Thursday, August 28, 2008

Understanding The Mindanao Conflict

by Dr. Samuel Tan
At no time in history had the issue of Mindanao independence been brought to a critical point as it is today. The issue had already been expressed as early as 1910 when the Zamboanga business sector presented a written petition to isolate the island for the development of "plantation interests". The same sentiment was aired in the written petition of Muslim datus, sultans, and leaders in 1930 when the question of Philippine independence from the United States elicited Muslim preference for exclusion from the projected free Philippines under Filipino rule.

Then in the late 1970s the Independence aspiration of Mindanao was again revived by the Mindanao Independence Movement of Datu Udtog Matalam of Pagalungan Cotabato, Ruben Canoy of Cagayan de Oro, and Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front. Only the latter succeeded in achieving a compromise agreement known as the Tripoli Agreement on December 23, 1976 through the mediation of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). Although the OIC explanation was for the Agreement to be a Comprehensive representation of the Filipino Muslim Community, this was not a
cceptable to Hashim Salamat and his MILF. This was where the critical point began from the Muslim perspective creating the problems, ambiguities, and dilemma in the government responses to the Mindanao conflict.

The government from Marcos to Estrada operated on the clear premises of the Tripoli Agreement that autonomy not independence was to be the framework of any resolution of issues and conflict and that the Philippine Constitution would be the point of reference for the definition of the meaningful extent of autonomy. But what the government has ignored and belittled were certain fundamental realities and facts that have remained active in Muslim consciousness:

1. That independence was still the underlying essence of autonomy for all Muslim social movements (MNLF, MILF, etc.) regardless of differences

2. That any modus vivendi or compromise agreement related to the implementation of the Tripoli Accord would be temporary and tactical in nature, and
3. That the ultimate hope of the Muslim Community in the Philippines for progress and prosperity lies not in the Christian dominated state but in the dynamic relation and linkage to the Islamic world.

In effect, the three foregoing facts are the underlying premises that constitute the general framework of the Muslim struggle however divided it seems are the various groups in their activities, leadership roles, rhetorics, and approaches. There are no perceivable indications that these premises are weakening. The contrary is what is obviously emerging. There are several corroborative factors that have
contributed to the hardening of the independence imperative of the Muslim struggle, peaceful or otherwise:

First is the inability of the State through the government and its agencies to adequately or substantially meet the basic and ideal needs of the Muslim Community. While the government has not failed to initiate policies and draw up development plans along constitutional lines administration after administration since 1946 has somehow ended with the centuries old Moro Problem still unresolved. It is not easy and fair to altogether blame the government on the Bangsamoro armed groups and their supporters for the elusiveness and increasing difficulties of finding the permanent or, at least, a relatively long enduring peace vital to the kind of socioeconomic, political and cultural growth and progress the Philippines desires.

Second is the obvious trend on the part of the Muslim Community to seek ultimate satisfaction of their aspirations from within their own societies and the Muslim world given the decades of underdevelopment, the rising level of frustration, resentment, and anger over the extreme difficulty and costliness of recovering their lost historic rights to ancestral lands and equitable social and political benefits therefrom. These are confounded by the increasing socioeconomic problems of life that have haunted their communities for decades without immediate prospects of resolution from State initiatives or programs.

Third is the exploitation of the Mindanao conflict for a long time by external vested interests for reasons not necessarily for the good or benefit of the marginalized sectors or government. The suspected involvement of international agencies or groups such as Islamic radical movem
ents including terrorist groups or central intelligence agencies of powers cannot be ignored.

Fourth is the failure of civil society particularly the dominant Christian sector to really remove the lingering anti-Muslim bias in historical consciousness. The hardening of irreconcilable premises in the rhetorics of government and Muslim positions is not helping enhance a truly meaningful peace process. Apparently, the subtle hands of ugly politics in local and national levels and fora including the inner sanctums of Congress are nurturing the culture of conflict along irreconcilable lines making use of the rhetorics of constitutionalism, legalism, morality, public order, humanism, and democracy to rally the processes of tri-media for their purposes. It is these political riders in the Mindanao conflict from the viewpoints of the armed protagonists that are prolonging the agonies of war and the ecstasies of vested interests not affected directly by the violence of conflict.

In reality, the Mindanao conflict is a microcosm of the national and international conflict between the marginalized and exploited social sectors and the State and / or dominant sector. The Bangsamoro and Lumad struggles are not in a sense different from those of the working classes and farmers in other areas of the country and the world represented by different factions of the NDF-NPA network coordinated either by leaders from abroad or within the country or by other similar radical groups. They are similar to the struggles of the Muslim minority in Patani, Thailand, The LTTE (Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam minority in Sri Lanka, the Muslim Majority against a Hindu minority leadership in Kashmir, the East Timorese majority against the Indonesian minority leadership, the Fijian majority against an Indian minority leadership, the Chechen majority against the Russian minority, etc. Their common aspiration regardless of racial, ethnic or socio-cultural differences is the enjoyment of freedom and its maximum benefits without outside interferences. Understand
ably, such aspiration is basic to human nature and is natural to all people having a common origin and sharing a common tradition.

(Understanding The Mindanao Conflict: Mindanao at the Crossroad is a paper prepared and presented by Dr. Samuel Tan at the Cotabato City Peace and Development Forum, July 20,2000)

Related Stories:
A new formula in resolving the Mindanao conflict—Mohd. Musib M. Buat
The only option left, in lieu of an armed struggle, is to revert to the original goal of independence and mount a campaign for decolonization with the UN and ICJ.

Political Solution - Miriam Coronel Ferrer
If not the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, some other corrective power-sharing arrangement that would give Moros a wider berth for governance would have to be crafted because, to paraphrase Manuel Quezon, Moro nationalists would prefer a government run like hell by Moros than forever suffer the discrimination of Filipinos.


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