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Riding the Bangsamoro tiger

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The Bangsamoro Question, which is how the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) wants to call it instead of the media-mainstreamed “Bangsamoro Problem” or “Mindanao Problem”, encapsulates and represents the more than 500 years of the Muslims of Mindanao’s armed resistance against external aggression of its homeland – at first foreign and recently Manila-driven.  Towards its resolution through the present peace talks with government, the MILF peace panel members led by Mohagher Iqbal came to Zamboanga and met with the city’s civil society and business sectors last Monday, May 9, to sell to the local public the Front’s negotiation proposals.

The MILF had submitted their proposals in the form of a “comprehensive compact” to the Philippine government’s peace panel, which is now studying it as basis for their continued negotiations in Malaysia.  The essence of the proposals calls for the creation of a highly politically autonomous sub-state form of regional government covering a region comprising the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao plus predominantly Muslim-populated villages located elsewhere in southern Philippines, including Zamboanga City.

To the MILF, the demand has historical and ancestral legitimacy and justification. The envisioned self-governing region will but cover the greatly-reduced leftover lands over which the local Muslim sultanates once upon a time reigned in these parts.  The sultanates’ gradual disintegration turned their now-living constituencies into a Bangsamoro nation of multi-ethnic minorities who make up no more than a fourth of the 22-million population of Mindanao today.

President Aquino reportedly wants the over-10 year long GPH-MILF negotiation that resumed last January to produce a final agreement in a year’s time. The biggest stumbling block to the deal is the perceived need to amend the Constitution to enable a political entity like the MILF’s sub-state to be created, especially in the light of the Supreme Court’s decision in 2008 that the MOA-AD was unconstitutional. The same ancestral domain strand is still in the new “comprehensive compact” of the MILF.

This makes the peace process and the “Bangsamoro Question” it must resolve the proverbial tiger the government is now riding. Tame (that is, resolve) it, or otherwise get eaten alive.  During the public dialogue last Monday, Iqbal warned that the MILF will resume its armed struggle if the negotiation fails.

In practical reality though, in the overall context of a future Mindanao peace as main goal, the “Bangsamoro Question” and not the peace process is the tiger which the MILF and not the government is riding. Any forthcoming peace deal will force the MILF to confront many serious social, economic, political and fundamentalist problems that beset the local Muslim communities, and all of  which will defy easy solutions (like, the RP-MNLF 1996 peace agreement failed in this regard). Sectarian extremism, widespread poverty, high illiteracy, ingrained warlordism and factionalism will not be easy to tame, and these can continue to create a lot of violence and unpeace in Mindanao long after the ink of a new agreement shall have dried. A peace deal is indispensable, but more indispensable is the lesson inherent in this limerick entitled “There Was a Young Lady of Niger”:  “There was a young lady of Niger/ Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;/ They returned from the ride/ With the lady inside, /And the smile on the face of the tiger.” (Peace Advocates Zamboanga)




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