Did Aquino sign pact to exalt a myth?

by Rigoberto Tiglao on April 3, 2014

Third of three parts

The colossal flaws in President Aquino’s pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are in the title of the agreement itself: “The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (italics supplied).”

For starters, it is certainly not “comprehensive” as it totally ignores the peace agreements with the Moro National Liberation Front entered into by the Marcos regime in Tripoli in 1976 and finally implemented under the 1996 Final Peace Agreement by President Fidel Ramos.

The Tripoli agreement even has the international legal status of a treaty, as Marcos technically at that time represented not only the Executive but the Legislative branch as well, and it was under the auspices of the OPEC. Government cannot just unilaterally discard the 1976 Tripoli agreement, the way the Aquino pact does, with its cavalier provision that the “Bangsamoro” will replace the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao.

More deplorably and importantly, though, Aquino’s negotiators demonstrated their inexcusable ignorance of the history of the Muslims in Mindanao and their situation in the modern era by agreeing to the term Bangsamoro as the key word in the titles, and, in fact the key concept in the entire pact with the MILF, the framework agreement and the annexes.

The concept of a Bangsamoro is a modern invention. What it attempts to portray is a myth: that there was and is, a nation (“bangsa”) of Muslims in Mindanao called “Moro.” It was the Spanish colonizers who called the Muslims in Mindanao “Moro,” after the Muslim Moors of North Africa who humiliated them by its conquest of the Iberian peninsula in the 8th century. “Moro” was a pejorative Spanish term, even a racist one used in Europe referring to anyone of dark color.

Sultan Jamal ul-Azam who ruled the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo from 1862 to 1881. But no “Bangsamoro.” (PHOTO FROM “MUSLIMS IN THE PHILIPPINES” BY CESAR ADIB MAJUL.)

Sultan Jamal ul-Azam who ruled the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo from 1862 to 1881. But no “Bangsamoro.” (PHOTO FROM “MUSLIMS IN THE PHILIPPINES” BY CESAR ADIB MAJUL.)

It was also so for mainstream Filipino society: the term Moro—as in “parang Moro siya”—in fact even meant somebody going amok, referring to American colonizers’ reports—and depicted in the early movies—of Moro fighters’ suicidal attack with only their kris for weapons against US soldiers.

Muslims in Mindanao never referred to themselves using the pejorative term Moro. It would only be the young Manila-educated radicals who in the 190s would express their defiance of mainstream Filipino society’s prejudice against them by embracing the term “Moro.”

There are no references to “Bangsamoro” previous to the rise of the Muslim insurgency in the 1970s, and the term—ironically, as he and his organization were left out of Aquino’s pact—was an invention of MNLF founder Nur Misuari.

Why Misuari chose the Malay word “Bangsa” instead of the Filipino term “bansa” is a puzzle.

One account was that he was mimicking the set up of the Communist Party, whose founder Jose Ma. Sison was initially his ideological comrade. Sison differentiated his Party from its armed wing, and called it the New People’s Army. Misuari called his Muslim separatist movement Moro National Liberation Front, and his army the Bangsa Moro Army. The term stuck and popularized by Misuari’s militants, probably simply as it sounded better than just “Moro Army.”

Trained in Malaysia
By using the Malay word bangsa though, Misuari may have unwittingly revealed the crucial role of Malaysia in the formation of the MNLF. The top commanders of both the MNLF and the MILF (which broke off from the MNLF purportedly to protest the 1976 peace agreement) were trained in Malaysia by ex-British special forces as their instructors, with one of the first of the several batches (which they proudly call “Batch 90”) being the MILF chairman Murad Ibrahim.

The peace pacts with the MNLF and the many communiqués between it, the MILF and the government had absolutely no reference to a “Bangsamoro,” although there were references to the “Bangsamoro people,” apparently since government negotiators thought that using solely “Moro” would be pejorative.

The 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Final Peace Settlements were the key pacts between the government and the MNLF. Both had no reference at all to a “Bangsamoro.” Aquino though elevated the myth of a Muslim nation state in Mindanao into a legitimate aspiration by agreeing to name the “Framework” and “Comprehensive” agreements as being on the “Bangsamoro.”

