Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Co-opting Mindanao

The controversial Memorandum of Agreement between the government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front finally saw the light of day yesterday, one day before it was supposed to have been signed in Kuala Lumpur.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer published the text in full. It spans over a page and a half of broadsheet space.

I have only skimmed portions of the agreement but at the outset, the MILF is getting the upper hand with this agreement. Which makes me wonder why the government is so eager to go with such deep concessions. These concessions are ultimately untenable in the long run, and will likely run into severe legal hitches.

The very first concept is already questionable. It says:

It is the birthright of all Moros and all Indigenous peoples of Mindanao to identify themselves and be accepted as "Bangsamoros." The Bangsamoro people refers to those whose natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and its adjacent islands including Palawan and the Sulu archipelago at the time of conquest or colonization of its descendants whether mixed or of full blood. Spouses and their descendants are classified as Bangsamoro. The freedom of choice of the Indigenous people shall be respected.

And here's the problem with that statement: not all indigenous peoples of Mindanao can be classified as Moros. To say so would be a lie.

A large part of the indigenous Mindanao population are the Lumads, who are not classified as Christian or Moro. Their voices typically are not heard because they are not armed. Sadly for them, they are caught in the crossfire of conflict. When comes the time for negotiation (as in the new agreement), they hardly have any participation.

And it looks like, from the language of the MOA, that they will be co-opted into the Bangsamoro homeland.

Look, too, at the statistics of conflict in Mindanao. The conflict between armed Muslim secessionists (MILF/MNLF/ASG) and the government constitutes 38%. A large part, yes, but not nearly as large as the 43% that constitutes conflict among families, clans, and tribes, usually as acts of generational vendetta.

If the negotiating teams think they are going to magically bring peace to Mindanao by this backdoor agreement, they are deluding themselves...or trying to fool the rest of us.

Update: This news story, Lumad leaders want no part in the Bangsamoro deal, from the Philippine Daily Inquirer gives us an idea about the Lumad's opinions on the agreement:

Some 140 leaders of indigenous communities in Mindanao have urged the government to exclude their ancestral lands in an expanded Bangsamoro territory.

During a three-day conference here that closed on Friday, the leaders said that they were never consulted in the negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on the constitution of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).

A resounding “Yes!” echoed when the question was asked during the discussions: “Do we all agree here not to include our remaining ancestral territories in the Bangsamoro homeland?”

Timuay Fernando Mudai, a Subanen leader in the Zamboanga Peninsula, said the lumad, or indigenous peoples, deeply respected the Moros’ “rightful claim to ancestral domain” but stressed that “they should also respect ours.”

He said that based on Subanen oral tradition, parts of the Zamboanga Peninsula, which covers Zamboanga City and the provinces of Misamis Occidental, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga Sibugay, never belonged to either the Sulu or the Maguindanao sultanate but to the Subanen.

Clashes erupted when the Maguindanao sultanate attempted to conquer Subanen regions, Mudai said.

Mudai explained that the thriving Moro communities in Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga Sibugay provinces were a result of trade and migration “and not because they are the original settlers in these areas.”

The lumad leaders expressed concern that if their communities were made part of the Bangsamoro homeland, they would not be able to achieve political, cultural and socioeconomic independence.

“Our Moro brothers must understand that we have a culture distinct from the Bangsamoro identity,” said Apu Marcial Daul, an Arumanun-Manobo leader.

Even Muslim Higaonons that inhabit the mountains along the border of Iligan City, Lanao del Sur and Bukidnon, and the Muslim Subanens in Zamboanga del Norte—both of which are called Kolibugan—identify themselves with their tribal origins.

The lumad leaders demanded that their ancestral domains be delineated and titled based on existing laws so that these would not fall within the proposed BJE.