A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva
The Bohol Chronicle
September 29, 2013
It’s now close to three weeks since armed members of Nur Misuari’s faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) attacked Zamboanga City on September 9. While the fighting has subsided, with tragic consequences in deaths, people wounded and dislocated, homes destroyed, and livelihood disrupted, hostilities between the rebels and the military-police forces have not ended.
Early on, Mindanao’s civil society called for a humanitarian ceasefire and dialogue. In their own words: “Declare a Zamboanga City-wide ceasefire now! Spare the civilians from armed hostilities! No to armed action and militarization in Zamboanga City! However, the government is determined to end the hostilities. It is not forgiving the combatants of the Misuari faction of the MNLF and giving them “safe passage” as in earlier attacks of MNLF forces in Mindanao. Indeed, charges of rebellion, murder, arson and human rights violation under Republic Act 9851 or the Philippine Humanitarian Law have been filed against 114 MNLF rebels.
Nur Misuari’s situation in perspective. The former U.P. assistant professor is the founding leader of the Moro National Liberation Front that rebelled against President Marcos and the Republic in the late 1960s. It was he mainly and Conrado Balweg of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army who influenced the framers of the 1987 Constitution to authorize the forming of autonomous regions for Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras.
It was Misuari with whom the government under President Fidel V. Ramos signed a Final Peace Agreement in 1996 as mediated by the Indonesian government. About 7,000 original MNLF members have been integrated into the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police from 1998 to 2005, under the now 17-year peace agreement, an integration scheme aimed at assimilating former Moro rebels into the mainstream. And they remain loyal to the Republic.
With the government’s full support, Misuari became the original elected governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. However, his leadership was not known for its honest and effective governance. In time other factions and leaders supplanted Misuari in the MNLF. He would then be involved in a rebellion that caused him to be tried, convicted, and imprisoned but then pardoned.
Still the government has been reviewing the outcome of the Final Peace Agreement with Misuari for some seven years, also with the mediation of the Indonesian Government. As a result Misuari and the government had agreed on 42 “consensus points” and they were to conclude the review on September 16 in a tripartite meeting in Jogjakarta. But the meeting did not take place because Misuari would not participate. He must have felt that the conclusion of the review would leave him in limbo, with no more political stature or influence.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front had displaced Misuari. For some years the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) under Hashim Salamat and his successors had resumed the Moro rebellion against the government. So the government has been engaging the MILF in peace negotiations with the support of Malaysia that finally resulted in the historic signing of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) in October 2012. After several meetings in Malaysia the government peace panel and the MILF panel have fleshed out most of the details of the FAB. A Transition Commission with members from the MILF, the government, and other groups have been drafting the basic law to be sponsored by the President and enacted by Congress, hopefully in 2014. In time to be implemented before 2016 when his term ends. .
Meanwhile, as I reported in this column last week, on August 12 Misuari declared the establishment of “the Bangsamoro Republic” consisting of Mindanao, Basilan, Jolo, and Tawi, and Sabah and Sarawak to boot, both parts of Malaysia. He also appointed himself as its commander in chief. The secession is reportedly being submitted to the United Nations for recognition as an act of self-determination and decolonization. His representatives are saying that Misuari is asking the mediation of international parties to end the MNLF’s conflict with the government in Zamboanga.
Other MNLF leaders, like Muslimin Sema, chairman of the largest faction in the MNLF, have declared their support for the government and the peace talks with the MILF. Some of them have been consulted in the process. Reportedly, “key officials of the MNLF opposing the hostile actions of Nur Misuari and his men have reaffirmed their recognition of the 1996 Government-MNLF final peace accord and to renounce the MNLF founding chairman for good.”
Where is Maas? This question is asked of Nur Misuari by Amina Rasul, president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy. Misuari is called “Maas” which is Tausug for “elder” or “old man.” She is not asking where Misuari is physically but strategically and psychologically. She is asking him: “Do you truly believe that the infiltration of Zamboanga City is an effective means to address the demands of your MNLF that the 1996 FPA be implemented and the MNLF reunite behind you? xxx Or is this siege (of Zamboanga City) to attract national and international attention to the fact that Chair Nur, the father of autonomy, is not a spent force? If this crisis is your strategy to seize center stage as the government enters the final stage of the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, then haven’t you succeeded? Isn’t it time to let the peace process work, as it did in 1996?
Meanwhile, President Aquino III has not set a deadline for ending the political crisis in Zamboanga and is addressing the humanitarian crisis instead. But according to Amina Rasul, religious leaders in Mindanao “believe while a military solution may quell this rebellion, it will aggravate an already volatile situation. The leaders we have consulted all call for a strategic political solution to address the cause of the ongoing siege and address the claims of the MNLF Chair Misuari, vis-à-vis the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement.”
Rasul says further: “Many of the leaders are pleading that PNoy address the situation by drawing a roadmap for a more comprehensive and inclusive formula to address the issues in Mindanao.” And that the government must not underestimate Misuari’s capacity for causing more trouble. Like it or not, she may be saying, how do you make Maas reassured and happy that he is not really irrelevant.
Mindanao is rich but most of its inhabitants remain poor. U.P. Professor Ed Tadem has called attention to the strategic importance and the basic problems of Mindanao that have not been fully understood and addressed by the government and our leaders. Many of the poorest regions in the country are in Mindanao. Yet our second largest island is very rich in natural resources and producing a lot of products for local consumption and for export. The problem is that much of the wealth generated in Mindanao is enjoyed mainly by big business, local and foreign. Most of the people in Mindanao remain underserved and marginalized.
The time has come to overhaul our political system and governance. Among the other root causes is that the state and our political system are captives of corrupt leaders, most of whom belong to entrenched family dynasties who exploit governmental power, public funds, and natural resources for their selfish interest. Corrupt and ineffective governance keeps the people poor and dependent on political patronage.
The raging scandals regarding the abuse of billions of pesos of congressional pork barrel and presidential discretionary funds tell our citizens that they must persevere in their protests and demands for basic reforms in our political system and institutions, not only the abolition of the pork barrel.
It is high time that our citizens, civic and religious leaders, and also the media, understand the strategic importance and urgency of the basic reforms advocated by scholars and political activists.
“Charter change” is not the bad word that has been demonized as “Cha Cha” just because it was advocated by certain leaders who had lost their credibility and legitimacy.
Charter change is imperative when we must replace our obsolete Presidential Government with a functional Parliamentary Government. And our highly centralized Unitary System with a devolved and beneficial Federal System. Our judiciary has long needed basic reforms as well.
More than ever we need sustained and well informed people power to transform our political system. Let our citizens lead where our leaders fail.