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The Bangsamoro issue (Part 1)

One major issue that President Duterte has yet to tackle — it will, presumably, arrive at the head of the queue along with the proposed move to federalism — is the stalled creation of a Bangsamoro sub-state.
Today’s column will attempt first to place the issue in its historical context, and next week we’ll discuss some of the problems associated with it.
Last September, before flying to the Asean conference in Laos, President Duterte stated that during its war of conquest the USA had killed 600,000 Muslims in Mindanao. This was an error. That figure, in fact, was the estimate — by none other than US General Franklin Bell — of the number of Filipinos who died on Luzon during the Philippine-American War.
Total Filipino deaths may have reached as high as a million — and this at a time when the total population was between six and seven million.
It was only after the official termination of the war in 1902 (although in truth resistance to the conquering USA continued here and there well into the next decade) that the Americans turned their attention to Mindanao.
Whereas the Spanish had attempted to subjugate the island by military force, the USA at first took another tack, respecting the Muslim religion and, by means of the Bates Treaty, securing peace by granting local leaders a degree of autonomy.
When, however, the USA decided that Mindanao should be integrated with the rest of the Philippines, the Bates Treaty was abrogated and massacres such as that at Bud Dajo occurred.
Even so, peace was fairly soon restored. Thereafter, as Donna J. Amoroso puts it in a 2005 study, the Muslims continued to be viewed as a religious and cultural minority, and the “long-term result was marginality, dissatisfaction, and ultimately, among many, rejection of the Philippine nation-state.”
It was during the American period, moreover, that a further problem was created, as migrants from Luzon and the Visayas were encouraged to settle in Mindanao, in a number of areas transforming Muslim majorities into minorities. As one example out of many, in northern Lanao, there were in 1918 merely 24 Christian families in the Kapatagan Basin, but by 1941 there were 8,000 Christians, a figure which would grow to 93,000 by 1960, greatly outnumbering the 7,000 Muslims. (See Cesar Adib Majul’s 1985 study, The Contemporary Muslim Movement in the Philippines.)
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Muslims in Mindanao looked upon their US masters with undying enmity. While some Muslim leaders were coopted into the structure of the colonial Philippine state by the Americans, others preferred continued US rule or outright independence to eventual inclusion in an independent Philippines.
For example, a petition to the US president in June 1921 from the Sulu archipelago expressed preference for annexation by the USA rather than inclusion in an independent Philippines. Three years later, a meeting of leaders in Zamboanga asked that the “Islands of Mindanao and Sulu, and the Island of Palawan be made an unorganized territory of the United States of America” on the understanding that independence would come later.
An alternative proposition was that, should they be included in the new Philippine republic, the peoples of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan be subject to a plebiscite, to be held 50 years after Philippine independence, to determine whether they should be “incorporated in the government of the Islands of Luzon and Visayas, remain a territory of the United States, or become independent.”
Thus, the impulse for Moro independence predated the formation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) by at least half a century.
Since the eruption of armed struggle in the 1970s, there have been a number of attempts to resolve the Mindanao conflict peacefully.
The agreements signed by the MNLF with the governments of Ferdinand Marcos (1976) and Fidel Ramos (1996) eventually led to the formation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which is now widely regarded as a failed experiment.
By this time, anyway, peace was not possible because Hashim Salamat had broken away from the MNLF and, with his Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), was continuing the armed struggle.
It was the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo which attempted to resolve this problem with a memorandum of agreement proposing the creation of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity which, superseding the ARMM, would cover an extended geographical area and provide its rulers with greater powers.
That came to grief in the Supreme Court, which declared its provisions unconstitutional.
President Benigno Aquino III indicated early on that he was keen to reach agreement with the MILF, and just over halfway through his presidency a framework agreement and a series of annexes had been signed.
The next step would have been the adoption by Congress of a Bangsamoro Basic Law but the Mamasapano incident of January 2015, in which 44 police troopers in pursuit of a Malaysian terrorist called Marwan were killed in an encounter with the MILF, effectively stopped the process in its tracks.
The MILF’s ambitious Bangsamoro Development Plan, published in November 2014 and intended to cover the years 2015 to 2022, was similarly stalled.
And now it’s President Duterte’s turn. He has said that peace will be impossible without the creation of a sub-state with enhanced autonomy. As we will see next week, however, the problems of Muslim Mindanao are of an extremely complex nature, in addition to which there will be pressures from international actors who might not have the best interests of the Moro people — or of the Philippines as a whole — in mind.


  • Maudie Salamanca

    Who would have thought of this? Nice article.

    Maudie Salamanca Friday, 14 April 2017 21:47 Comment Link
  • red planet

    More deserving to call it Bangsa Moro-Moro.

    Maybe God does not want RP sub-divided by a BBL, the intercession of the SAF 44 and the SC rejecting it are signs from Heaven that RP was meant to be one nation.

    red planet Tuesday, 21 March 2017 07:56 Comment Link

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