Saturday, July 12, 2008

Why do the Bangsamoro feel bad?

Correction: Ferdinand Magellan did not ‘discover’ the Philippines five hundred years ago. Neither did Portuguese explorer, Ruy Lopez de Villalobos when he first sailed through Sarangani Bay, saw the Philippines, and named it Islas Filipinas–after King Philip of Spain; hence the names Philippines and Filipinos.


This was the sentiment of the Bangsamoro participants from civil society organizations gathered last May 14 to 15, 2008 in the conference room of the Sulu State College Hostel in Jolo, Sulu. For two days, representatives from non-government organizations, people’s organizations, professional organizations, the academe, the health sector, the business sector, and the religious sector, were holed up making plans about their aspirations for self-determination.

Everyone had suggestions: an institutionalized Bangsamoro Islamic justice system, an Islamic curriculum for the Bangsamoro, and an Islamic political system with the principles of shura, justice, equality and obedience to leadership. All were strongly in favor of the total pull-out of the AFP and the US Forces in ARMM areas and that the PNP should be more active in peacekeeping. Someone suggested that there should be an established and institutionalized Bangsamoro Armed Forces and a Bangsamoro Police Forces under the supervision and control of the chief executive of ARMM. Someone else proposed a massive reconstitution of land titles, complete upland and coastal reforestation, the protection, conservation and sustainable use of marine and land resources, etc.

It is unanimous this desire is for an independent, free and progressive Bangsamoro nation governed with Islamic justice, liberty, freedom, led and protected by Muslim Ummah. The participants pointed out that there should first be an institutionalized Bangsamoro national reconciliation and unification composed of the ulama, civil society groups, the Bangsamoro Police and other credible bodies.

An elderly man emphasized that important to this process of Bangsamoro reconciliation are having honest leaders who are voted through a credible election process and who always have the people’s best interests at heart. He further explained that because no matter what form of self-determination Bangsamoro CSOs will ultimately attain in the long run–whether it be a federalism, an Islamic state, an autonomy in the truest sense of the word–all their aspirations and recommendations will not come into fruition if their own government officials stay as corrupt as they are.
When an important man, (let’s call him Ali), took his place in front and explained the historical bases of the Bangsamoro exercise of self-determination, the audience listened transfixed. “Several hundred years before Magellan and Villalobos first set foot in this country it was already occupied by the Moro people [Bangsamoro] who were so fiercely protective of their Islamic roots that even when all the rest of the islands in the archipelago succumbed to the invaders, they continued to resist.” Ali told of ancestors fighting to retain the Bangsamoro political system and government influence over their vast territories covering Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Sulu, the Mindanao mainland, Panay, and Palawan. They fought to stay free and self-sufficient and continue engaging in international trade (barter) with the neighboring kingdoms of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Time and again, the Bangsamoro fought back and were able to ward off the encroaching Spaniards 320 years long. Ali explained that in 1898, the Spaniards finally retreated but not before leaving a final blow. “They sold the entire country–including the lands of the Bangsamoro–for 20 million dollars to the Americans who immediately embarked on a conquest to exploit the abundant natural resources. In 1915, in an attempt to subdue the Bangsamoro and break their iron will, the Americans turned entire Mindanao–excluding Surigao–into a Moro province and placed an American governor as its head.”

In 1946, another crippling blow sent the Bangsamoro reeling when the Americans granted the Philippines independence. “Bangsamoro leaders,” Ali explained, “tried to reason they were already independent and sent letters to America asking to be excluded. They were ignored. Once again, Bangsamoro autonomy was undermined and against their will, their Bangsamoro identity was replaced with a Filipino identity.”

But life in the Philippine Republic did not improve for the Bangsamoro. Ali continued his story: “Political power, which they had for years, was now transferred to Filipinos. When the entire Philippines was declared as public land, the lands of the Bangsamoro were up for grabs. The national settlement programs starting during the American period and continued to the Commonwealth period up to the early years of the Philippine Republic, brought even more Filipinos from Luzon and the Visayas dreaming to start a new life in Moro land.”

“The dissatisfied Bangsamoro,” Ali narrated, “were angry at the blatant neglect of the Philippine government so they gave up trying to be diplomatic and continued raising arms against the government.” It was only in 1985 when Cory Aquino became the president that the Bangsamoro were finally given some degree of independence through the new autonomy law (RA 6734), which created the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). In 1996, when Fidel Ramos was the president, ARMM’s land area was expanded with the addition of Basilan province and Marawi City. That same year, after years of armed conflict and intermittent peace talks, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the government of the Philippines signed the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA).

Ali assessed that today, more than 10 years after the FPA, the peace and security situation in ARMM is still very volatile. Disgruntled Bangsamoro like the members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are blaming the Philippine government for either breaking or not following many of the provisions agreed upon in the FPA. Many Bangsamoro feel that although ARMM has given them the chance to participate in executive, legislative, and judicial decisions regarding their own welfare, the power that ARMM has given them is, in reality, very limited.

