Moro National Liberation Front: A Strong Determination for the Future of Islam Chapter I. The Problem and Its Scope INTRODUCTION The term Bangsamoro is the generic name for the thirteen ethnolinguistic Muslim tribes of the southern Philippines. The thirteen groups are Sama, Badjao Tausug, Yakan,Maranao, Maguindanao, Iranun, Kalibugan, Kalagan, Sangil, Palawani, Molbog, and Jamamapun. In the 2000 Philippine census, Islam was given as the religious affiliation by 20. 4% of the population of Mindanao, all in all approximately 3. 7 million persons (National Statistics Office Manila, Philippines). The map below indicates those provinces of the southern Philippines which accommodate a Muslim ethnic population. The majority of the Muslim Bangsamoro of the southern Philippines are represented by two main political and paramilitary groups the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The common aim of both groups would be to have autonomy and to live according to Sharia law. However as Vitug & Gloria (2000) point out this promotes a conflict of interest, because Philippine law has the Constitution as its authority and the Philippine Constitution ‘still hovers above the Koran’. Whilst the MILF have been engaging in official peace talks with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) since March 2003, the MNLF has not been as fortunate.
Although the GRP signed the historic 1996 Peace Agreement with the MNLF most of the conditions have not been implemented, and this in turn has led to unrest with the Muslim Bangsamoro who are represented by the MNLF. STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM This paper examines the challenges for peace and independence of a Muslim Bangsamoro group of the southern Philippines namely the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and examines the social and political changes occurring in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago.
The paper will give a brief history of Islam in the Philippines then chronologically trace the formation of the MNLF. Important features of the paper will be the eras before and after 1996, necessary, because this was the year that the MNLF and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) signed an historic Peace Agreement. And the paper will attempt to explain why the MNLF has been largely ignored in the peace processes of the 21st Century, and why the GRP is reluctant to negotiate with them with the same enthusiasm as they are doing with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The paper will conclude with a prediction as to the future of the MNLF. RELATED LITERATURE AND STUDIES The history and struggle for survival of Islam in the southern Philippines can be chronologically placed into four eras. They are (1) 1450 (establishment of Sulu Sultanate) to 1764 (end of the Moro Wars), (2) 1764 to 1898 (end of Spanish colonialism), (3) 1898 to 1946 (Philippine independence), and (4) 1946 to the present time. (1) According to Lingga (2004) the exact arrival date of Islam in the Philippines is difficult to determine.
However it is now widely accepted that the first Sultanate in Sulu was established in 1450, and by the time the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan (who was commissioned by Spain) visited the Philippines in 1521, there had been four Sultans in Sulu (Local Government Unit: Province of Sulu, 2005). As well by 1521 Islam was being practiced in vast areas of the entire Philippines. Nevertheless Spain believed its duty lay in proselytizing the population of the Philippines to Christianity.
This course of action inevitably led to hostilities with the local Muslim population: the first being near Cebu (an island in the Visayas group, equidistant between Luzon and Mindanao) in 1569. The armed conflicts between the Spanish colonialists and the Muslim Bangsamoro in the Philippines from 1569 to 1764 were known as the Moro Wars. Throughout the 17th Century the Muslims in the southern Philippines were successful in repelling Spanish attacks, and even captured the Spanish fort in Zamboanga in 1662.
In 1764 British forces were in occupation in Manila, and because Spain was pre-occupied with the eviction of British troops from the Philippines a decline in hostilities with the Muslim Bangsamoro population occurred: officially ending the period known as the Moro Wars. (2) From 1764 to 1898 the Muslim Bangsamoro and the Spanish colonialists continued fighting however not with the intensity which occurred in the Moro Wars. Nevertheless there were some notable exceptions such as the overwhelming defeat of the Muslim Bangsamoro on the island of Bohol in the Visayas on 31 August 1829 by the Spanish commander Manual Sanz Zaide 1941). (3) In 1898 as part of the terms of the Treaty of Paris the United States of America was given control of the Philippines. From 1899 to 1913 the American colonialists conducted a series of military campaigns against the Muslim Bangsamoro in Mindanao including the infamous massacre at Bud Dajo on March 5-7, 1906 in which over 900 men women and children were massacred, and the battle of Bud Bagsak on June 11-16, 1913 in which over 2000 Muslim Bangsamoro were killed including 196 women and 340 children (Kho 1998).
