Our struggle for peace, democracy, and progress

A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva

The Bohol Chronicle

January 15, 2012


The international Seminar on Consolidating Peace for Mindanao will be held at the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang from 16 to 20 January. There I am presenting a paper entitled Bangsamoro Aspirations for Autonomy in a Peaceful and Democratic Republic of the Philippines.

It has taken me a lot of time and effort to write my paper. But I welcome the challenge because it forced me to put together several important issues and problems that affect our people and country as a whole, not only our Moro brothers and sisters. So I want to share my analyses and conclusions in this column now and in the following weeks.

Part 1. Historical Background

The peoples who originally inhabited pre-historic Philippines were our indigenous forbears: our  lumads or “First Nations.” Muslim sultanates—the Sultanate of Sulu and the Sultanate of Maguindanao—predated the unification of the inhabitants of the Islands under Spanish colonialism, the Filipino Revolution of 1896, and the ill-fated First Philippine Republic in 1899. President Emilio Aguinaldo sought but failed to unite the Moro sultanates into that Republic. Under American rule and since independence in 1946 the State has not been fully in control of Muslim Mindanao. But traditional Moro politicians participated in national and local politics in tandem with the nation’s oligarchic elite.

Udtog Matalam and Ruben Canoy espoused Mindanao independence from the Republic. In 1969 Nur Misuari founded the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which advocated the independence of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan as the homeland of the Moro people. Misuari led the MNLF rebellion against the authoritarian regime of President Ferdinand Marcos and sought the intervention of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the support of Libyan leader Moammar Kadhafy. The OIC brokered a ceasefire and a compromise under the Tripoli Agreement. Moro regional autonomy, not independence, would be sought by the MNLF subject to a plebiscite among the people affected.

Under President Corazon Aquino the 1987 Constitution authorized the founding of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in recognition of MNLF’s demands for Moro self-determination. President Aquino also achieved a truce with the MNLF under Misuari

and with the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army under Conrado Balweg. She did this through peace talks with the rebel leaders and the government panel led by Ambassador Emmanuel Pelaez.

Peace agreement. In 1996 President Fidel V. Ramos concluded a final peace agreement with Misuari with the help of the Indonesian Government under President Suharto. With the government’s support, Misuari ran unopposed and became governor of ARMM. But Misuari, a self-centered leader of the Moro rebellion, would do badly in office and become discredited. In

2001 he led a rebellion in Sulu and was charged, found guilty, and imprisoned, and later released. He was ousted by his peers as head of the MNLF.

The peace agreement with the MNLF was followed by renewed hostilities and more demands by the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) under Hashim Salamat that sought the formation of an independent Islamic State. Misuari is a Tausug and Salamat a Maguindanawon. This shows that Moros may be united by their religion and aspirations but divided by their ethnic identities and interests.

The situation in Mindanao has been complicated by “lost commands and rogue members” of the MILF; and also by the violent operations of Islamist and terrorist groups like the Abu Sayyaf, Rajah Sulaiman Movement, Jemaayah Islamiyah, and elements of Al Qaeda.

One estimate is that “the rebellion in Mindanao has killed at least 50,000 people, driven two million people out of their homes, destroyed more than 50 mosques, 200 schools, and 35 cities and towns.” (Fr. Albert Alejo, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Oct. 10, 2011). Another estimate, cited by Steven Schoofs, puts estimated deaths in the Moro separatist war since the 1970 at 150,000. Meanwhile young Moros are being radicalized by their traumatic political experience

All-out war. As the MILF expanded and hostilities increased, President Joseph Estrada declared “All-Out War” against the Moro rebels. The military captured 13 major camps and 43 minor camps of MILF. In their victory celebrations troops reportedly ate pork lechon which offended the Muslims. Estrada’s braggadocio as a movie star turned president is anathema to the peacemakers who see the Moro question as having deep roots and ramifications.

