Philippine President Benigno Aquino asked the nation’s lawmakers on Friday to pass a bill that would endorse a peace deal the government signed a year ago with Muslim separatist rebels. Lawmakers balked at the notion of passing the law this month after members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, also known as MILF, killed 44 policemen in a January skirmish.
The peace deal calls for the Muslim rebel faction to disarm after decades of conflict with government forces in the country’s south. In exchange, the government would grant Philippines’ Muslim communities in the south with political autonomy. “This is the crossroads we face: we take pains to forge peace today, or we count body bags tomorrow,” Aquino said in a nationwide address, according to Agence France-Presse. “Perhaps it is easy for you to push for all-out war. But if the conflict grows, the number of Filipinos shooting at other Filipinos will grow, and it would not be out of the question that a friend or loved one be one of the people who will end up inside a body bag."
Aquino and Moro Islamic Liberation Front leaders agreed to the peace deal in March 2014 after more than a decade of negotiations. Conflict between the Filipino government and rebels on the southern island of Mindanao has resulted in more than 120,000 deaths since the 1970s, according to the BBC. While MILF’s 10,000 fighters have agreed to disarm in exchange for autonomy, other factions have vowed to fight until they have full independence.
“The Bangsamoro basic law is one of the most important proposed bills of our administration. It answers the two most pressing problems of our countrymen: poverty and violence,” Aquino said Friday.