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Primacy of history in peace talks

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As I write the this article, the likelihood that combatants from both the MILF and the Armed Forces of the Philippines are still engaged in fierce face-to-face or running gun battles in the different jungles of Mindanao and Sulu, probably without even a complete knowledge and understanding as to why they have to fight this kind of war. For any soldier, his primary duty is to defend his country and people, obey without questions the orders of his commanders, and fight an honorable and heroic war. It is therefore, the moral and political responsibility of the top civilian and military officials to explain fully, factually, and honestly to their respective combatants the root-cause, necessity, purpose, and how the war is to be fought. Failure to do this might result in tactics and operational campaigns contrary to the ethics and laws of war, rules of engagements or in violation of the existing Cease Fire Agreement.

Since root-cause of the belligerence in Mindanao and Sulu could be traced to the military scandals, political abuses, and diplomatic anomalies committed by foreign colonizers and invaders in the past, being first and foremost an academician, I feel morally obliged to provide some historical insights that could be useful in our common quest for genuine and lasting peace in Mindanao and Sulu. 

There are historical facts that I personally believe to be essentially important and indispensable in whatever diplomatic initiative to be undertaken by the Philippine Government with any belligerent fronts seeking self-determination or any form of political autonomy in Mindanao and Sulu. 

As I have consistently opined, the deliberate avoidance, disregard, and non-utilization of these very vital historical elements in the peace process, have been the major cause why for almost four decades now the Peace Talks have intermittently stumbled, stalled, and failed  tragically bringing about more casualties among combatants and civilians, not counting the incalculable collateral damages this periodic armed confrontations between the belligerent forces and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have caused over the years. Still today, the long awaited, longed for, and continually negotiated peace remains invisible in the horizons of Mindanao and Sulu. 

Here are the vital historical facts:

l. The Sulu was established as a Sultanate on November 17, 1405 (according to the latest reckoning based on the new historical documents found.) Its first Sultan was Sharif-ul  Hashim otherwise known as

Sayeed (Sayyid) Abu Bakr Abirin. The Sultanate of Sulu according to E. P. Patanñe  was founded by Sharif (Rajah) Baguinda

2. In Mindanao, shortly after the establishment of the Sultanate of Sulu, another Sultanate was organized in Cotabato by Sharif Mohammad Kabungsuwan, an Arab-Malay Missionary from Johore. This became known as the Sultanate of Maguindanao which later according to Dr. Antonio Isidro, former President of the Mindanao State University in Marawi City, was split into three allied powers. This system of geographical organization later spread into Lanao where four Pangampang (principalities) were established which still exist today in a complex and segmented structure.

3. However, according to Mamitua Saber, a Maranao sociologist, the Maguindanao Sultanate began to decline  when this political structure began to break up which later on became known as the Four States, namely; Bayabao, Masiu, Unayon, and Baloi.

4. Saber further narrates that due to intrigues and rivalries, this political structure splintered into smaller units. To maintain stability and unity, the provisions of the ancient order regarding inter-sultanate relationships were invoked.

5. The other great Sultanate which branched out from the Maguindanao sultanate was known as Buayan which declined around 1619 when the Sultanate of Maguindanao under Dipatuan Kudarat reached its height and extended it up to the Maranao regions. In the succeeding years from 1622-1626 according to historians, Sultan Kudarat further extended his political jurisdiction by absorbing Cagayan de Oro and other areas of Mindanao and finally became a confederacy.

6. However, in 1730s the Maguindanao Sultanate weakened as it struggled with civil war and internal disunity. This forced the Rajah Mudah (Crown Prince) to seek support from the Spaniards which caused further destruction on the prestige of the Sultanate. This finally led to the cession of Cotabato to Spain by Sultan Kudarat II in return for annual pension of 1,000 pesos for him and 800 pesos for his son, according to Reynaldo C. Ileto, Author, Maguindano:1860-1888.

7. For more than 300 years the Spaniards attempted to conquer the Sultanate of Maguindanao and the Sultante of Sulu and North Borneo but according to historians and other authorities, they miserably failed until they were forced to withdraw from Mindanao and Sulu in January of 1899 following the declaration of war by the United States against Spain in April, 1898.

8. By reason of defeat, surrender, and withdrawal of the Spaniards from Mindanao and Sulu in January of 1899, these two Sultanates recovered all the territories that the Spaniards occupied and colonized by virtue of conquest and therefore, regained fully their statehood, sovereignties, and independence from the crown of Spain before the American forces arrived on May 19, 1899.

10. When Spain and the United States negotiated for peace in Paris on December 10, 1898 in compliance with the Protocol of Peace these two warring countries signed in Washington D.C. on August 12, 1898, the Philippines Islands (consisted of Luzon and the Visayas which were the only territories conquered, Christianized, and ruled by Spain for more than three hundred years), was ceded and sold by Spain to the United States for $20-Million.

11. What was contentious about the December 10, 1898 Treaty of Paris was the inclusion of Mindanao and Sulu in the technical description of the territorial limits  of the Philippine Islands by way of lines and coordinates under Article III. This sale and cession of Mindanao and Sulu to the United States by Spain led to their unilateral and arbitrary incorporation as parts of the Philippine Islands when it was granted self-government and independence by the United States on July 4, 1946 in compliance with the Tydings-McDuffie Law, Public Law 73-127 approved on March 24, 1934.

12. Despite the fact that Mindanao and Sulu were not colonial possessions of Spain , the American forces proceeded to occupy Mindanao and Sulu starting May 19, 1899 in violation of the 1787 Constitution of the United States which explicitly prohibits a war of conquest. It was done without any formal declaration of war or authority from the American Congress as constitutionally required. 

13. The irregular sale of Mindanao and Sulu under Article III of the December 10, 1898 by Spain to the United States which led to the military occupation of these two separate, independent, and sovereign sultanates by the American forces starting May 19, 1899, is to my mind, the root-cause of the decades old Mindanao Crisis.

If the Philippine Government is really sincere in its efforts to put an end to the belligerence and bring about the long yearned- for genuine, just, and permanent peace in Mindanao and Sulu, it should involve as key participants in the peace negotiations the Royal Heirs, the MILF, MNLF and all the stake holders including Spain and the United States. The principal diplomatic document that should be used should be the December 10, 1898 Treaty of Paris, specifically, Article III.

Any negotiations for peace in Mindanao and Sulu without using Article III of the December 10, 1898 Treaty of Paris, will be useless, a total waste of time, efforts and resources, and a diplomatic parody.

By Clem M. Bascar




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