Muslim militants had embraced the term Bangsamoro, and successfully popularized it, as part of their political strategy to project the myth that there once was a Moro Nation in Mindanao, which the Spanish colonizers ruthlessly dismantled. The narrative therefore was that the Muslim insurgency is a liberation movement to gain independence for the “Bangsamoro.”

“Bangsamoro” was to supporters of the MNLF and MILF what “National Democracy” was to cadres and activists of the Communist Party since the emergence of these insurgencies in the 1970s. These were their code-words for their revolutionary aims, their wished-for societies that would result from their struggle.

There never was a “Bangsamoro” in Mindanao. From pre-hispanic times to the present, Muslims in Mindanao have been seeing themselves not as members of a nation-state, but as members of any of the thirteen “nations” all professing the Muslim faith, but are from different ethno-linguistic groups in specific places: Magindanaoan, Taosug, Maranao, Sama, Yakan, Jama Iranun, Mapun, Ka’agan, Kalibugan, Sangil, Molbog, Palawani and Badjao, the biggest of which are the first three.

There wasn’t a single state ruling over these groups to make them a real nation.

Instead there two major sultanates until the Spanish colonization: the Sultanate of Sulu of the Tausugs (“The brave people”) whose domain includes North Borneo of which Sabah is a part, and the Sultanate of Maguindanao which ruled over the Maguindanaoans (“People of the Plains) in Central Mindanao and the Maranaos (“People of the Lake”, that is, Lanao Lake). Read that again, and you may start to believe the conspiracy theory that Malaysia is so supportive of the MILF because of Sabah.

Tausugs and Maguindanaons
Misuari is a Tausug and the membership of the MNLF he organized were mostly Tausugs from Sulu. The late MILF chairman Hashim Salamat founded the MILF when it broke away from the MNLF after the 1976 Tripoli peace agreement. Salamat, the present chairman Ibrahim Murad, vice-chairman Ghazali Jaafar, and most of the MILF commanders and soldiers are Maguindanaoans.

Because of his early attempted-indoctrination by the communist Sison, Misuari gave his Tausug revolutionary movement the veneer of being a “national liberation” movement. Salamat on the other hand, partly because he was trained cleric in a Saudi Arabian Islamic university, gave his Maguindanaon movement an Islamic ethos.

The fate of the MNLF and the MILF reflected the trends in the Muslim world. In the 1970s, Muslim militancy was led by the Muslim socialist movements exemplified by Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi. Starting in the 1980s though, the leadership would be taken over by religious Islamic movements.

In many ways, the myth of a Bangsamoro was the creation of both local international circumstances.

Without the Marcos dictatorship that foolishly announced that all arms, including those held by Moros, would be confiscated, there would wouldn’t have been such support of the MNLF as there was.

Libya under Qaddafi supported the MNLF as part of its worldwide revolution against the infidels of US imperialism. Malaysian support of the MNLF and then the MILF aimed to check Marcos’ plans to take over Sabah in the 1970s, and finally to bury the Philippine claim on that Philippine territory. Without the rise of militant, fundamentalist Islamic movements in the 1990s—that even rich Arabs such as Osama bin Laden supported—Muslim radicals, like the MILF, would have lost steam.

Without Marcos’ martial law, Libya, Malaysia, the rise of global Islamic fundamentalism, and the poverty in coconut-producing Mindanao areas, the MNLF and the MILF would not have grown in strength as they did. But that does not mean there was a “Bangsamoro,” and that peace would be achieved by allowing its organization to form another state within the territory of the Philippine nation-state.

An analogy would be that without the massive student uprising of 1970, martial law, Mao Tse Tung with his ideology and finances, and those of North Korea as well, the Communist Party pf the Philippines with its New People’s Army would not have grown the way it did. But that doesn’t mean the Philippines, as the communists claim, is a “semi-feudal and semi-colonial” society and that the establishment of a CPP-led “national democratic state” is the solution.

Division narrowing
Despite the growth of the MNLF and the MILF though, and without denying the fact that Spanish, American, and Luzon colonizers robbed Muslim communities of their lands, and even committed atrocities, the reality is that the division between Muslim and Christian communities has been narrowing since the 1960s. This is most exemplified in the cities of Cotabato and Zamboanga city. Christians had even been intermarrying in great numbers with Muslims since the 1960s.

