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Before the colonizers set foot on the Philippine islands, the Moros had already established their own system of governance. Historically, they were formerly sovereign states with their own political and economic structures:

  • The Sultanate of Sulu was founded in 1450
  • The Sultanate of Maguindanao was established on 1619
  • The Pat a Pongampong ko Ranao (the four principalities around Lake Lanao)

The Moros fought the Spaniards for 333 years since 1565 and remained uncolonized until the end of the Spanish regime in 1898. They were ceded by Spain to the U.S., along with the rest of the Philippines, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1898, and consider themselves as having been assimilated to the Philippines without their plebiscitary consent. Over time, they have acquired such stigma and labels as infidels, pirates, uncivilized tribes, and cultural minority.

The country’s Muslims, as well as the other indigenous tribes throughout the Philippines, also became victims of past discriminatory government policies, especially over the issue of land and resources. For instance, the Philippine Commission Act of 1903 declared as null and void all land grants made by traditional leaders without the consent of Government. All of Mindanao was opened to a resettlement program for homesteaders and the entry of corporations, and a discriminatory Public Land Law was likewise implemented which favored homesteaders and corporations:

HECTARAGE ALLOWED

YEAR

HOMESTEADER

NON-CHRISTIAN

CORPORATION

1903

16 has.

(no provision)

1,024 has.

1919

24 has.

10 has.

1,024 has.

1936

16 has.

4 has.

1,024 has.

Over time, the Moros and other Indigenous Tribes (also known as Lumad) became rapidly minoritized in Mindanao. The historical census data for the case of Cotabato province alone demonstrates this stark reality:

1918 – 1939 – 1970

The above factors, along with constant neglect from Government over time, have led to a rising sense of discontent among the Moros. The Moro aspiration for independence has been articulated since the early 1900s through various letters by Moro Datus addressed to the U.S. Government:

  • (1924) Letter of some Moro leaders to US Congress – proposed that Mindanao, Sulu archipelago and Palawan be made an unorganized territory of USA; and that a plebiscite be held 50 yrs. after Philippine independence, for Moros to decide whether to be part of Philippines or be an independent state;
  • (1935) Letter of some Moro leaders to US President – “we do not want to be included in the Philippine independence; once an independent Philippine is launched troubles (will erupt) between us and the Christian Filipinos because from time immemorial these two people have not lived harmoniously”
  • (1961) Bill filed by Cong. Ombra Amilbangsa – grant and recognize the independence of the province of Sulu

In 1968, the Muslim Independence Movement (MIM) was formed with the aim of establishing an Islamic state in Cotabato, Davao, Zamboanga & Zamboanga City, Basilan City, Lanao, Sulu and Palawan, and the adjoining Muslim areas, including the maritime areas therein.

However, armed hostilities actually began in the 1970s between Government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) – the first Moro revolutionary group which aims to establish a Bangsamoro Republic. Sometime in 1977, a faction of the 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. 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 Armed Conflict in Mindanao and Its Impact

The unfortunate event in 1968, that we now know as the “Jabidah Massacre” led to the formation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). When President Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, the MNLF took up arms against the government. Because they were able to unify the Moros behind their cause, the MNLF was able to wage a war against the Philippine government which lasted for two decades and a half.

However, the war that had then characterized Mindanao, had dealt huge costs on the Government and the people. In terms of lives lost:

  • 1971 – more than 1,000 persons killed in sectarian strife (Ilaga vs. Barracuda/Blackshirts)
  • 1972-1996 – MNLF vs AFP: 100,000 -120,000 perished
  • (50% MNLF, 30% AFP, 20% civilian)
  • P73 Billion spent by Government on war materiel

In 2000, when President Estrada launched the “All-Out War” against the MILF – an average of P15 Million a day were eaten up by the war for a period of three months, or around P1.35 Billion during the entire period.

In 2003, just about the time that economic development efforts were underway in Central Mindanao, the military overran the Buliok Complex – then the center of MILF activities after Camp Abubakar fell in 2000 – as they were running after kidnap-for-ransom groups. The “Buliok Offensives” wasted P47 Million worth of agricultural produce and destroyed P130 Million worth of infrastructure, among others.

The social costs of the Mindanao conflict are even more glaring. Stuck in between the warring Government forces and the MILF were innocent civilians who would always have to leave their homes every time an armed confrontation erupts.

In 2000, almost 1 Million persons were displaced by the “All-Out War”. Due to the crackdown on the Abu Sayyaf on the following year, some 200,000 persons were displaced, mainly in Southern Mindanao. The figure shot up again to 500,000 evacuees in 2003, as a consequence of the Buliok incident.

In terms of foregone investments, during major military operations following the “All-Out War” and the subsequent Abu Sayyaf atrocities, the investment growth rate plunged deeply from 17% to -5% from 2000 to 2001. Investments still shied away from the region as the investment growth registered -1% in 2002. Worse, it dipped to -3% in 2003 when the Buliok Offensives occurred.

The peace process is the only choice for Mindanao, and the rest of the country, to move forward.

***

Source: Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP)

For more on the Moro Challenge, especially with the recent issue over the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the GRP and the MILF, please download here.