Hong Kong's one country, two systems gives hope for Manila

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 October, 2012, 1:53am

Some have doubts about Hong Kong's "one country, two systems" model but as inspiration for resolving a problem there can be no doubting its worth. An agreement reached between the Philippine government and the country's biggest Muslim rebel group involves a plan that, from a distance, bears striking similarity. Much work is needed on the details but the semi-autonomous region for about four million people on the southern island of Mindanao promises self-governance under a basic law. As long as negotiators stay true to that premise throughout the drafting process there is hope of success.

The circumstances of Mindanao's Muslims are markedly different from our own. At the heart of the conflict involving the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the last major Muslim secessionist group not to make peace with Manila, is religion. At least 150,000 people have been killed since it began its struggle in the 1970s for a return of the Muslim homeland that existed before Spanish Catholic colonisation in the 16th century. Independence from the US in 1946 brought government policies that intentionally diluted Muslim populations through transmigration of Christians. A preliminary deal to be signed today is the closest yet to bringing a lasting peace, but great effort is needed to overcome mistrust and animosity.

President Benigno Aquino and leaders of the 12,000-strong MILF aim to have a final pact in place by the time the leader's term ends in the middle of 2016. The fundamentals are that Manila will retain control over matters like national security and foreign policy and grant "exclusive powers" to Muslims. The biggest hurdles are drawing borders and sharing anticipated rich mineral resources.

Success on a framework plan has been achieved, but caution, consultation, care and time are still needed. If the final peace now in sight is to be reached, the tough talks ahead have to be negotiated with understanding by the nation's Catholic majority. At moments when challenges seem daunting, Hong Kong can be an inspiration.