For example, civil cases cannot be tried in Shari’ah courts. New laws can be created but they cannot contradict the Philippine constitution. In addition, the Philippine government still has not relinquished control of security in ARMM to the MNLF. The Philippine government also has the last say about what to do with all the natural and mineral resources in ARMM.
Late last year just when the memorandum of agreement laying out all the ancestral domain claims in ARMM was about to be signed, the Philippine government pulled out of the negotiations. Their reason: all previous agreements with the MILF need to be reviewed and realigned with the constitution of the Philippines before they will sign any future deals. In response, the MILF walked out of the negotiating room. Many Bangsamoro feel that the present ARMM is supposed the mirror their desired autonomy but the kind of Bangsamoro autonomy that is possible under the Philippine Constitution will not be real autonomy.

Clearly, the more than 500 years of war waged by the Bangsamoro against the Spaniards, the Japanese, the Americans, and now the Filipinos, has been a war against injustice to the Bangsamoro identity, injustice to Bangsamoro political sovereignty, injustice to Bangsamoro ancestral territory, and injustice to Bangsamoro integral development.

Time and again, Bangsamoro have been victims of discrimination. They have been called ‘pirates’ during the time of the Spaniards, ‘uncivilized’ during the time of the Americans, and are called ‘cultural minorities’ today. National laws have favored foreigners over Bangsamoro. 
History books fail to mention the history of the Bangsamoro. Everyone is quick to make negative judgments about the Bangsamoro’s culture and religion and laugh at the idea of giving them the right to self-determination.

For Ali, who is an observer in the ongoing peace negotiations, the Government of the Philippines (GOP) seems determined to defeat the MNLF politically and the MILF militarily as evidenced by the AFP’s modernization plan not being used against external threats but against the MILF and the MNLF. “Does the GOP have the political will and the sincerity to choose a diplomatic solution over a military solution? What holds the GOP from granting the exercise of self-determination to the Bangsamoro?” These were just some of the questions posed by Ali during the first three Provincial Bangsamoro CSO Consultations in Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, and Sulu.
For months now, those privy to the peace negotiations have been worrying over the MILF’s walkout during the peace negotiations and the possibility of a full scale war as a result of the pullout by the International Monitoring Team (IMT) from Malaysia. Then last week, some good news. When President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo visited Davao City on June 18 for the inauguration of the newly constructed Bankerohan Bridge, she announced that the National Security Council approved the draft on the ancestral domain issue that was submitted by the government negotiating panel. The draft, President Macapagal said, is now going to be submitted to the MILF peace negotiating panel for approval and she expects the peace negotiation to resume as soon as the MILF accepts the government proposal.

Probably nobody better than the Bangsamoro CSOs living and working in ARMM understand how important this step towards reconciliation is. Bangsamoro CSOs are eager to make their struggle for self-determination a peaceful one and not tread the path of violent conflict that other new nations like East Timor had to take to finally achieve their right to self-determination.


Anonymous said...

I hope they get their genuine autonomy. What I am concerned of is who will carry the leadership? Basin kato gihapong mga sikat na clan na walay ginahimo kundili magpadato ra sa ilang angkan og kalimtan ang uban na kapwa Muslim. Gamay nalng gani na sila diri sa Pilipinas. Dapat magkasinabutay na sila. DIli mag away2x og mag hinurutay og lahi kay mao nay gusto sa ilang mga KALABAN! kanang sila2x ray maghinurutay para less effort to eliminate them.
I have Islam friends and usahay maluoy ko kay sila ray nangadato, as in DATUUUUUU jud kaayo. Pero ironic kaayo kay ang ilang gi-govern na province ang mga tao pobre sa tanang pobre! the same lang gihapon sa Phil government. for short... CORRUPT!

bam said...

Hi ma'am! Congratulations and welcome back to the world of blogging. :)

Nagpromise ako na tutulong ako sa pag-increase ng traffic ng blog mo kasi I think everyone should read the thngs that you write here. Tulad na lang po nitong post na ito. What "Ali" said has always been the sentiments of the Bangsamoro People, and I'm glad na may article na nagawa tulad nito. Sana marami pa ang makabasa nito para maliwanagan sila.

Thank you ma'am for writing this article. :)

More power and God Bless. :)

Keith said...

I remember reading about this in a newspaper in Mindanao a year ago. I remember one member from Southern Mindanao was talking about much of this in the public opinion piece.

Thank you, Professor for sharing your insights. I appreciate learning more of the history of your side of the world.

It is amazing how we always want to portray a peoples as being unified in ideology and goals, when in fact, every country has many thoughts, many identities, and all are worth investigating.

Anonymous said...

I guess mindanao is not for muslims only but for christians also. "Filipinos"..kung himuon nila nga Bangsamoro ang Mindanao, wala naman gani klaro ang Gobyerno ni dala sa Mindanao samot na kung himuon nga Bangsamoro ang Mindanao..Isa pa, if himuon Bangsamoro, tanan islamic process, islamic government, islamic policy,Islamic president? ,its easy for the terrorist to come up sa mindanao kay islamic naman tanan.