Our friends, critics, clients, and network are asking us why we, at PBCI, support the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB). So, we requested Tala Bautista, our senior staff, to share her insights on how the Government of the Philippines (GPH) under President Noynoy Aquino’s administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) arrived at signing the FAB.
We believe that the FAB is a significant move on the part of the government in transforming their peace policy from being merely a counter-insurgency campaign (military victory against insurgents supported by socio-economic and psycho-social interventions) to being a genuine peacebuilding process (understanding the roots of insurgency and acting on them based on just policies and transparent governance). We also believe that the MILF has functionally (though may not be officially) given the peace process a dominant role in advancing their struggle for their right to self-determination over armed struggle.
There are various lenses of looking at the conflict in Mindanao but those lenses share one beginning – the history of colonialism.
In the popular Philippine history, it started when Magellan “discovered” the Philippines in 1521. Not so with the Moros and indigenous people. The Moros say that they have been practicing sovereignty, had established sultanates and had diplomatic relationships with other countries.
It should be noted that Moro is a name given by Spaniards to Islamized people when they arrived in the Philippines.
In December 10, 1898, the Americans came and after a brief war, the Treaty of Paris was signed ceding the Philippines to the American rule. The Moros said that Spain had no right to include their homeland in the sale because they have not been conquered.
When the Philippine independence was signed, the Bangsamoro had protested being included in the republic.
It is in this historical background that the conflict in Mindanao was set. Many other issues are interlaced with this such as injustice, poverty, poor social service delivery, induced migration that led to loss of land and identity. Add in external forces brought by globalization, modern weapons for warfare, corruption, values of people and many other things that muddle the narrative.
But the stage that sets the whole story is the history that underlines the struggle for the right of self-determination. A right whose definition is ideally crafted by the people themselves.
Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)
The MNLF started in 1969 spurred on by the Jabidah massacre the previous year. It was a massacre of Moro soldiers who refused to participate in the invasion of Sabah, Malaysia – land that is being claimed by the Sultanate of Sulu until now. It is another story that can stand on its own but may have had effects on the ongoing peace process.
The MNLF was started by Nur Misuari, focused on the liberation of the Moro nation. The three roots of the MNLF in the Tausug language are “described as Bangsa (nation), hulah (homeland) and Agama (religion, which is Islam). It is in that order showing that the main ideology is centred on the Moro nationhood although Islam is a rallying force. (Santos, Soliman. Primed and Purposeful, 2010. pp.329)
The MNLF entered into a Final Peace Agreement (FPA) with the Government of the Philippines (GPH) in 1996. This was under Pres. Fidel V. Ramos and it was said to satisfy the 1987 Constitution which called for an autonomous Muslim region and the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. When the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao held its elections, the MNLF won control over its provinces and cities.
There have been many problems that beset the ARMM, the most glaring of which it failed to bring about the promised peace and development (which is another story).
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)
In 1977, after the breakdown of GRP-MNLF peace negotiations, Hashim Salamat led a breakaway faction. In the book Primed and Purposeful by Soliman Santos Jr and Paz Verdades Jr., the split was based on differences on ideological orientation, political strategy, ethnic allegiances and personality clashes. He said that the main ideology of MILF is Islam or radical Islamism which “advocates Islamization of society and its political institutions particularly the state.” It would seem that contrary to the MNLF, MILF holds Islam as its core.
Bangsamoro author, Salah Jubair in his book, The Long Road to Peace said that the MILF had supported the GPH-MNLF peace talk when it started in 1992. However, when the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) was signed in 1996, the MILF concluded that “its contents would not address the problem.”
Four reasons were given out (Jubair, Salah. The Long Road to Peace. 2007. pp 13-14):
- No one group can rightly put closure to the right of the Bangsamoro people to exercise their right to self-determination.
- Instead of giving genuine self-rule to the Bangsamoro people as a distinct historical, religious and cultural group, the FPA integrated the MNLF into existing government politics and state armed groups.
- Control of natural resources remained with the government.
- Rejection of the totality clause which states that any conflict in the interpretation of the agreement will be resolved in the light of the Philippine Constitution and existing laws. The MILF believes that the constitution is not enough and just to address the interests of the Moros.
The government sees the Mindanao conflict as economic in nature. The MILF sees it as political. Through the years, the MILF stance in having a separate Islamic state was softened and in October 2012, the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed.
Contrary to belief, other religions are free to be exercised in the proposed Bangsamoro political entity. Even the MILF will have to form a political party to be elected in the proposed Bangsamoro government.
Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB)
According to the Office on the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process,
- FAB is a political settlement between the government and the MILF.
- It defines the structure and powers of the Bangsamoro entity that will replace the Autonomous Region on Muslim Mindanao.
- It sets the principles, processes and mechanisms for transition until 2016.
- It is a just resolution of the historical divide between the government and the Bangsamoro.
- It puts together the points of consensus achieved in the series of talks between the GPH-MILF starting from the ceasefire in 1997.
- The FAB is NOT YET a final peace agreement. Annexes on wealth sharing, power sharing, normalization and other transitional mechanisms are still being completed hopefully within the year. The FAB with the annexes will be the final peace agreement.
- The geographical coverage of the Bangsamoro is the current ARMM provinces and Marawi City, cities of Cotabato and Isabela, the six municipalities of Baloi, Munar, Pantar, Nanungan, Tagaloan and Tangkal in the province of Lanao del Norte, the barangays in six municipalities of North Cotabato that voted for inclusion in ARMM in 2001, other contiguous where there is a resolution for inclusion from LGUs or a petition of at least 10% of qualified voters.
- Bangsamoro are those who are at the time of conquest or colonization were considered inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu archipelago and its adjacent islands including Palawan. Their descendants also have the right to identify themselves as Bangsamoro whether by ascription or self-ascription. Freedom of choice of other IPs will be respected.
- Bangsamoro is also the new autonomous political entity that shall be created.
One of the most crucial annexes, the wealth-sharing, has been recently signed. The annexes on power-sharing and normalization are still being talked out.
However, another armed group called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) are getting attention. BIFF is considered a breakaway group from the MILF headed by Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato. In the last few months, armed conflicts between the BIFF and the government had been reported although the MILF did not condone the attacks. In a report in 2012, the MILF said a more radical leader is leading the BIFF after Kato suffered a debilitating stroke. The BIFF does not agree with the FAB.
The MNLF is also trying to establish its position saying that the government should honor the 1996 FPA rather than entering into another agreement. The MILF explained that the FAB used the 1996 FPA as baseline and is not negated. Right now, the MILF is inviting the MNLF to unite for the Bangsamoro.
Hopefully, the FAB will give space for the Bangsamoro to correct the historical injustices done to them and to practice their self-determination as envisioned and defined by them. Hopefully, that space will be a reconciling power in all stakeholders be it politically, socially, culturally, economically and spiritually.