In contrast the Muslim Bangsamoro of Sulu Archipelago fared a little better and were able to live according to their beliefs in return for recognizing United States sovereignty (Salamanca 1984). However, overall the influence of the Muslim Bangsamoro in the southern Philippines was being eroded by a massive inflow of Christian settlers under government resettlement programs such as the Inter-island Migration Division of the Bureau of Labour of 1920, the Quirino-Recto Colonization Act of 1935, and the National Land Settlement Administration of 1939 (Gutierrez & Borras, Jr. 2003) This massive inflow of predominately Philippine Christians from Luzon and the Visayas Philippines in 1941. It is interesting to note that during the time of the Japanese occupation, an alliance developed between Muslim Bangsamoro and Christians to fight the common enemy (Midori 1999). However this mutually beneficial alliance ended when the United States granted independence to the Philippines in 1946. (4) From 1946 to the present time the Muslim Bangsamoro in the southern Philippines have been subjected to displacement, broken promises, failed peace treaties, and all-out war.
Nevertheless the Muslim Bangsamoro have had a number of allies including the Organization of Islamic Council (OIC) which has thrown its support behind the Muslim Bangsamoro quest for self-determination (Iribani 2003). In a gesture of reconciliation, the then President of the Republic of the Philippines, Corazon Aquino established the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 1989. The formation of the ARMM was designed to give a degree of autonomy to the Muslim Bangsamoro in the southern Philippines.
Nur Misuari, a former chairman of the ARMM has now described the ARMM as a “lousy form of autonomy” because when he was Governor of the ARMM he claimed the Philippine Government sabotaged his administration by not releasing money for specific projects (Arnado 2005). The ARMM originally consisted of Lanao del Sur, Magindanao, Tawi-Tawi, and Sulu. In September 2001 the province of Basilan and Marawi City were added. Formation of the MNLF
On March 18 1968, dozens of young Muslim Filipino army recruits on Corregidor Island in Luzon were killed by fellow army personnel acting under orders from their superior officers. The slain army recruits had refused to fight fellow Muslims in Sabah (Northern Borneo). This murderous event became known as the Jabidah massacre, and was the catalyst for the formation of the MNLF. It is interesting to speculate whether the MNLF would have ever have come into existence had the officers who gave the order to shoot the young recruits been made accountable for their actions.
In what appeared to be a mockery of justice the Commanding Officer at the time of the Jabidah massacre, Nueva Ecija, who although court-martialed in a trial, was only transferred (Vitag & Gloria 2000). The exact date of official formation of the MNLF is open to interpretation. Che Man (1990) suggests it was 1969. However its original founder and Chairman (still current), Nur Misuari3 claims it was 1968 (Arnado 2005). Although the MNLF was the original organization representing the Muslim Bangsamoro in the southern Philippines the breakaway MILF has by far the larger following.
Rudy Rodil, Professor of History, Mindanao State University, and a member of the GRP peace negotiating panel involved in all the current GRP/MILF Exploratory Talks agrees with this assertion and claimed in 2005 that the MILF enjoyed the overwhelming popular support of the majority of the Muslim Bangsamoro, in Mindanao (Rodil as cited in East 2005). However be that as it may the MNLF still enjoys majority support in the Islands of the Sulu Archipelago, especially the island of Sulu which out of a population of 620 thousand in 2000 had 591 thousand followers of the Islamic faith (National Statistical Office, 2000).