Much of the problem in Mindanao has not been because of conflict between Christians and Muslims, but because of the corruption of both Muslim and Christian warlords. The Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao was not a failed experiment. It was the Muslim politicians that ruled the region that impoverished it with their corruption.

What’s the relevance of all this history review? This: that Aquino’s pact with the MILF is fundamentally flawed, not just because of its unconstitutionality and its problematic details such as the disarmament process.

It commits the Republic to setting up a Moro Nation-State (the real translation of “Bangsamoro”) in a territory that had really had no historical experience as being one state, and encompassing a territory of different ethnic groups. Worse, the new nation state would in effect be put under just one ethnic group, the Maguindanaons, who organized and lead the MILF. The Tausugs won’t certainly agree to this—as manifested by the stand of the Sultan of Sulu, his wazir and other cabinet officials.

The model for political settlement with the MILF should have been former President Ramos’ 1996 Final Peace Settlement with the MNLF that established the ARMM, and provided for the MNLF’s integration into the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.

The 1987 constitution was even designed to prepare for that pact by providing for the establishment of two autonomous regions, one in Mindanao and the second in the Cordilleras.

The parameters for negotiations with the MILF should have been strictly limited to how their aspirations could be accommodated within the ARMM, and accommodated by amending the Organic Law that established it.

Aquino and his negotiators were fooled into agreeing that there was and is a “Bangsamoro.” Then they even foolishly committed to dismember the country so that the mythical “Bangsamoro” could be erected.

Or is Aquino merely so desperate for achievements, and obsessed with his fantasy of winning a Nobel, that he became so willing to sell the Republic so he could claim that he brought peace to Mindanao?

Under Aquino’s pact, MILF won’t give up arms

by Rigoberto Tiglao on April 1, 2014

Second of three parts

“MILF firearms to be placed under lock and key,” read the headline of one of The Manila Times’ front-paged news the other day, and other newspapers had similar stories.

It was based on statements made in a press conference by Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal the day after the signing of President Aquino’s pact with the Muslim insurgents, called the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

Iqbal was certainly right when he said during the conference: “There is no other way to have real peace in Mindanao except to undertake the decommissioning of our forces and firearms.”

But he added: “The firearms of the MILF would be decommissioned and a third party would take charge. These will be stored in a warehouse . . . The MILF does not control the key.” Aquino’s chief negotiator Miriam Ferrer made a similar claim in an interview posted

February 14, 2014 at the Wall Street Journal blog “South East Asia Real Time”:

“We agreed that decommissioning would be gradual and phased, but we need to have a timetable so we can ensure closure to the whole process. We’re very pleased that we have these benchmarks, timetables, and the diverse elements in place.”

MILF fighters celebrating Aquino’s pact. (AFP photo)

MILF fighters celebrating Aquino’s pact. (AFP photo)

Iqbal and Ferrer are fooling us.

Nowhere in the Annexes nor in the CAB can one find Iqbal’s claim that the MILF’s arms will new surrendered to a “third party” and put under lock and key. Nowhere there are Ferrer’s claims of specific benchmarks and timetables.”

The key element of peace talks in the world—which justified governments to agree to settlements with their insurgencies—is a specific commitment by the insurgent group to turn over their arms, and with schedules to do so.

An example is the most recent of such settlements, the Indonesian government’s peace agreement with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). It was signed August 2005 with very specific figures on how many of its fighters will be demobilized (3.000), how many arms will be surrendered (840) and when (September 2005 to December 2005). The insurgents even agreed that they will and no longer wear their military uniforms.

The Aceh agreement even specified: Immediate destruction will be carried out after the collection of weapons and ammunitions. This process will be fully documented and publicized as appropriate.”

Does Aquino-MILF’s Annex on Normalization, which the CAB refers to, have similar demobilization numbers and dates?

None at all.

Instead, what the Annex merely says: “The decommissioning of MILF forces shall be parallel and commensurate to the implementation of all the agreements of the Parties. (Emphasis added). As I pointed out last Monday, the MILF under the agreements would merely be converted into the Bangsamoro police force.

With no criteria agreed upon on what “commensurate” entails, the MILF could insist that it will hand over its arms, or what is left after being renamed as “Bangsamoro police arms“, only when the Bangsamoro State is established—which is after Congress passes the “Basic Law” to implement all the agreements, and a referendum undertaken on the establishment of the new Muslim state-within-a state.

