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Did Aquino sign pact to exalt a myth?

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?