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Understanding the Mindanao Conflict

Understanding the Mindanao Conflict

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Published by Inday Espina-Varona

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Published by: Inday Espina-Varona on Aug 04, 2010
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Understanding The Mindanao Conflict: Mindanao at the Crossroad byProf. Samuel TanUnderstanding The Mindanao Conflict: Mindanao at the Crossroad isa paper prepared and presented by Dr. Samuel Tan at the CotabatoCity Peace and Development Forum, July 20,2000)At no time in history had the issue of Mindanao independence beenbrought to a critical point as it is today. The issue had already beenexpressed as early as 1910 when the Zamboanga business sectorpresented a written petition to isolate the island for thedevelopment of "plantation interests". The same sentiment wasaired in the written petition of Muslim datus, sultans, and leaders in1930 when the question of Philippine independence from the UnitedStates elicited Muslim preference for exclusion from the projectedfree Philippines under Filipino rule. Then in the late 1970s theIndependence aspiration of Mindanao was again revived by theMindanao Independence Movement of Datu Udtog Matalam of Pagalungan Cotabato, Ruben Canoy of Cagayan de Oro, and NurMisuari of the Moro National Liberation Front. Only the lattersucceeded in achieving a compromise agreement known as the Tripoli Agreement on December 23, 1976 through the mediation of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). Although the OICexplanation was for the Agreement to be a Comprehensiverepresentation of the Filipino Muslim Community, this was notacceptable to Hashim Salamat and his MILF. This was where thecritical point began from the Muslim perspective creating theproblems, ambiguities, and dilemma in the government responsesto the Mindanao conflict. The government from Marcos to Estrada operated on the clearpremises of the Tripoli Agreement that autonomy not independencewas to be the framework of any resolution of issues and conflict andthat the Philippine Constitution would be the point of reference forthe definition of the meaningful extent of autonomy. But what thegovernment has ignored and belittled were certain fundamentalrealities and facts that have remained active in Muslimconsciousness:"The present democratic system is not sufficient for real autonomythe Muslims may accept short of total independence. It must besomething where the Christian majority has no more say orinfluence in Muslim affairs except ceremonial and nominalrequirements of symbolic sovereignty."1. That independence was still the underlying essence of autonomyfor all Muslim social movements (MNLF, MILF, etc.) regardless of differences2. That any modus vivendi or compromise agreement related to theimplementation of the Tripoli Accord would be temporary and
tactical in nature, and3. That the ultimate hope of the Muslim Community in thePhilippines for progress and prosperity lies not in the Christiandominated state but in the dynamic relation and linkage to theIslamic world.In effect, the three foregoing facts are the underlying premises thatconstitute the general framework of the Muslim struggle howeverdivided it seems are the various groups in their activities, leadershiproles, rhetorics, and approaches. There are no perceivableindications that these premises are weakening. The contrary is whatis obviously emerging. There are several corroborative factors thathave contributed to the hardening of the independence imperativeof the Muslim struggle, peaceful or otherwise:First is the inability of the State through the government and itsagencies to adequately or substantially meet the basic and idealneeds of the Muslim Community. While the government has notfailed to initiate policies and draw up development plans alongconstitutional lines administration after administration since 1946has somehow ended with the centuries old Moro Problem stillunresolved. It is not easy and fair to altogether blame thegovernment on the Bangsamoro armed groups and their supportersfor the elusiveness and increasing difficulties of finding thepermanent or, at least, a relatively long enduring peace vital to thekind of socioeconomic, political and cultural growth and progressthe Philippines desires.Second is the obvious trend on the part of the Muslim Community toseek ultimate satisfaction of their aspirations from within their ownsocieties and the Muslim world given the decades of underdevelopment, the rising level of frustration, resentment, andanger over the extreme difficulty and costliness of recovering theirlost historic rights to ancestral lands and equitable social andpolitical benefits therefrom. These are confounded by the increasingsocioeconomic problems of life that have haunted their communitiesfor decades without immediate prospects of resolution from Stateinitiatives or programs. Third is the exploitation of the Mindanao conflict for a long time byexternal vested interests for reasons not necessarily for the good orbenefit of the marginalized sectors or government. The suspectedinvolvement of international agencies or groups such as Islamicradical movements including terrorist groups or central intelligenceagencies of powers cannot be ignored.Fourth is the failure of civil society particularly the dominantChristian sector to really remove the lingering anti-Muslim bias in
historical consciousness. The hardening of irreconcilable premises inthe rhetorics of government and Muslim positions is not helpingenhance a truly meaningful peace process. Apparently, the subtlehands of ugly politics in local and national levels and fora includingthe inner sanctums of Congress are nurturing the culture of conflictalong irreconcilable lines making use of the rhetorics of constitutionalism, legalism, morality, public order, humanism, anddemocracy to rally the processes of tri-media for their purposes. It isthese political riders in the Mindanao conflict from the viewpoints of the armed protagonists that are prolonging the agonies of war andthe ecstasies of vested interests not affected directly by theviolence of conflict.In reality, the Mindanao conflict is a microcosm of the national andinternational conflict between the marginalized and exploited socialsectors and the State and / or dominant sector. The Bangsamoroand Lumad struggles are not in a sense different from those of theworking classes and farmers in other areas of the country and theworld represented by different factions of the NDF-NPA networkcoordinated either by leaders from abroad or within the country orby other similar radical groups. They are similar to the struggles of the Muslim minority in Patani, Thailand, The LTTE (Liberation Tigerof Tamil Eelam minority in Sri Lanka, the Muslim Majority against aHindu minority leadership in Kashmir, the East Timorese majorityagainst the Indonesian minority leadership, the Fijian majorityagainst an Indian minority leadership, the Chechen majority againstthe Russian minority, etc. Their common aspiration regardless of racial, ethnic or socio-cultural differences is the enjoyment of freedom and its maximum benefits without outside interferences.Understandably, such aspiration is basic to human nature and isnatural to all people having a common origin and sharing a commontradition. Today the Mindanao conflict, while rooted in the same rationale orfundamental causes related to ancestral lands and historic rightsversus modern and democratic numbers, has greatly changed instrategies, techniques and extent. This fact is quite apparent in themilitary confrontation between the government and Bangsamororebel forces. The battles in Lanao del Sur, del Norte, Maguindanao,and Basilan involved men on both sides equipped with modern andhigh destructive weapons of war radically different from thenumerous armed encounters and battles in colonial times in whichthe use of weapons was largely limited to spears, bolos, knives,bows-and-arrows, krises, etc. on the part of the indigenous warriorsand arms and artilleries with limited capacity on the part of thecolonial powers. The contemporary military power of thegovernment is certainly superior to that of the rebels (backed up asit is by air and naval contingents, which the rebels do not have).Consequently, there is no doubt that the government forces willultimately neutralize the military capacity of the rebel to defeat

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