Peace – something that many of us take for granted in our own lives – is elusive for millions of people around the world, including in southern Philippines. Long-standing conflict between the government and rebel groups, and a complicated patchwork of clan and family conflicts, has led to decades of economic stagnation and poverty in one of the Philippines’ most beautiful and productive regions – Mindanao. A peace process is hopefully nearing its conclusion and is expected to bring autonomy and with it, greater opportunities for peace and development to the people of the Bangsamoro.
The Philippines is a middle-income country – with GDP at $2,953 per capita and a robust economy, with almost 96% enrollment rate in basic education, and improving health indicators such as child mortality; overall the country is doing well. But these numbers mask sharp regional contrasts: in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) the GDP per capita is only $576 – equivalent to countries like Rwanda and Afghanistan – the poverty rate is 53.7%, and more than 50% of its employed population are in agriculture with 80% of them working as subsistence farmers, living precariously from crop to crop. One crop failure can mean ruin for a family.