And what happens to the MILF camps? The Annex on Normalization is the very first government document recognizing the camps—seven, including Camp Abubakar which had been captured by the military in 2000. It even committed to assist these camps to be “productive”.

To create an illusion that the MILF is laying down its arms, the Annex on Normalization provides that an “Independent Decommissioning Body” will be organized to “oversee the process of decommissioning of the MILF forces and weapons.”

Again there is no timetable for creating this body, and the MILF would likely claim— given how the Annex is formulated—that decommissioning will commence only after the Bangsamoro is a reality.

Ferrer in her interview also said: “(The agreement on normalization) took some time—we understood that this was a very sensitive matter to the MILF, as it could cause internal dissent and break up among their ranks.” (Ferrer seems to have imbibed Aquino’s self-righteousness, saying in that interview that those who would file a case in the Supreme Court against the pact are “parties who wish to derail the process or by lawyers who wish to make a name for themselves.”

How gullible can our negotiators be?

Of course the MILF would try as hard as they can not to agree to turn over its arms, and to commit to a schedule for this. They’d even pretend that the issue would break their ranks.

But demobilization is precisely the heart of any peace settlement.

Why call it a peace settlement when the insurgents do not make any commitment to give up their arms on an agreed-upon schedule?

But more than the specifics of decommissioning, Aquino and his officials do not seem to understand how our entire nation’s legal superstructure is built on this document called the Constitution, which has to be respected. We exist as nation because of this document.

The Executive Branch cannot enter into an agreement with a rebel group or any entity whose provisions violate the Constitution, as the Supreme Court had ruled in the case of the previous administration’s “Memorandum of Agreement Ancestral Domain” that was the equivalent of Aquino’s Framework Agreement:

“It virtually guarantees that the necessary amendments to the Constitution and the laws will eventually be put in place. Neither the GRP Peace Panel nor the President.. is authorized to make such a guarantee. Upholding such an act would amount to authorizing a usurpation of the constituent powers vested only in Congress, a Constitutional Convention, or the people themselves through the process of initiative, for the only way that the Executive can ensure the outcome of the amendment process is through an undue influence or interference with that process.

”Often in agreements and declarations, the most important is what is not said.

Read the agreements and you will be shocked by one huge omission: Nowhere is there an assertion that the MILF or the Moros consider themselves Filipinos, or Filipino citizens.

Nowhere in Aquino’s pact is the MILF required to pledge allegiance to the Philippine flag and its constitution, and profess to be Filipinos. Why should they? The creation of a Bangsamoro, in essence means Moros organizing their own state.

This again is in contrast to the Aceh pact which refers to the insurgents as “citizens of Indonesia”.

Nowhere in Aquino’s agreement with the MILF an assertion by the MILF that it recognizes the Philippines as a sovereign nation, of which Bangsamoro is a part of. The single reference to the Constitution is something to “amend for the purpose of accommodating and entrenching the agreements of the Parties.”

In fact, the only references to the “Philippines” is as a “party” to the agreement, as a place where “negotiations began in 1997”, or as what country Mr. Aquino is president off.

An uncritical mainstream press showered kudos on Aquino, as succeeding where his predecessors in 17 years have failed.

Of course, he succeeded: He capitulated to what the MILF basically wanted, which is surrendering a part of Philippine sovereignty to it.

If not stopped by Congress and the Supreme Court, a fourth of Mindanao will gradually be outside of the national government’s ambit. “Bangsamoro” is just a small step away from an Islamic Republic of the Bangsamoro.”

Aquino and his negotiators have betrayed the nation.

What happens if Congress and the Supreme Court see through the MILF’s ruses, realize that the agreements will be dismembering the country and throwing the Constitution to the wastebasket, and refuse to go along with Aquino, after he has promised the insurgents the moon?

But let’s give peace a chance, and let’s pray that the MILF will eventually give up their arms, some gullible observers have said.

Or did Aquino fall into the MILF’s trap? With their arms intact, their camps strengthened, the MILF has put a gun in the Republic’s head. Agree to Aquino’s pact, or else.

What sycophants called Aquino’s most important legacy, will be a curse on the nation for decades to come.

Last part on Friday: Is there really a “Bangsamoro”?

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