The Bangsamoro Framework Agreement has been signed with both parties jubilant. Will the excitement last until the final peace accord has been signed or will it die a natural death even before it happens? Will it succeed or just trigger renewed atrocities and more turmoil? That’s the $64 question. So much has been said about the framework. There have been pros and cons on the matter. But at the end of the day, what we are simply trying to achieve is peace for all. In so doing, the people of Mindanao can go back to their homes and start rebuilding their lives.
The conflict between Filipino Muslims dates back to 1899 during the uprising of the Bangsamoro people to resist foreign rule from the United States. In the 1960s, during the time of President Marcos, 68 Filipino Muslim military trainees were murdered in Corregidor allegedly by soldiers of the AFP. By then, UP professor Nur Misuari formed the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to condemn the killings and seek the establishment of a Bangsamoro nation through force of arms.
In 1969, the MNLF waged armed conflict against the Philippine government. In one of the fierce battles of the insurgency in 1974, Jolo was burned down and news of the tragedy galvanized other Mulsims around the world to pay greater attention to the conflict. Two years later, the Philippine government and the MNLF signed the Tripoli agreement, declaring ceasefire on both sides. The agreement provides that Mindanao would remain part of the Philippines but 13 of its provinces would be under the autonomous government for the Bangsamoro people.
However, Pres. Marcos went against the agreement that resulted in violence. In 1977, Shiekh Salamat Hashim established the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a splinter group of the MNLF seeking to establish an Islamic state. Conflicts between these rebel groups and the AFP continued until the end of the Marcos regime. When President Corazon Aquino took office, she arranged a meeting with MNLF chairman Nur Misuari and several MNLF rebel groups in Sulu, which paved the way for a series of negotiations.
The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was established in 1989 under Republic Act No. 6734. Under the presidency of Fidel V. Ramos, several negotiations and peace talks were held and the ARMM was solidified. But during the term of President Joseph Estrada, he declared an “all-out war” against the MILF. The group suffered heavy losses, enough to drive its head, Sheikh Salamat Hashim to flee the country and seek refuge in Malaysia. Several Islamic rebel groups retaliated, bombing several key locations in the NCR.
The Abu Sayyaf went on a kidnapping rampage. Clashes between the Philippine Army and the rebel groups escalated. When Benigno Aquino III became president, a series of peace talks for the cessation of hostilities were held, including the much-talked about meeting with MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim in Tokyo, Japan which was acclaimed on both sides. However, despite all these — conflicts continue to happen. The battle against terrorism in the country seems to see no end.
In 2010, P-Noy resumed the 6th peace talks between the MILF and the Philippine government. And just when we were about to give up hope for peace in Mindanao, last October 15, the historic GPH-MILF framework agreement was signed. This document outlines general agreements on major issues, including the extent of power, revenues and territory granted for a new Muslim autonomous region to be called “Bangsamoro”. But this excitement turned sour af er news broke that Nur Misuari threatened to call for a war and sue the Philippines in the international court.
Misuari said that instead of creating a new region, the government should instead honor the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, which was signed by the government and the MNLF. In the Tripoli Agreement, a compromise was reached to establish an autonomous region in the Bangsamoro land. The agreement is the basis of the mandate of the MNLF, with Misuari as the one recognized leader to represent the Bangsamoro people in its struggle for freedom. He thinks that the framework agreement is a recipe for another crisis and war in Mindanao.
He also warned that by the time the Bangsamoro is established, P-Noy would no longer be the president, thus, he will no longer be able to provide support and could create further tension in the region. Whether Misuari has a point or not, the Muslim-Moro people think that the agreement is the beginning of genuine peace not just in the Bangsamoro but for the entire country. They have seen enough misery, suffering and deaths in a lifetime for them to choose any other side. They believe that the MILF has cinched for them a continuum to progress towards the attainment of the Bangsamoro Cause.
While they acknowledge the fact that the MNLF has done the impossible in paving the way to peace and doing the first run, MILF has achieved a milestone that will make them realize their individuality and to not always be a part of the collective when the circumstance of war is imposed upon them. This whole issue smells of a power struggle. As a nation we must be thankful and grateful that after 16 long years of negotiations (all failed), we have finally come to the threshold of a long lasting peace pact. It is not going to be an easy task for those who will be working on the details of the agreement.
But if and when the final agreement is signed, Mindanao’s economy is sure to bloom. As P-Noy said, “This means that the hands that once held rifles will be put to use in tilling land, selling produce, manning work stations and opening doorways of opportunity. ” The Bangsamoro land has so much potential. It is a beautiful place with an interesting and colorful culture. It will surely boost tourism in this part of the country. There is no secret on how the government has initiated peace talks to raging all-out war against the insurgents in the past.
All these have caused the loss of many lives. Mindanao has suffered long enough. They also had their share of corruption. No matter how much the government spends to uplift the lives of the people in the region, the poor remained poor while their leaders continue to enrich themselves. Maybe this is the reason why the ARMM failed. But this is water under the bridge. What is important now is that both sides have found some common ground for peace to finally happen. All that is needed is an official recognition not only by the Philippine government but also by the international community.