried to pick the most radical elements and fight them with guerilla warfare,” Ciorciari said. “After 9/11 the Philippine government invited [the United States] back in smaller numbers. They are trying to kill off or capture these small numbers [of extremists]. On the other hand, they have also been trying to identify with more moderate elements that can be negotiated with. The aftermath of 9/11 gave the government a much stronger mandate publicly to do what was needed, and with the complete support of U.S. the threat of force is always on the table.”

Kent Eaton also spoke about the need for economic reform in the country.

“Arroyo [current president of the Philippines] is a member of the huge land holding class, who do not redistribute economic wealth. It’s upsetting that the president is part of this regime. Corazon Aquino is really admirable, but she’s also a member of this elite who is against economic reform.”

Corazon Aquino is Undersecretary of the Department of Trade and Industry. A former president, Aquino has been instrumental in the economic reformation of the Philippines, but the wealth has not been distributed throughout the country, most of it remaining in the hands of the wealthy. Politically, this has further alienated the desperate factions.

Evantoniette Mayol grew up in the Southern province of Mindanao. Mayol moved to the U.S. in 2001 and is now a full time nursing student.

“You can’t make enough money there,” Mayol said. “It’s hard to trust the government with so much corruption. The government and politicians need to change — the corruption is rampant. There has to be some honesty.”

With no end of the conflict in sight, it remains to be seen if peace is a viable option.

“The MILF had everybody’s attention,” Ciorciari said. “The perverse effect of terrorism is that it provided a spotlight for the terrorist groups.”