RESEARCH INSTRUMENT This paper was researched using data drawn from primary and secondary sources. This included text analysis, statistical data such as the National Statistics Office Manila, observations including foreign analysis such as the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) ethnographic studies, personal communication2, and access to, evaluation and participation in various Muslim Bangsamoro web-sites and forums such as Luwaran. com. An interview to random inhabitants of Mindanao working here in Cebu was also conducted with the following questions: QUESTIONNAIRE| . Who is the Moro National Liberation Front? | 2. What do you think are their purpose in gaining power over Mindanao? | 3. Is living in a place with the MNLF peaceful? | 4. What do you think are the reasons why they keep on fighting for their so called right? | 5. Do you agree to what they are up to? Why? | 6. Do you have any experiences with their insurgencies? Kindly share them. | 7. Do you think they are connected with other terrorists groups? | 8. What do you wish to happen or what are your hopes for them? | Chapter II. Findings and Analysis
Although the MNLF has been in existence since 1968, whilst the MILF was only formed in 1984, the Arroyo Administration has seen fit to only open up official internationally accepted peace talks with the MILF. Whilst it is true that the GRP-MNLF PWG is making some progress in the peace process it has to assumed that this dialogue will “grind on” if not falter in the event that the MNLF’s Chairman, Nur Misuari is convicted and jailed on rebellion charges. Therefore the hope of a sustainable peace, especially in Sulu, is pivotal on the fate and future of Misuari.
For without his guidance and leadership of the members and paramilitary of the MNLF there would be a void which would be hard to fill. Whether the Arroyo Administration knows or acknowledges this fact is problematic. It would appear from their actions so far, apart from a little “window dressing” such as the acceptance of the role of the GRP-MNLF PWG, that it is easier to negotiate with the more popular MILF than to address the more complex issue of acceptance of the MNLF’s right to represent a minority Muslim Bangsamoro.
The situation in the Southern Philippines has remained contentious for over four centuries. Like most insurgencies fought across the world in different regions one must understand the context and history. The Southern Philippines has been rich in violence since the Spanish arrived. The Spanish lack of tolerance for Islam laid the groundwork for the attempted violent conversion of the Moros to Catholicism. Americans were the most successful in dealing with the Moros in the early Twentieth century by tolerating Islam. The Moros respected the Americans for this.
Distrust is an accurate word to describe the relationship between the GRP and MILF. The genesis of the mistrust originated during the Spanish occupation and with the conversion of the Northern and Central Philippine islands to Catholicism. The Spanish used the 48 newly converted people to fight the Muslims for over four centuries. The Moros never trusted the Christian Filipinos. The trust between the two sides needs mending. Extending the ARMM for the MILF is a catalyst for peace in the region. The MILF and the GRP must reconcile their differences.
In August 2008, both sides were days away from signing the MOA-AD, which would have extended the ARMM to the MILF. 154 Muslim and Christian nations throughout the world expressed their disappointment when the MOA-AD was not signed and the peace process stalled again. 155 One major reason the peace process failed in August 2008 was because stakeholders such as politicians and Supreme Court Justices from the GRP were not included in the process, or did not know the process was going on. 156 The alienation the two branches of government felt forced them not to support the MOA-AD.
The President of the Philippines must find some way to co-opt or build consensus with these two groups. Stability in the Southern Philippines hinges on an extension of the ARMM to the MILF. The region has been destabilized for four centuries. The conflict has stunted socio-economic growth within the region. Foreign businesses and investment are not willing to come in while there is an active insurgency. Infrastructure has been destroyed by both sides and has not been rebuilt. Based on this instability over 300,000 people have been displaced throughout Southern Philippines.
With peace, socio-economic infrastructure can be built and internally displaced persons can return to their homes. Both sides, the MILF and GRP, would build credibility and legitimacy with their population bases. The MILF has replicated all facets of the GRP. Shadow governments run politics at the local levels while providing some services to the Muslim population. A military branch enables the MILF to provide security. Financial external support from diasporas and Muslim countries fund efforts. With the proper training and coupled with GRP agencies the MILF may effectively run the extended ARMM.
