THE AQUINO’S PHILIPPINES AS A PATTERN TO SOLVE REGIONAL CONFLICTS

Bangsamoro and the MILF Islamists show the vitality of political Islam and its will to achieve a shared peace

by Glauco D’Agostino

The agreement-key “spreading the wealth” signed last July 13th between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) could herald the end of a century-long guerrilla war, opposing the Moros first to the various colonial governments and then to the Manila nationalists. The determination of the liberal Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has allowed him to outline the general terms of a peace treaty to be signed before the end of his mandate in 2016.

Under this agreement, the available resources in the Autonomous Region for the Muslim minority of the southern island of Mindanao have to be shared according to the following rates in favor of the local population:

  • 75% of the proceeds of natural resources and mining;
  • 50% of the proceeds of energy resources.

Since disputes about the entente could arise before the Philippine Supreme Court, the Government had uselessly sought to grant the Moros a smaller profit share, even though the counterpart insisted on a sharing scheme 60 / 40 in its favor for the energy resources. The compromise run by Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, Chief peace negotiator on behalf of the government, eventually aroused.

This agreement, while largely underestimated by international media, deserves to be positively appreciated as a model to solve ethno-religious conflict, for at least three aspects:

  • from a historical perspective, because it would end a centuries-old dispute over a territory actually never dominated by people other than Moros;
  • from a political point of view, since it would appease social life in the State southern territories;
  • from a legal standpoint, as it would open up new participatory forms of consent to build more flexible and less top-down inter-institutional relations.

We should point out that Moros have not a single ethno-linguistic identity, being divided in this regard into 13 distinct communities. What binds them is precisely religion, since they converted to Islam before a majority of Filipinos would have converted to Christianity. They are now over 5% of the total Philippine population and doubled the rate following the WWII. They live above all in the south of the country, in the land themselves call Bangsamoro (in Malay, Moro Nation), consisting of Mindanao southern portion, the Sulu Archipelago, Palawan, Basilan and neighboring islands; but Moro communities live even in major Philippine cities. These Ancestral Domains ground their own amalgam in the faith identification and in the search of an awareness for creating a state unity (bangsa tunggal) according to the Islamic Umma principles.

On the historical level, we can talk about Ancestral Domains, since even before the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, which began in 1521, precisely in these areas the first Islamic Sultanates have been created:

  • the Sultanate of Sulu (including Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Palawan and neighboring islands) was established in 1450, with Sharīf ul-Hāshim as its first Sultan;
  • the Sultanate of Maguindanao was born in 1516, at the hands of Sharīf Muḥammad Kebungsuan, its first ruler.

The figure of Sultan, called Zillullāh fil-ard (i.e. God’s Shadow on Earth) made well the role entrusted to his political and religious sovereignty in pre-colonial times. Then, when Spaniards arrived, Sultans began to lose their power, but the Muslims kept fiercely fighting the invaders, successfully resisting the Dutch, British, and especially Spanish attempts of subjugate them.

When December 10th, 1898 Spain ceded the Philippines to USA according to the Treaty of Paris outcome, the last Islamic Sultanates (which had not been subdued by Spaniards) were also formally annexed and, therefore, Moros refused the new condition of submission and continued to defend freedom by rebellion. Spite the Kiram-Bates Treaty of August 20th, 1899 (Jamal ul-Kiram II was the Sultan of Sulu since 1884), by which the United States were committed not to interfere in the Sultanates internal affairs, President Theodore Roosevelt on March 2nd, 1904 declared null and void the agreements signed five years earlier and started enforcing the Treaty of Paris with Spain. The U.S. domination led to a Christianization of the administrative apparatus in Mindanao and this result caused increasing Moro’s resentment. Moro’s uprising went harshly on, becoming a political response to the subjugation of a nation deemed unconquered; thus, the national principle far exceeded those of a religious nature. Despite the scenario opened in 1913 the American commitment to grant independence to the Filipino nation, when it became a reality in 1946, once again Moros and their territories were included in a sovereignty transfer that did not concern them, because of a fundamental flaw in the agreements between colonial powers; so, they regained the struggle to make effective the right independence of the Bangsamoro.

