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A chemistry of Mindanao’s peace

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The recent informal summit in Tokyo between President Aquino and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Ebrahim Murad has set the continuation of the peace negotiation in Kuala Lumpur next week under intense interest and criticism from the public and stakeholders on a scale never seen since it was started more than 10 years ago.  With the meeting, PNoy is saying that he gives the resolution of the decades-old war in Mindanao his highest priority.  Murad, on the other hand, is saying that he will be giving his full cooperation  and trust to the opposing party.

Statements afterwards indicate a consensus between them of a timetable of two years for a final agreement to be sealed.

The main agenda in the succeeding rounds in Kuala Lumpur and central concern of negotiation watchers is the proposal of the MILF for the creation of a substate in Mindanao in place of the 10-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) regional government.  The Bangsamoro front says it is their minimum demand.  That, or they otherwise revert to their fight for secession.  

Many, including the MILF, believe that such a substate patterned after the special territories held under the protection and supervision of the United States federal government, like Puerto Rico, will require an amendment of the Philippine Constitution.  Several attempts to amend the Constitution have been made in the past 20 years, all unsuccessfully and always attended by acrimonious, bitter debate.

This may partly be the reason why PNoy has said, too, that any forthcoming agreement with the MILF will be submitted to Congress.  He may be foreseeing the need for a Constitutional amendment that would most feasibly be realized through the legislative houses acting as constituent assembly, that is, should the agreement involve the actual creation of the substate. In retrospect, the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) required no Congressional consent or action whatsoever.

Assuming that Congress would be able to achieve a Constitutional accommodation for the creation of the substate, it shall also further have to submit the plan in a plebiscite to the people of the substate’ territory.   PNoy and the MILF share one thing in common with regards to the ARMM which the substate would replace – they both are totally disillusioned with it. 

PNoy has started the process of dismantling ARMM with the recent passage of a Republic Act that postponed the regional elections by two years to synchronize it with nationwide elections.   With the postponement law, the President has got Congress fully on track on his unfolding vision on the Bangsamoro Question and with it his socio-economic development vision for Mindanao.  Among other reasons or scenarios, it is likely that within the next few years, commercial quantity oil will be discovered by the ongoing explorations in Southern Philippines.

Despite PNoy’s hold on both legislative houses, both Constitutional amendment and plebiscite will go through a laborious and contentious process, a somewhat inauspicious prospect in the face of mounting economic, environmental, security and development challenges in the country and international region.  In the homefront, MNLF chairman Nur Misuari has spoken against the substate proposal, while seemingly stoking up the MILF renegades led by Commander Umbra Kato. In the MNLF stronghold of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi (and parts of Palawan and Zamboanga peninsula), the populace are likely not sold at all to the idea of a substate.    Instead, all they clamor for is the full implementation of the 1996 FPA.

The Bangsamoro is not a single organic nation within the Philippine society, but a pragmatic political construct which was designed to justify the now-declining secessionist struggle. The life and blood Muslim nationalities in Mindanao are made up separately of very tribalistic peoples comprising of the Maranaws, Maguindanaos, Tausugs, Yakans and Samas.   Each of them has distinct histories, cultures and traditions.  A shared, common religion alone does not make its followers into one nation.  

When Hashim Salamat broke away from the MNLF in 1976, it was not just because of differences over the Tripoli Agreement.   The reason, too, was ideological – which encompasses culture, way of life, history, territory, etc.   And ideology is something that can neither be negotiated nor legislated:  As the Italians like to say, if you blow your nose too hard, you are going to get a nosebleed.  (Peace Advocates Zamboanga)

By PAZ




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