Contesting Duterte’s Peace Offer

Amirah Ali Lidasan
Moro-Christian Peoples Alliance

Posted on Sept. 18, 2018

(This paper was presented by the author during the pre-SONA State of the Presidency forum held by CenPEG on July 20, 2018 at the University of the Philippines’ College of Mass Communication auditorium.)

Too much hype was generated by the government in the signing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) as the final road to peace in Mindanao and to fulfill its promise in long-drawn peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The BOL (House Bill 11054) also known as the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (OLBARMM) is the latest law that will define the form of regional autonomy for the Moro people in Mindanao. It revises Republic Act 6734 which created the ARMM and RA9054 which amended the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) law to incorporate the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

The BOL paves the way for the creation of the new Bangsamoro political entity, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which Sen. Miguel Zubiri, one of the authors of the law, named as “ARMM Plus,” meaning, “10 times” improved ARMM in terms of self-governance, self-determination and giving the BARMM a block grant and fiscal autonomy. Unlike under the ARMM, Congress will not be asked for the BARMM’s budget but an automatic appropriation of at least 5% will be released every year to the new region.

The BARMM is also the only political entity that will adopt a parliamentary form of government while implementing Shariah laws through its local courts albeit limited to civil and family lawsuits – matters which actually form part of the current setup in the ARMM.

Many Moro people, however, are not that jubilant with the signing of BOL arguing that the law is another watered-down version of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). How can the Moro people accept President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise of peace when many provisions contained in the CAB signed in 2014 with the MILF were lost in the BOL with lawmakers resorting to “language engineering” to make the BOL “constitutionally compliant”? This departs from the previous negotiating frameworks that considered international laws upholding the concept of right to self-determination of all peoples.

What was achieved instead in this latest Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is the strengthening of the national government’s hold over the new Bangsamoro entity by maintaining the primacy of national laws above regional laws, increasing reserved powers over defense and security as well as public order and safety and the continuing State and corporate control of resources within the Bangsamoro areas.

Even with the setup of a parliamentary government, the political ties with national political parties will still predominate given that the current dynamics of Moro politics in general remains subject to politics of the more well-funded, elite-dominated, and foreign-linked national political parties.
Moreover, a threat looms where the recognized core territories of the Bangsamoro may be sidelined since the creation of the new Bangsamoro political entity will undergo a plebiscite in January 2019 to define finally its core territories. The current ARMM provinces (Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi) and the lone Islamic City of Marawi will also be part of the plebiscite where people will be asked if they accept the BOL and be part of the BARMM. The 39 barangays in North Cotabato and six municipalities in Lanao del Sur, which voted to be part of the ARMM but lost to the over-all votes of their mother units in the 2001 plebiscite, will also take part in the plebiscite in addition to the cities and municipalities with at least 10% Moro population.

The Cotabato City local government unit (LGU), which hosts the central office of the ARMM, is already saying that should plebiscite be held they will refuse to be part of the BARMM. The local leaders in the island provinces such as Sulu are also threatening to bolt out as one of the core territories of the autonomous region. The BOL removed the periodic plebiscite (every 5 years) that would give Moro populated areas an option to be part of the BARMM in the future.

The signing of the BOL creates a more divided Moro constituency, with some people calling for a separate BangsaSug for the island provinces who are predominantly Tausug and Yakan. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Prof. Nur Misuari opted to wait for the federal government, prodded by President Duterte’s promise to give his place in a divided Bangsamoro territory – mainland and island provinces.

The BOL gives no assurance that the MILF will be at the helm of the Bangsamoro beyond the transition period as they too will be a part of the competing political parties that will vie for seats in the parliament and to head the BARMM. In fact, the MILF had lost the role of policing the Bangsamoro in the BOL with the removal of the concept of a Bangsamoro police force that should have been comprised of their members. This system will only reinforce the iron-handed role of the Philippine National Police (PNP) against the Moro people.

It should also be borne in mind that any sitting government’s framework for peace negotiation has been dictated by disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration/rehabilitation (DDRR). The new term used for the MILF peace talks is “normalization” or the transition of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) from combatants to civilians, thus effectively burying the legitimate and historical objectives of their decades-long armed struggle for self-determination.

BIAF will soon be trained as the military and police force of the region to enforce anti-terror policies and other laws. The MILF had been locked to the ceasefire agreements and obliged to surrender their arms through decommissioning. They now become part of the security forces of the Philippine government through joint normalization teams assigned to suppress possible reactions and new rebellions, categorized as acts of terrorism, in anticipation of the Moro people’s discontent should the peace deal forged by the MILF with the government fail.

Inch by inch, the MILF is being stripped of its capacity to defend the Moro areas from military operations and in the end becomes part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the PNP to serve as the government’s tool for repression of the Moro people. The first ceremonial turnover of 75 firearms and 145 MILF combatants deemed ready to return to normal life took place in June 2015, five months after the infamous Mamasapano incident. Probably before the plebiscite, the MILF should have turned over massive caches of artillery to the government.

No matter how the peace panels change the concept, what the Moro people understand is that this is already about surrendering the struggle for the defense of the Bangsamoro communities. Meanwhile, the rest who continue to defend their communities have to contend with being tagged as “terrorists” and demonized with downright prejudice.

Limiting the fight for the Moro people’s right to self-determination

The role played by the MILF was bound to delimitate the Moro people’s struggle for the right to self- determination with the peace process itself manipulated by the government as a deceptive tool to undermine the Moro people’s historical struggle.

