The conflict in Southern Philippines carries serious ethnic, religious, security and humanistic consequences. Back in 1968, the area saw the “Jabidah massacre”, in which Muslims were killed. The petition these Muslim families filed in court was unheard of, and the ultimate reaction was an armed uprising. Muslims form the majority in Mindanao, an area located in Southern Philippines known to be a rich source of nickel mines and fruit farms. However the province lacks in development compared to other provinces.In the words of former Philippines President Benigno Aquino: “in the late 1960s, there was exploitation, unfortunately by Christian businessmen, of a situation where we had Muslim brothers and other indigenous people who were tilling the land but were unlettered, and therefore did not title the land themselves. So the issue of land-grabbing came about”. Discriminatory practices and coercive suppressive measures heighted local insecurities and aggravated the situation. The locals of the area, also known as Moro, want to be strong hence they need representation in government institutions. Their struggle for an autonomous region is to secure a political say and safeguard their religious and economic freedoms.The recent political move, in which the Philippines government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) is a step towards giving autonomy to Muslim dominated areas in the south. In the proposed autonomous southern region, the rebels are likely to be merged into state institutions. It is a courageous move on part of the Philippines government to come up with a political settlement, however, only time will tell if the implementation of this law will be fruitful or else fall apart like previous peace initiatives taken in the region. It is clear for both the Muslims and the Philippine government, that the path towards peace will not be smooth, as major divides exist between rebel groups. Moreover poverty and under development are rampant, which highlights the necessity of prioritising economic empowermentThe conflict in Southern Philippines has been going on for decades. In the past, several rounds of peace talks have been initiated, the first was the Tripoli accord which was concluded between the Philippines government and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1976. The peace agreement proved useful for the government in securing support from the rebels, but the factions within the rebels splintered MNLF, and a new group – MILF emerged. The government then tried to engage with the newly formed MILF, and a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, was signed in August 2008, in Putrajaya, Malaysia. This was followed by the Manila-MILF pact of October 2012. All these efforts were undertaken to weigh the plausible options for peace in the region, as well as autonomy for Muslim areas. However, efforts failed to materialise on account of legislature procedures, political reasons and at times armed clashes. In 2015, a counter terror operation was launched in the South, in which, dozens of Philippines police special forces were killed.The situation in Southern Philippines, despite peace initiatives has continued to be tense, and time has only complicated the security situation. The MILF and MNLF are not the only rebel groups, rather, extremist factions including Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), National Islamic Command Council (NICC), Misuari Breakaway Group (MBG or MILF renegades)are operational in the area. Thereby, a new peace initiative needs to cater for the nuanced ground reality that now exists. The argument, that the government while finalising peace agreements failed to give due consideration to the population’s demands, cannot be denied altogether. Meanwhile, divisions within the rebel groups, corruption and mismanagement have also hindered peace efforts. In particular, while resolving a conflict, the decision made should be reflective of the majority. The lead rebel group is representing a few, with no consent from the population; hence the decision reached could prompt an uprising.In this context, the role of institutions is equally important, devolved on an institutional level, should be reflective of the entire population rather than an influential segment of society. Thus, it is clear for both the Muslims and the Philippine’s government, that the path towards peace will not be smooth, as major divides exist between rebel groups. Moreover poverty and under development are rampant which highlights the necessity of prioritising economic empowerment. The locals of the area need to be provided with opportunities and job incentives, starting from employment in government departments. On the other hand, if the government continues to sign peace accords with the rebel factions yielding no results, then this may further antagonize the security situation. Amna Ejaz Rafi Researcher at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)Published in Daily Times, September 8th 2018.