For a lasting peace in Mindanao (Part II)

by Sixto Domogen
Benguet State University

The country’s Muslims …also became victims of government policies, especially over the use of land and resources. For instance, the Philippine Commission Act of 1903 declared null and void all land grants made by traditional leaders without the consent of the Government. All of Mindanao was opened to resettlement programs of homesteaders and the entry of corporations, a discriminatory Public Land Law was likewise implemented which favored homesteaders and corporations.

The Moro aspiration for independence has been articulated since the early 1900s through the various letters by the Moro Datus to the US Government, and there were at least three letters of the Datus to the US Government:

1. (1924) The letter of some Moro leaders to US Congress proposed that Mindanao, Sulu archipelago and Palawan be made into an unorganized territory of the USA; and that a plebiscite be held 50 years after Philippine independence, for Moros to decide whether to be part of the Philippines or be an independent state.

2.  (1935) The letter of some Moro leaders to US President which states: “We do not want to be included in the Philippine independence; once an independent Philippines is launched, troubles (will erupt) between us and the Christian Filipinos because from time immemorial these two people have not lived harmoniously.

3. (1961) The Bill filed by Congressman Ombra Amilbangsa – granted and recognized the independence of the province of Sulu.

In 1986, the Muslim Independence Movement (MIM) was formed with the aim of establishing an Islamic state of Cotabato, Davao, Zamboanga and Zamboanga City, Lanao, Sulu and Palawan, and the adjoining Muslim areas, including maritime areas therein. The hostilities between the Government and the Moros actually began in the 1970s between Government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) – the first Moro revolutionary group.

Sometime in 1977, a faction of MNLF splintered and formed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). A final peace settlement with the MNLF was reached in 1996 under the concept of autonomy prescribed by the Tripoli Agreement of 1976. (Imelda Marcos was the prime mediator in behalf of RP with Khadapi of Libya acting as moderator between RP and MNLF, parenthetical comment mine) Meanwhile, peace negotiations with the MILF had been ongoing since 1997, and the talks hinge on the question of "how to solve the Bangsamoro problem."

The Mindanao conflict did not start from within. In other words, such misunderstanding and conflict did not come from the Moros but it can be traced to the invading colonizers. They divided and destroyed the unity of the Moros. The Spaniards called/portrayed the Moro people as illiterate, uncivilized and violent. (Alim 1995) 

The Mindanao conflict is a multi-complex issue. It has been a conflict that started four decades ago and will continue to exist if the national government will remain naive to the lack of freedom in the region in terms of people's rights to self-determination and the equitable distribution of resources. Yet, all sectors, organizations (private and public) must contribute something for the realization of a lasting peace in Mindanao.

As Bautista puts it, “The Moros are victims of social and political alienation. Their social political alienation in their own homeland is the direct and logical result of their economic alienation brought about by the forcible expropriation of their ancestral lands sanctioned by the Philippine Government to favor the Christian settlers and big corporations. The ultimate solution to their economic, social, and political alienation of the Moros appears to be the re-acquisition of their ancestral domain – the ultimate ground of their sovereignty and self-determination as separate people within the Republic."

In conclusion, the years of war has not only affected the Moro settlers but also Christians who live within the region. Many of them have not been able to maintain their businesses due to the unresolved conflict. Ending the years of war by granting the Bangsamoro right to self-government can lead to the flourishing economic activity and the further development in the region. This will be to the advantage not only to the Moros, or the Christians settlers in Mindanao, but also of the Filipino nation as a whole.

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