This dispute moved to a political level in the last 60’s, when, as a result of yet another insurgency broken out in 1968, a year later the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was born, as a separatist paramilitary movement supporter of egalitarianism, under the command of Nur Misuari and primarily backed by the Tausug tribe of Sulu.

In 1977, this movement suffered a split led by Hāshim Salamat, who gave birth to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), mainly consisting of members of the Maguindanao and Maranao tribes. Thus, motivations and prospects of a religious order were dictated, henceforth overwhelming the nationalistic ones and by looking for a more or less explicit solution of an Islamic State. Just recently, in 2010, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) broke away from MILF, the work of Ameril Umbra Kato.

Instead, in 1991 Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani flowed from MNLF and founded the separatist political movement Harakat al-Islamiyya (Islamic Movement), better known as Grupong Abu Sayyaf. Based in Jolo and the nearby islands of Basilan and Mindanao, Abu Sayyaf, being currently reduced to a small patrol, intends to establish a Caliphate in western Mindanao and the Sulu Islands, and therefore its members call themselves mujāhidīn.

The political effects started affecting the legal level since the crisis has internationalized through the contribution of the international Islamic community, especially via the diplomatic work exerted within the Organization of the Islamic Conference and by the Islamic members of ASEAN (the Association of South- East Asian Nations), namely Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

After the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, made under the aegis of OIC and brokered by Col. Mu‘ammar Qaḏāfī, the process leading to peace has begun:

  • the principle to set up an Autonomous Region has been established;
  • mechanisms and modalities to implement a Plan of autonomy have been identified (20 years later President Fidel “Eddie” Valdez Ramos would have succeeded in).

In 1977, the Government sought to codify the rules of personal relationships involving Muslims (already been exempted from the Philippine legal prohibitions of polygamy and divorce), by harmonizing customary law with Philippine law.

The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao was formally created in 1989, when the Federal Government agreed to establish it. In return, it asked MILF to give up the request from a full sovereignty over what was being recognized at this time as Bangsamoro. The new entity has given the Muslims certain administrative autonomies, but without conceding anything in terms of economic returns.

Greater autonomy to the Region has yet been granted by the 1996 Peace Agreement the Philippine Government has signed with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

At institutional level, to the 1957 Commission for National Integration (later replaced by the Office for Muslim Affairs and Cultural Communities), provisional organizational systems designed to establish an Autonomous Regional Government were added, such as:

  • the Special Zone of Peace and Development (SZOPAD), aimed to receive World Bank funding for infrastructures and services;
  • the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD), administrative body controlled and supervised by the President of Philippines;
  • a Consultative Assembly (CA).

An acknowledgment of exclusive Ancestral Domains for Muslim Filipinos came up August 5th, 2008, by a Memorandum of Agreement signed between the Government Negotiation Group for Peace and the MILF, which envisioned the subsequent foundation of a pseudo-State (Bangsamoro Juridical Entity), following roughly the example of the Palestinian National Authority. A few months later the Philippine Supreme Court would have rejected the agreement down as unconstitutional.

Then, to end with, the preliminary agreement of last October between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) enabled the signing of this further step towards a Bangsamoro Basic Law (the map shows the suggested land) and a Treaty of Peace. Of course, it is a long road, yet, and there are still many points of contention. “The MILF fighters won’t disarm unless clear conditions and procedures to preserve their safety are not satisfied”, said Ghazali Jaafar, MILF Vice Chairman for political affairs. “This signature suggests that both parties are truly committed to complete peace negotiations. Nobody wants a fruitless outcome”, said Coronel-Ferrer.

By now, the involved parties are aware that peace, after all, befits the institutional stability, meets the economy requirements, even more is affordable for people plagued by decades of conflicts.

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