Peace talks revived. Under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from 2001 the Government resumed peace talks with the MILF. At the same time the President found the Ampatuan clan whose members ruled the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, a major ally during elections and in countering the power of the MILF among the people.

In 2007 the Government offered to recognize the Moros’ new demands for their right of self-determination. But in July in Basilan, Islamic militants, including MILF forces, killed 14 marines, beheading 11 of them. The atrocities deepened the people’s fears and prejudice toward the Moros and hardened opposition to Moro demands for self-determination. Doubts are raised whether the MILF truly represent all Moros, the MNLF, the lumads, and also the minority Christians in the ARRM.


By their bias and sensationalism some journalists exacerbate these attitudes. In the wake of the October 18 massacre one television station conducted an online survey that ostensibly revealed

98 percent in favor of “all-out war” with the Moros. A columnist in a metropolitan daily reported “widespread demoralization in the ranks of the armed forces because of the perception of soldiers, rightly or wrongly, that they are being fed to the dogs….” Such media reporting undermine the delicate peace process in Mindanao, in contrast to the determined support of many peace advocates and organizations, including the Bishops-Ulama Conference, the Center for Islam and Democracy, and the Mindanao State University, that are working for a common peace in Mindanao.

All-Out War, All-Out Peace and Justice. In an ambush in Al Barka, Basilan province on October 18, 2011, MILF fighters killed 19 young officers and soldiers. Two days later MILF fighters killed seven soldiers and policemen and wounded seven others in Zamboanga Sibugay.

On October 23 suspected MILF guerrillas struck twice, in Basilan and Lanao, leaving five civilians and two more soldiers dead.  All these attacks happened under the ceasefire agreement between the Government and the MILF.

Expectedly, critics of the Moros and the Moro militants in particular are incensed. How could MILF forces perpetrate such savage attacks under the ceasefire agreement. To which MILF militants say that they were provoked by government troops in their territory. And those in the know say that the military did not coordinate its movements and thus invited the attacks.

Revived calls for “all-out war.” Ex-President Estrada was quick to revive his call for all-out war and said that P-Noy was “soft” on the Moros who cannot be trusted. He is supported by his son, Senate President pro tempore Jingoy Estrada and Senator Panfilo Lacson.

Reflecting on this view, Randy David said: “Can we even imagine the scale of the humanitarian disaster that will result from a total war in Mindanao? No, because the arrogant voices that call

for total war are typically the ones who do not know that the Philippine State has never effectively established itself in Muslim Mindanao. They remain ignorant of the historic injustices that have been committed against the Moro people. They see only the death of Filipino soldiers, not the pain of people who have been stripped of their lands.” (Public Lives. Philippine Daily Inquirer, Oct. 26, 2011)

Calls for suspension of the peace process with the MILF came from Representative Rodolfo Biazon, who heads the House defense committee, and some others. Senator Aquilino Pimentel III urged the MILF to make peace instead of pursuing its armed struggle. Many more say the government should seek justice for all concerned as they urge persistence in the quest for peace.

P-Noy’s “All-out peace and all-out justice.” Apparently focused and determined to pursue peace with all rebels, the President said: “We have to learn. Nobody benefits from war.” He was reported to want to get the facts straight, investigate all involved in the clashes during the ceasefire, and ensure that the peace effort continued. He vowed to do justice to all who died in the encounters with the MILF.

The President assured the nation: “We will not pursue all-out war. We will instead pursue all-out peace.” At the same time, with warrants of arrests, the military pursued lawless elements in Mindanao whatever their affiliation. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches came out in support of the President. So did the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines.  But Amando Doronila wondered what the President really meant by his policy of  “All-out peace and all-out justice” in view of various encounters in Mindanao involving government forces, the MILF, and other armed groups.

Fortunately, in our quest for peace the Philippines is supported by several peace-loving countries of goodwill. Malaysia is a facilitator in the peace talks between the Government and the MILF.

And the International Contact Group in our quest for peace counts with Turkey, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom.


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