An extension of the ARMM would possibly lead to MNLF-MILF reconciliation. The GRP has driven a wedge between the two Muslim organizations. The MNLF and MILF must drop their petty differences and realize an extension of the ARMM is in the greater interests for the Muslims of the Southern Philippines. The potential exist for this union to unify the Muslims in the Southern Philippines. The GRP should not be scared of this union and embrace it. A The MILF needs to cut ties with Al Qaeda and Jemaayah Islamiyah.
Any associations with these groups will cause the peace process to end in an unfavorable fashion and will cause other nations to get involved. The United States, for example, has had an active military presence in Mindanao and the Sulu Islands since 2001. If and when peace is finally achieved, the GRP through the BJE needs to find jobs for the thousands of Muslim fighters who will look for work. Former insurgents need to be occupied with a legitimate job; if not, terrorist groups will recruit these former fighters, and then accusations of MILF links to terrorist groups will cast doubt on the legitimacy of the peace.
The GRP needs to support the extension of the ARMM and ensure they implement any potential extension of the ARMM to its fullest extent. If the past is any indicator, the GRP will lose all credibility with the Muslim community if the GRP fails to implement any extension of the ARMM. By implementing an extension of the ARMM the GRP would build a base of support with Muslims and Christians while taking population support away from the insurgency.
The Moros want a better life and with four hundred years of war the opportunity is present for the GRP to take the first step in a long process of finally bringing an enduring peace to a region of the world that has not experienced it before. The GRP needs to extend the ARMM to the MILF. The extension of the ARMM is a catalyst for peace. Chapter III. Summary CONCLUSIONS The variety of active fronts in Mindanao reveals the complexity of the situation facing the island. Firstly, the wide array of armed opposition groups with varying motives severely strains the peace process.
Calls for rights by the indigenous population and a high level of government militarization (40 percent of the Armed Forces are deployed in Mindanao) complicate the situation further. Beyond the difficulty of dealing with more than one armed group, each with different interests, and channeling the variety of parallel peace processes to their respective negotiations panels, avoiding certain related or connected factors does not contribute to the peace process either. Mindanao, it is important to note, is rich in natural resources, even if marginalized historically by Manila.
The call for rights by the indigenous Lumad, the issue of access to and ownership of land (aggravated by rido and the weakness of the legal system in Mindanao), and an uncontrolled proliferation of small arms are just three of the aspects of the situation that need to be tackled in greater depth. Arms proliferation, viewed not as a cause of armed violence but a contributing factor, does not only need to be managed through cultural constrictions (including the status conveyed by gun possession, particularly in Muslim culture), but more importantly by addressing the structural shortcomings mentioned above.
The long duration and complexity of the armed conflict in Mindanao has resulted in an important experience with processes relating to ex-combatant reintegration into civilian life and integration into state military bodies. The peace process in Mindanao has prioritized reintegration based on development but has omitted processes of disarmament and demobilization, which could contribute to a progressive demilitarization of the region. Both design and application of programming warrant certain criticism, so not all of them are “good practices” to be applied in the future.
Other aspects worsening the reality of peace in Mindanao include, for a variety of reasons, the nonparticipatory nature of the peace process, especially regarding local institutions and organizations, and delays in implementation. For this reason, this paper makes the following recommendations, whether for the peace process applied to the MNLF or as part of a process for the government and MILF yet to be determined. Peace Process (MNLF and MILF): Analyze the possibility of strengthening disarmament and demobilization programs for members of the MNLF; – strengthen the ceasefire agreement adopted in 2003 before the 2010 presidential elections, if possible; – prioritize the return of internally displaced persons to their places of origin; – advocate support for traditional systems of conflict resolution; – strengthen the legal system in order to mitigate the effects of rido; – increase the level of consultation with the civilian population and grant a more relevant role to LGUs; – reinstitute an international presence for the sake of technical assistance and fulfillment of peace agreements; and – include a gender dimension to the peace process.
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