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.


  1. Perhaps we are better off a colony...

  2. Billy Esposo thinks this can only make sense if the Americans are pushing towards an independent BMJE that can be their Protectorate.

  3. The Esposo article is paranoia.

  4. Hi, Chuck: followed through Esposo's articles and my take is that it's rubbish. For the US to establish a protectorate, especially with the China angle? That will raise an international outcry.

    Not to mention the shady links that some in the MILF have with sworn US enemies.

    From http://www.usip.org/fellows/reports/2005/0609_abuza.html

    The MILF ultimate goal is to establish a Muslim-dominated independent state while expanding the territory. Abuza pointed out that this objective is likely to shift as a new generation of MILF leaders emerges. JI and ASG have already created a new generation of jihadi extremists—there is every risk that they will either infiltrate the MILF or form alliances with hard-line members of the MILF who are skeptical of the peace process. This would not only undermine the legitimacy of the MILF, but could prepare the ground for potential sectarian violence among Christians and Muslims in the south.

    In summary, Abuza observed that a successful peace process is crucial for both the GRP and the MILF. If the peace process fails to proceed, he argued, not only will the conflict endure but also the MILF will become more radical. As a result, this will pose a threat to regional security and make it even more difficult for the GRP to address the problems of the south. In addition, the MILF’s credibility with its rank and file will be undermined, especially with the new generation's members who are already impatient with the MILF's failure to bring its promise to reality. On the other hand, if the peace process is successfully implemented, the MILF must be poised to confront potential factions in the organization and effectively police their territory.

    Take note of the last statement. Even a successful deal with the MILF is no guarantee of peace.

  5. Billy Esposo is just an anti-American nut who reads too many conspiracy theory novels, but there is something fishy about the role of the US Institute of Peace in all of this. The stuff they write about Mindanao sounds to me like a giant Guilt Trip certain Americans suffer from because of what they did to the Injuns. Except they want the Filipino indios to do the expiation for them.

    I think it's also time for the State Dept to recall Ambassador Kristie Kenney. She's been too much the fool of the MILF who've cleverly used her in ways that don't seem to strike her as contrary to the interests of both the RP and the US.

  6. Hi Dominic,

    Can you give me a copy of the MOA (if you have one)?

    My wife is also from Mindanao and I would like to send this to them so that they would be aware (its was my wife homeland for many years, and now they dont even know if this very corrupt government have already "sold" their lands to the MILF (as referred in your blog as not the only Muslims in Mindanao so they dont even have the right to speak for all Muslims).

    Daghan salamat bai.

    Canadian Bisdak

    p.s. I just read in the news that this government even had the gall to claim executive privilege (sounds familiar?) just to keep the negotiations secret. How pathetic !!

  7. hi dominic,

    its me again. i already got a copy of the MOA thru inquirer.net (which you mentioned in your blog).

    i have read some of the portions of the MOA and yes, i agree with you : the agreement is too loopsided in favor of the MILF.

    Im just wondering...were our government negotiators on drugs when they agreed to this MOA or were they just plain stupid?!!!

    i have disseminated a copy of the MOA to all my yahoo groups and friends so that it would see the light of the day and hopefully expose this government who is just very dependent on executive priveleges.

  8. Dom, i hope you're right but i independently arrived at the same conclusion some years back. What the US claims as their allies and enemies is not really that straightforward.

  9. I think you are all missing the point.
    Who CARES what U.S. thinks or wants?
    We need to do what we need and want.
    But first we need leaders that can execute the will of the People. Not for their own gain, and not for any foreign powers.

  10. @anonymous1: A colony? Of whom? Of the United States? Of Malaysia?

    @anonymous2: Just because we're considering the hand of the US doesn't mean we're pro. However you look at it, the US is still a player, and none too scrupulous, either.