Mindanao, the land of broken peace promises

The writer is a member of the Alliance for Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines-USA in Los Angeles.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in their latest pronouncement, blamed the Arroyo regime as responsible for the breakdown of the six-year peace negotiations.

This came after the Sept. 713 exploratory talks between the MILF and Government of the Republic of the Philippines


Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters.

(GRP) peace negotiators broke down in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Many peace advocates among Muslim and Christian groups, including the Alliance for Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines-USA, were disgusted with the intransigence and the sabotage perpetrated by the militarist and pro-U.S. elements in the Arroyo regime and Arroyo herself.

The MILF had high hopes that the GRP would be serious in resolving the problems and that peace could be attained through negotiations, but, on the contrary, the situation worsened. The government peace negotiators pretended to be serious in discussing the question of territory when the MILF brought up the issue of ancestral domain and enhanced autonomy for the Bangsamoro nation.

This issue became the biggest stumbling block in forging a peace settlement between the GRP and the MILF. This is the essence of the Moro struggle for self-determination.

Tripoli Agreement of 2001

In May of this year, the GRP accepted the concept of the administration, sharing and determination of resources in the ancestral domain that would be territory under the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).

The GRP pretended to agree that five provinces under the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), one city and 613 villages currently out of the scope of the ARMM where the majority of Moros live, would be under the BJE. The regime promised to give these concessions without any preconditions.

This is according to the Tripoli Agreement signed between the Arroyo government and the MILF in 2001. It recognized the historical and the inherent rights of the Bangsamoro people for ancestral domain and to own their territories.

But beyond these demands, the MILF insisted on autonomy for more than 1,000 villages where the majority of the Bangsamoro people live. The MILF believes that there is a need to join up into contiguous areas all the land in the ARMM. The MILF believes that for it to enjoy genuine autonomy, it must have one encompassing and contiguous territory. This means expanding the scope of the present area of the ARMM.

Sabotaging talks and the GRP’s intransigence

But last September, the GRP representatives slyly declared that they did not have the authority to negotiate about territories beyond the scope of the ARMM, because it would be unconstitutional.

This is the same argument that the GRP has used to sabotage its talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines since 2001. As always, the GRP used the worn-out argument that the negotiations must be under the framework of the constitution. But the irony is that this constitution is under attack by the U.S.-Arroyo regime. They want a new constitution that would better suit their interests.

The GRP also questions whether Moros really are the majority in the areas they want to be included in the new ARMM. The GRP has said it prefers a referendum to decide this matter. The GRP has also implored the MILF to join its crusade to change the constitution.

All these steps are clear indications that the GRP is closing the doors to the peace process. Therefore, there is no more hope for the peace negotiations. These indications prodded the MILF to take active self-defense measures.

Because of these developments, the MILF decided to withdraw from the peace negotiations and prepare for war. The groups could not take it anymore. Even the Malaysian representatives serving as facilitators have warned that they will no longer take part in the process. They said that unless the Arroyo regime gives its negotiators authority to negotiate, “the talks will be useless and will not achieve anything.”

Warmongering and militarist attacks

These machinations are not new. The MILF has suffered deceptions and attacks from different Philippine regimes since 1986.

Since 1997, after concluding two agreements, including the General Agreement for Cessation of Hostilities (1997) and



the General Framework of Agreement of Intent (1998) with the U.S.-Ramos regime, the Armed Forces of the Philippines redeployed 10 battalions to Mindanao from Luzon and the Visayas, augmenting the 17 army battalions already deployed against the MILF.

And then the U.S.-Estrada regime launched its anti-Moro war. It targeted the main headquarters of the MILF in Camp Abubakar.

The peace talks collapsed even before they had started. The MILF declared “jihad” or holy war against the U.S.-Estrada regime to assert the Moro’s people’s right for self-defense and self-determination. More than 500,000 people were uprooted due to the Estrada war. These attacks continued until the Filipino people overthrew Estrada in 2001.

Estrada tried to divert the Filipino people from the overwhelming corruptions scandals during his regime. He also tried to whip up an anti-Muslim war in Mindanao. But he failed.

Now, President Arroyo is trying to do another Estrada by laying the groundwork for the Anti-Terrorism Bill that is being pushed by the U.S. government. The bill would outlaw all democratic opposition and focus military attacks on armed groups that undermine her rule.

Even before the third agenda was taken-up in the MILF-GRP peace talks on Feb. 23, 2003, the AFP launched all-out operations around the Linguasan Marsh—the well-known large deposit of natural gas coveted by U.S. oil companies. Moro villages of Cotabato and Maguindanao were targeted. Additional troops were deployed in Pikit, North Cotabato, in the first week of February

In connection with this scheme, the Philippine military formed two more army divisions, the 9th and the 10th divisions, with 12 new battalions that will be trained by U.S. advisers—just like the United States did in El Salvador.

In line with the redeployment, the AFP also reorganized its Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and divided it into two new commands—the Eastern Mindanao Command (EASCOM) and the Western Mindanao Command (WESCOM).

EASCOM is tasked to face the New People’s Army threat, while WESCOM will tackle the Muslim insurgency. But this military reorganization was nothing new.

At the height of the Moro struggle from 197281, the AFP formed two commands in Mindanao—the Southwest Mindanao

Command that included Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Palawan and Zamboangas; and the Central Mindanao Command in the Muslim areas of Cotabato, Davao, Lanao, Bukidnon and Maguindanao.

The AFP reorganized again in 1983 when the NPA expanded and consolidated its areas all over Mindanao.

MILF ready for war of self-defense

The MILF knows well that the Arroyo regime is only using the peace talks as a tactic to strengthen its position to attack the MILF later and lay the ground for an all-out offensive.

There is always the bogey of MILF-Al-Qaeda connections. It is also said that the MILF is harboring the criminal Abu Sayyaf groups. And now, the GRP blames bombings in the country on the MILF. It said that MILF chair Al Hadj Murad Ibrahim was responsible for the bombings.

The AFP even went as far as creating and then blaming the bombings on a fictitious group, the Rajah Soliman Movement. Rajah Soliman was the last Muslim king of Manila, who died fighting when the Spanish colonized the Philippines.

But the MILF is firm in its struggle for self-determination. It has announced that its armed forces—the Bangsa Moro Islamic Armed Forces—is ready for war, will defend its territories, and will frustrate all government machinations. The MILF has also said it stands firm on its demands at the negotiating table in Kuala Lumpur.

But as of this moment, the peace talks—like the NDFP-GRP negotiation—are officially dead. News of AFP helicopter gunships strafing MILF territories, mass evacuations, and skirmishes were reported in Mindanao.

Mindanao, the second largest island of the Philippines, is also the second most populous. Around 5 million Muslims reside there. It is a land of promise. But, for right now, the promise of peace has been broken.

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