The struggle for the right to self-determination should not be confined to governance alone - the very important lesson learned with the creation of the “failed experiment” of the ARMM. The Philippine Constitution only allows the formation of a regional autonomy, hence all formulations of right to self-determination will be deemed unconstitutional. The bicameral committee even replaced those words in the BOL-BARMM stressing the need to preserve “territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

To objectify, the recognition of the people’s right to self- determination is enshrined in the first article of the United Nations Charter and that this right is not just for a struggling minority of a certain country but for entire peoples in a colonized country as well. It is not a divisive concept but the assertion of the whole nation who fights against control by another country or corporation. It should therefore be a wake-up call to all Filipinos that the struggle of the Moro and indigenous peoples for right to self- determination is a struggle to protect our communities and resources from plunder and colonization.

Vigilance demands to work against the possibility of President Duterte using the BOL and the future BARMM as a tool of control and repression against the Moro people and their right to self-determination squandered within the constraints of the constitution thus allowing any renewed fight for self-determination as unlawful and subject to state repression.

The MILF’s justification for accepting a “may not be perfect” BBL will further put in danger the genuine struggle of the Moro people for the right to self-determination. Indeed, the MILF is badgered by government threat that if the BBL is not passed in their lifetime, Moro “extremists” and terrorists will take over the struggle of the Moro people. Despite this, Moro groups that continue the armed struggle feel the need to continue to defend their communities from the government’s all-out war and other destructive wars that result in numerous human rights violations.

Under the current administration, the campaign of crushing terrorists/extremists has been conveniently used by President Duterte to justify his unremitting issuance of repressive measures. Sadly, as a partner of the government in the peace process, the MILF is bound to also take part in “cleansing” Bangsamoro communities of government-identified “terrorists”
The use of airstrikes and mortar shelling has barefacedly become the norm in military operations in Moro areas. The recent airstrikes against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a MILF-breakaway group, in Liguasan Marsh (an MILF-influenced area in the boundaries of North Cotabato, Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces) during the fasting month of Ramadan led to the forcible evacuation of than 20,000 families.

According to Mindanao rights group Barug Katungod, 75% of the combat forces of the Philippines are deployed in Mindanao (Eastern and Western Command) during the declaration of Martial Law – that translates to 71 AFP battalions with 21 Army battalions and 5 marine battalions deployed mostly in the Moro and Lumad areas. During the Marawi Siege, 12,186 AFP troops were deployed in the city, backed by an undeclared number of US and Australian soldiers and their spy planes and arsenal.

The people of Marawi City cannot forget how President Duterte responded to the siege led by a small band in the city last year that reduced their communities into rubbles as a result of aerial bombardment and how until now many residents are still not allowed to go back to their communities and take part in the rehabilitation of Marawi City by the Duterte administration. In the rehabilitation, the Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) has prioritized the construction of a new military camp and an economic zone, infrastructures for commercial purposes instead of rebuilding residents’ houses.

The US-led “war on terror”, launched in 2002, has led to numerous cases of human rights violations: massive arrests of innocent civilians paraded as terrorists, physical and mental torture, forcible signing of documents alleging those arrested as terrorists. With the government not lifting the state of emergency and lawlessness and lawless violence still prevailing, MNLF and MILF members themselves were among the victims even as they were falsely accused as terrorists and charged with rebellion and common crimes.
Soon, with the implementation of the Philippine Identification System Act, a law signed together with the BOL on August 6, and the amended Human Security Act (called Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2018), practically all Moro men and women tagged as terrorists face the risks of illegal arrest and detention.

Will BOL pave the way for lasting peace in the Bangsamoro?

Until the roots of the armed conflict are resolved, peace in the Bangsamoro will remain elusive. The Moro people continue to fight for their rights because these are not recognized in Philippine governance as with the rest of the marginalized people.

The Moro people remain poor because of landlessness and homelessness aggravated by relentless military operations and corporate encroachments on Moro communities. In the name of “national development,” the Duterte government has railroaded the rights to ancestral domain and territories of the national minorities and openly sold to foreign corporations the resources in these areas.

Most of the Moro people are tenants of the elite landed families – both fellow Moro families and Christian settlers - who own vast hectares of land. They are burdened with paying for the rent and most of the times are saddled in debts.

Just like their fellow farmers, workers and fisherfolks in Mindanao, they must work doubly hard not only to pay for the rent but also to produce the needed basic commodities of the whole nation – rice, corn, fish and other agriculture-based products that will be sold domestically and internationally to gain the revenues needed by the country.

Moro people fight to defend their resources for themselves, for the nation and for future generations. This should be the conviction that the new Bangsamoro political entity should advance and ensure that it is realized. The Moro people should also learn from the lesson of the ARMM which was used to facilitate the wholesale selling of Moro lands in the autonomous region to private companies and foreign corporations and enriched its leaders through concessions and commissions.

There are only few resources left for the Moro people as the national government sold out mineral-rich bodies of water, vast plantation lands, and areas having oil and natural gas reserves to foreign corporations such as Exxon Mobil, Total, Del Monte and other Chinese, Malaysian and American corporations. Many former MILF camps, which were decades-long protected to accommodate residents and refugees, gave been taken over by multinational corporations and turned into fruit and palm plantations, displacing and impoverishing masses of Moro communities.

Critics of the BOL should not be dismissed as mere peace spoilers because they have the basis for refuting a law that is not reflective of their current situation and decades-long struggle. It is time for the Moro people to really expose the insincerity of President Duterte to resolve the Moro problem and how. As in previous administrations, he uses it as a tool for counter-insurgency and instigate the Moro people to give up struggle for right to self-determination without the historical injustice to the Moro people being solved. #

(CenPEG Editor’s Note: The views in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of CenPEG.)

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