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Opening statement of Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF peace panel (Citizens forum, University of Bohol, September 9, 2011.)

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Peace is the concern of all

I will start this short opening statement by sharing with you of the little things I know of your beautiful island province. This is not to lecture you on these matters, because you know them more than I know; it is your turf. For me, the only purpose is just to provide a starter in this morning session.
At least two very historic blood compacts had taken place in this island, one very popular and the other is probably lost in the course of human events. I don’t know if you ever come across this event. Anyway, the first blood compact was between Datu Sikatuna of Bool and Datu Sigala of Loboc and Legazpi on March 16, 1565 not far from the modern town of Loay. The second is not between a local chieftain and a foreigner but between local chieftains, one group from this island and the other from Mindanao, who had one common interest in forging the compact; they both hated the excesses of the Spanish colonizers. I am referring to the blood compact between the datus of (Damulag?), Bohol and Kapitan Laut Buisan, the father of the legendary Sultan Kudarat of Maguindanao in the 16th century. (Source: Muslims in the Philippines by Dean Cesar Majul of the University of the Philippines, 1973).

Bohol also has the distinct honor of achieving the longest rebellion in the Philippines, courtesy of Francisco Daguhoy known as Daguhoy Revolt or Rebellion. It lasted for 85 years from 1744 to1829. The other significant revolt, in fact much earlier, was the Tamblot Uprising in 1621 led by Tamblot, a babaylan or native priest from Bohol which was basically a religious conflict.

On the island of Mindanao, the Moros had ceaselessly fought the Spanish for 320 years. They managed to hold on to their power despite the superiority of Spain, which was a superpower during the period. When the Americans came in 1898 after defeating the Spaniards, they signed with the Moros the Kiram-Bates Agreement of 1898 and the Carpenter Agreement in 1915. Both agreements were with the Sultan of Sulu.

Early on, the Americans were aware that Mindanao was never a part of the Philippines. On the contrary, many areas especially in Luzon like Manila and Tondo were under Moro rulers like Rajah Soliman and Rajah Lakandula.

In 1903, the Americans created the Moro Province in which Moro affairs were administered separately from Luzon and the Visayas. When the issue of granting of independence to the Philippines was pursued vigorously by Filipinos, the Moros dissociated themselves from it completely. They wanted the Moro Province to be left out as an American colony which will be granted self-rule later. But the Americans did not listen and proceeded to include the Moro Province in the territory of the Philippines in the grant of independence in 1946.

Today, in talking to the Americans, leaders of the MILF told them very bluntly that they are responsible for planting the seed of enmity in Mindanao. Had they separated the Moro Province from Luzon and the Visayas in the grant of Philippine independence, there would have been no war in Mindanao today. This is the very reason why we ask the American government to help solve the mess that they have created. This is the reason why the late MILF Chairman Salamat Hashim and the present MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim wrote President George Bush and President Barack Hussein Obama, respectively, asking them to help solve this problem in Mindanao. I confirm that much of what had been contained in the Wiki leaks about the US and the MILF are founded.

About 200,000 people, rebels, soldiers, and civilians, have already died since 1972. It is time to settle this problem now. The truth is while the Moros carry the main brunt of the deaths and destruction in this conflict in Mindanao, but in the whole, it is the entire country that suffers. After World War II, the Philippines was second only to Japan in economy and the Malaysian states were still under the tight grip of the British colonizers. But today, not only Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam had passed us and probably the economic tail-enders like Burma and Cambodia would someday jettison themselves from the pack of poor countries and surge ahead of us.

The peace negotiation between the government and MILF is entering the second half of the second decade. It started in January 1997 involving four administrations, Presidents Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo, and now Aquino, and we have signed about 90 agreements on various issues and concerns. Only one agenda is remaining on the negotiation table; i.e., the negotiated political settlement of the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao in the form of a comprehensive compact.

Essentially, this problem is political in character that requires a political solution. Its core is about granting genuine self-rule for the Moros of Mindanao to govern themselves, without detaching themselves from this republic. They remain part of it and are still citizens thereof. But it is their birthright to choose their identity and be known as Moros or Bangsamoro. In order to effectively carry this out, the MILF is proposing, as contained in its draft proposal on February 9, this year, for the establishment of a substate. This substate is only about a fourth of Mindanao, where they still predominate.
Instead of positively responding to this clamor, the government insists on them to accept the so-called enhanced Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which, contrary to its billing, is no autonomy at all. The ARMM is an administrative unit of government, which has no real powers at all. Look at the facts that even in matter of setting the date of election in the ARMM and the choice of leaders thereof it is determined by the central government.

The MILF had rejected the ARMM at least four times: in June 2000, in June 2001, in February 2003, and in January 2010. The present draft of government which it presented during the 22nd GPH-MILF Exploratory Talks in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia is basically the ARMM’s framework, which government tries now to reform. But the ARMM is irreformable; the spring cannot rise above its source.

The GPH-MILF peace negotiation is practically in a state of deadlock, after the GPH rejected the rejection of the MILF peace panel of their draft. The GPH proposed for a way forward, but we have other ways of doing it. We asked the GPH to jointly or separately request the Malaysian facilitator to shuttle between Manila and Maguindanao. While we are here now in the Visayas, the Malaysian facilitator has arrived in Cotabato City and has talked to leaders of the MILF and the remaining members of the MILF peace panel. We are not yet aware of what transpired during their meeting, which I still believe is for the continuation of the peace parleys.


I thank all of you for being with us today. We also thank the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) especially Brother Gus Miclat for the bold decision for us to have a swing to the Visayas, which we readily accepted, despite its postponement several times. The issue of peace — and also of war — is a serious concern for all of us.

Thank you and once again good morning!




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