Complementary approaches to the Mindanao peace process:

Antonio Gabriel M. La Viña

From diverse perspectives to a united effort
The tangled contentiousness of the Mindanao peace process and all its challenges can only be matched by the ingenuity and perseverance of the solutions put forward to achieve true peace. Two papers were written for this monograph by natives of Mindanao; the authors are deeply embedded in the island’s history and bring their insights to the discussion of the peace process. Abhoud Syed M. Lingga of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies submits his thesis on the origins of the Bangsamoro as a political identity and, concurrent to this, their assertion to the right to self-determination, vis-à-vis the position of the Philippine Government regarding its sovereignty and authority in Mindanao. His paper, Assertions of Sovereignty and Self-Determination: The Philippine–Bangsamoro Conflict, traces the history of both sides of the conflict, the Bangsamoro community and Philippine government, on how each attempted to assert, defend, and then negotiate their respective positions on Mindanao. This history takes the reader from the years of war and government attempts to integrate the Bangsamoro with the rest of the country, through the establishment Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), right up to the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Through discussing how the Philippine government attempted to integrate the Bangsamoro with the rest of the country and the responses of the Bangsamoro people, Lingga points out the challenges raised by the conflicting positions, and offers his own suggestions on how the GRP and MILF can meet in the middle. In Achieving Peace and Justice in Mindanao through the Tri-People Approach, historian and former peace panel member Rudy Rodil advocates a “popular” approach based on the peoples in Mindanao and not simply on institutions grounded in law. Mindanao is home to three groups of different historical and cultural lineages: the Moros who were the historical majority in Mindanao but now comprise its minority; the Lumad tribes indigenous to Mindanao, and the descendants of Christian settlers who had taken their place in the land, yet had done so at the political, economic, and social expense of the other two groups. Rodil challenges these three disparate groups to overcome the pain of their shared yet contentious history in order to restore the social and cultural dignity of the Moro and Lumad peoples, through meaningful reparations for past injuries, such as land grabs of ancestral territories, and a continuing commitment to peace.


The authors take their respective approaches to resolving the Mindanao conflict—Lingga speaks to the leadership of the parties in conflict (GRP and MILF) while Rodil makes an appeal to the peoples of Mindanao to join hands for “One God, One Land, One Dream, Peace Mindanaw”. The two papers have a great deal in common, in that they actually reflect what is at the heart of the Mindanao conflict: a gap in perception driven by a history that saw the political, economic, and social marginalization of the Bangsamoro people. By outlining historical perspectives in their individual approaches, Lingga and Rodil bring to light this division in perception. Lingga explicitly points out the differences. The Philippine government saw their objective as one of integrating the South with the rest of the Philippines as a duly recognized territory even at the cost of conflict. This objective was later amended to finding ways within the peace process to maintain that Mindanao is part of Philippine territory. The MILF, along with the MNLF and other groups before them, have seen their right to self-determination denied by Manila, either by legal action, military deployment, or resettlement of their population. Even the establishment of the ARMM is contentious—the government and sectors of Philippine society may view it as a breakthrough concession in the name of peace, but Lingga argues that it is actually seen by the Bangsamoro people as an imposition from the top, not genuine self-determination, and simply a sop “to appease a restive Moro population”. Thus, the Moro and Lumad communities have been reluctant to support or embrace the ARMM, if not hostile to the concept. Rodil, on the other hand, emphasizes that Lumad and Moros do not see eye to eye with the rest of the country in terms of national history. Philippine history as it has been written and popularly disseminated glosses over Moro and Lumad independence from Spanish dominion. As a consequence of the Treaty of Paris, Mindanao became part of the continuous political domain that Spain ceded to the United States. This, however, grossly failed to consider existing autonomous states in Mindanao, such as the Sultanates of Sulu and Magindanaw, and the individual Moro communities and Lumad tribes over which Spain had no control. Subsequent migration of Christian populations from other parts of the country to Mindanao exacerbated the problem by displacing Lumad or Moro populations from their territories and marginalizing them in the political and economic arenas. Even Rodil’s suggestion of a “new (Philippine) flag” and “new constitution”, so that future commemorations of Philippine independence could truly become “something all Mindanawons can identify with” is reflective of this division in perspective; mainstream Philippine history cannot be comfortably embraced by a population that was marginalized by that same history. A second area of convergence is the emphasis on the need for the actors in the conflict to bridge this gap. Government and the MILF meet in the middle in


