The horrific massacre of Special Action Force (SAF) troops last year in Mamasapano stopped dead the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), one of the main projects of President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd, whose incompetence and hubris in undertaking Oplan Exodus resulted in that carnage.
That was, in a way, also the thinking of Senate President Franklin Drilon: “We were on our way to approving the BBL. The committee hearings were going smoothly until the Mamasapano incident took place. The environment became very toxic. I can say that, I think, the BBL is the 45th victim in Mamasapano.”
Our republic was so close to the brink of dismemberment, what with Aquino’s drive for BBL to be passed.
After his huge but useless and unjust project to take out Chief Justice Renato Corona, Aquino shifted the focus of his entire yellow political and media army to get the BBL passed, with such passion and frenzy that could only be understood in the context of an outgoing President’s wish to win for himself a Nobel Peace Prize. Funds running in the tens of billions of pesos from the unconstitutional Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and the renamed pork-barrel allocations must have been used to bribe traditional Muslim politicians and the Congress to pass the bill.
Even after the SAF 44 massacre in Mamasapano in January 2015, Aquino demonstrated his continued use of his political clout when the House committee evaluating the proposed BBL approved it. Fifty affirmative votes were led by Cagayan de Oro Rufus Rodriguez, and included that of vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. was practically alone at the Republic’s ramparts, vociferously yet reasonably criticizing the bill in the Senate. However, as details of the Mamasapano massacre surfaced, more and more legislators shirked the responsibility of getting involved in the hearings by simply not attending the Congress sessions. The other day, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, one of Aquino’s most loyal lapdogs, declared it dead.
But somehow, this unfortunate country manages to strike some luck sometimes, although in the Mamasapano case it was paid for by the blood of the SAF 44. I have written so many articles arguing point by point that the BBL would be the first step in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)’s long-term strategy or carving out an Islamic state in the heart of Mindanao.
Bangsamoro: Moro nation-state
The Malay name itself – Bangsamoro – means Muslim nation-state, and the BBL itself lists attributes of this entity that political scientists use to define a sovereign state: a clearly-defined territory, for its inhabitants or people (in this case the Moros), having sole monopoly over the use of their security force, (in the BBL case, disguised as the Moro Police). Only naive people, like the academic Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and a bleeding-heart NGO activist Teresita Deles, would insist that the MILF did not have another agenda behind the BBL.
I was the first journalist to visit the MILF’s camps, when in 1996 I went to its main Camp Abubakr (which President Joseph Estrada’s troops, however, attacked in 2000) and interviewed its head, then Chairman Hashim Salamat, for a story I was writing as the Philippine bureau chief for the regional magazine Far Eastern Economic Review.
From the lowest-ranked commander to then vice-chairman Ebrahim Murad to Salamat himself, I got the same firm idea of their strategy: the MILF will not really fight our armed forces until its Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces are on par with our military, which the Islamic insurgents quantified as having seven divisions in the 1990s (it is now 10).
Their strategy is to pretend to talk peace while building their camps in which they quietly build up and train their army and amass arms, and even manufacture them. When I was in Camp Abubakr in 1996, they were making the launchers for rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), which were not too difficult to produce as these were essentially converted plastic pipes fitted with a trigger. However, today, they manufacture the MORE technologically sophisticated Barrett sniper rifles, used with deadly efficiency against the SAF 44 when they were mowed down with these high-precision weapons by MILF snipers a kilometer away.
The MILF’s strategy has been to create the skeleton and command structure for their five divisions, down to the battalion level. These are then gradually filled up with new trainees, who, after their intensive training, return to their farms but remain on call for swift deployment when the MILF thinks it is ready to fight the government. The objective may not really be to defeat the government forces, but to grab a chance to establish a sovereign Moro state. For example, the MILF force that fought in the Mamasapano firefight has been identified as the “7th Brigade of the 105th Base Command.” That means it was part of the “1st Division, 5th Regiment,” although the reality was that this division probably had only a tenth of the usual 10,000 soldiers of a division.
The BBL, which would have given the MILF its autonomous state, would have been a quantum jump in its strategy to build up its army.
The massacre of the SAF 44 torpedoed the BBL because the tragedy exposed to both legislators and concerned Filipinos the following three realities:
The MILF, under a continuing expansion of its own army, has sufficiently trained its own forces in Mindanao and equipped them with sophisticated weapons (such as the Barret sniper rifle) so that it can even defeat the government’s best-trained troops. The MILF can also swiftly call on other non-Muslim armed groups so its bigger force could defeat a Philippine military or police contingent.
The ruthlessness with which the MILF killed the already wounded government troopers indicates its view of the Philippine police and military as enemies, not fellow Filipinos. Heard from the video footage of the SAF troopers lying dead on the ground and shot point-blank is the spine-chilling “Alahu Akbar.” (God is Great!)
The MILF does not recognize our rule of law. It refused to submit to an investigation into the massacre, much less surrender to the authorities its armed men identified to have killed the government troops.
How did the MILF grow to acquire such military power, and why do their troops treat the Philippine armies as enemies?
It is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) – which has been a huge flop of an experiment – that has provided a chance and the territories for the MILF to quietly grow and allow the largely unhampered expansion of its army.
The murder of the government troops in Mamasapano should trigger an in-depth study on whether the creation of the ARMM has been a wise decision or one of the most foolish things we have done as a Republic
The autonomous region for Muslims, forced upon us really, first by the Libyan strongman Gaddafi in 1978 and by Corazon Aquino through her 1987 Constitution, has only created a territory beyond the national government’s normal reach.
Only in the Philippines, in fact, is there such an autonomous region for Muslims within a country, and don’t give me the argument that China has “autonomous regions” such as that of Tibet and Inner Mongolia. These are obviously charades for the very centralized Chinese government to annex independent or near-independent nations in the past.
Shouldn’t this fact alone prompt us to study the very idea of “autonomous regions” to determine if it was responsible for actually making the provinces under it, such as Maguindanao and Ifugao among the poorest in the county?
“Autonomous regions” are seeds of separatism anywhere they have existed in the world, as minorities in such areas reinforce their differences with the nation they are part of, with their ambitious politicians ultimately demanding independence.
In our case, it has spawned corruption among Muslim leaders in a scale of which we are hardly aware, among them rich and powerful warlords as the late Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr. With confidence in his political power, he got away with an order for such a horrendous massacre as that of 58 people, including journalists in his province, and grow a clan whose more than two-dozen members are mayors, vice mayors or council members in the area.
It is an open secret that ARMM political leaders and MILF are allies, not for ideology, of course, but for their mutual benefit. ARMM governors and mayors do not interfere with the MILF, not even alert the military about the insurgent activities. They even provide arms and finances to the MILF. In exchange, the MILF maintains peace in the turfs of ARMM politicians, and even go against their political enemies.
The first step of the next Administration and Congress is not to come up with another version of the BBL. It should first study in depth what went wrong with the ARMM, to correct its weaknesses, and if these can’t be corrected, to abolish that autonomous region through a constitutional referendum. The overarching priority is how to absorb Muslims, especially its youth, into mainstream modern Filipino society, and not to provide them with more institutions to emphasize their differences.
The history of nations anywhere in the world involves a process of different cultures, different ethnic groups melding into one culture, one nation, never into a collection of autonomous regions.