Lingga’s approach, but they have the benefit of encountering each other in peace talks. Rodil calls for people themselves to meet in the middle, through community dialogue, a more inclusive Philippine history taught in classrooms, peace education, and even a “new Constitution…[that secures] the Lumad and Bangsamoro where previous constitutions [have marginalized them]”. As he looks back on the MOA-AD affair, Rodil writes that a population whose emotions have been heightened by the conflict in Mindanao may not be so easily placated. He mentions the “loud and often angry reactions” of Christian settlers regarding perceived concessions to the MNLF and MILF. Lingga also notes how Christians have been shown to be more prejudiced against Muslims than Muslims were against Christians. These, in turn, engendered a feeling of “rejection” among the Moro, Rodil states, feeding into their struggle for self-determination. The third convergence between the two approaches is that both authors identify the Philippine government as the party capable of making, and needing to make, significant steps and confidence-building measures to sustain the momentum of the peace process. Lingga argues that, as the MILF has not explicitly declared that it is seeking Bangsamoro independence, there is no reason for the Supreme Court to fear an “inexorable chain of events” that would lead to eventual secession, the cause underlined by the Supreme Court for issuing a Temporary Restraining Order against MOA-AD. Taking the long view, Rodil calls for a government-led effort to review and retell the history of the Philippines, taking into account the disparate histories of the Moro and Lumad peoples, and to educate Filipino children in the ways and necessary concessions of peace. Both authors also underscore the need to amend the Philippine Constitution, seeing it either as an institutional roadblock that strangles negotiations, or an expression of national identity within which the Moro and Lumad minorities cannot locate themselves. Here both authors do not speak just to the GRP negotiating party. Rodil and Lingga address the branches and agencies of the Philippine government that can contribute to the peace process (e.g., Supreme Court, Congress, the executive department etc). They also address the rest of Philippine society, calling for support for these confidence-building measures. Amendments to or revision of the Constitution encourage the Filipino people to participate in the peace process through the potential Constitutional Convention that may result, or through their representatives in Congress, in the court of public opinion, and ultimately in the ratification of the amendments. The authors’ recommendations include measures by which the Philippine government can rebuild confidence not only with the MILF as a negotiating partner, but also among the Bangsamoro who had been marginalized in the course of history. They ask sectors of Philippine government and society to rethink their premises


about the Philippines, or the national identity, the Constitution, history and culture, economics, and politics. This rethinking will not be comfortable and can certainly inspire either a spirited defense of the status quo, or a gradual advance from there. Both parties have to make a move to converge and bridge the gap, and from both approaches as well. The tri-peoples and self-determination formulation approaches are complementary. Neither approach can thrive or survive without the other. Either needs the other to succeed. As the MOA-AD affair shows, if the rest of the Philippines cannot get behind a promulgated peace plan, the government’s hands are tied. If the government cannot convince the public of the merits of its concessions in peace negotiations, public opinion may prefer confrontation or at least inaction due to the perceived capitulation in these concessions. Filipinos do not want war, but do not like “losing” either.1 The government and the people it represents must approach the conflict as one. A house divided against itself cannot stand. The Bangsamoro, the Lumad and the rest of the Philippines must be able to meet as one, not in acrimony but in amity, considerate of the other’s interests and sensitivities, if their respective advocates can have any honest chance at meaningful negotiations. In this monograph, Lingga and Rodil attempt to bridge the gulf between two institutions (Philippine government and the MILF), three peoples (Moro, Lumad, and settler-descendant), and two sides to the argument (Philippine integrity and Bangsamoro self-determination). In bringing together diverse perspectives, perhaps a united effort to achieve peace, justice and development will succeed.


Consider the title Supreme Court spokesperson Ismael Khan chose for his Philippine Daily Inquirer (September 29, 2008) opinion article: “Who Lost Mindanao?” The article is a critique of the MOA-AD and the proposed Bangsamoro Judicial Entity (BJE) vis-à-vis the Philippine Constitution and the Arroyo Administration’s handling of the affair. Yet in the same article Khan argues that, should the MILF “refuse to agree” on negotiations within the framework of the Constitution, “to uphold [it] and swear allegiance and fidelity to the Philippines… the government should insist on the demobilization and disarmament of MILF forces. The country should be prepared to take on the MILF, with its armed force of 12,000, at that point.”

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