REFLECTIONS: In the meeting of the MNLF Head Misuari & MILF Chairman Murad Ibrahim in Djibouti, Chad, Africa

By: Robert Maulana Marohombsar Alonto

In the exclusive meeting with the MNLF brothers headed by Bro. Nur Misuari, Chairman of the MNLF, that was presided over by the OIC Secretary General, Ekmeluddin Ihsanoglu, in Djibouti on November 16, 2012, Bro. Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, Chairman of the MILF and head of the MILF delegation stressed the philosophy that underpinned the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Bro. Murad in effect said that for almost 16 years, interspersed with all-out wars, the MILF has been engaged in negotiations with the Philippine government. And in these 16 years, what was uppermost in the mind of the MILF was the aspiration for self-determination of the Bangsamoro people. In this context, he said, the MILF entered the negotiation not for the sake or benefit of the MILF but for the collective interest of the Bangsamoro. Following up on this logic, Brother Murad further reminded everyone in the meeting that group or organizational interest should give way to this collective interest of the Bangsamoro people. It is high time, he said, for every Moro to think of the general welfare of the Bangsamoro, and not the parochial and vested interest or personal agenda of any group or individual.

Indeed, if one were to thoroughly go over and understand the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the Transition Authority, which climaxes the transition period, is only good for one year. And the MILF will head the Transition Authority. If the MILF wanted to entrench itself in power for its own self-serving purposes, it could have demanded a longer period for the Transition Authority, say, 3, 5, or even 10 years. But no. The MILF shortened the Transition Authority’s duration to only 1 year after which a free election will be held in the Bangsamoro in 2016 for the Bangsamoro Parliament. The Bangsamoro party that wins the biggest number of seats in the BM Parliament will have the right to choose the Chief Minister who shall head the Bangsamoro Government. In this new political system in the Bangsamoro, in contrast with the rigidly Presidential/Unitary form of government in the Philippines, the political playing field is even. Any Bangsamoro who deserves to be elected not because of money, influence, family, goons, or political patronage, shall have a chance to serve. One has just to remember that this is no longer a ‘gobirno a sarwang a tao’ (Government of the other people) but a government of the Bangsamoro. No Bangsamoro, therefore, can be deprived of his/her right to participate in the Bangsamoro Government for the sole reason that this is his/her government – the government of the Bangsamoro!

Yet, there are those among some of our sectors who cynically question the Framework Agreement. What has the Framework Agreement achieved? Those who can easily understand and discern what is in the Framework Agreement should be able to see what this agreement has achieved: 1.) It has restored to our people their Bangsamoro national identity that is officialy recognized by the Philippine State and the international community. In short, our nationhood status is no longer just on paper or in the imagination or theoretical; it is now a fact, a living reality; 2.) It has restored to us what is left of our ancestral Moro homeland that now carries the official nomenclature ‘Bangsamoro'; and 3.) It has restored to us the right to govern our homeland with a system that is unlike the system that prevails over the Philippines. This is the asymmetry that is mentioned in the Framework that characterizes the relationship between the Bangsamoro and the Philippine State. For while the Philippine State is still presidential/unitary, the Bangsamoro shall have a ministerial/parliamentary form of government.

We are aghast that there are those among our Moro brothers and sisters who still don’t see the logic of the Framework Agreement. I hate to say this but Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has a better understanding of the logic of the Framework Agreement than those who, for instance, are opposed to the changing of the name “Autnomous Region in Muslim Mindanao” to Bangsamoro. This is not merely a change in nomenclature. It is a change of the system – the status quo – which we in the MILF have rejected. President Aquino and his peace panel have finally understood the sovereignty-based conflict character of the Bangsamoro Question. Sad to say, and ironically at that, there are among us who still cannot understand and so they base their opposition on conjectures and wild premises. They don’t even bother to read our history. So their fallacious argument is that by changing “Muslim Mindanao” to ‘Bangsamoro’, we forfeit our right to claim the whole of Mindanao and Sulu! Why, this argument is not even based on present political and demographic realities! “Muslim Mindanao” was coined by the Regional Consultative Council (RCC) that drafted the law on ARMM during the presidency of Cory Aquino. The term ‘Moro Nation’ (or Bangsa Moro in Malay) was first used by the Moro leaders who drew up the Zamboanga Declarartion in 1924 that opposed annexation of the Bangsamoro to an independent Philippines. This historic Declaration was sent to the the US president and the US Congress. Even assuming that such a claim to the whole of Mindanao is to be made, Bangsamoro has more right to that claim. When the Americans established their colonial rule over Mindanao and Sulu, they called it the ‘Moro province’. The Moro Province was composed of five districts which covered the entire length and breadth of Mindanao and Sulu excepting Palawan. ‘Muslim’ is an ideological-religious identity. We, Moros, are Muslims. That’s a fact. But if we go by the name ‘Muslim’ alone, what are we? Are we Japanese Muslims, Arab Muslims, etc? Bangsamoro is a national identity and it does not contradict our being Muslims. “O Mankind, We have created you from a single (pair) of male and female and set you up as nations and tribes, so that you may recognize one another…Verily the noblest among you before Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah is Aware, Informed.”(Qur’an, 49:13)

Since there will be a long pause in the posting on this page, we might as well clarify some of the issues that came out after the signing of the Framework. One is the complain that the Framework has imited the territories of the Bangsamoro. What one should bear in mind is that the core areas of the Bangsamoro start with the present areas covered by the present ARMM. And more because it included the 6 municipalities in Lanao del Norte that voted for inclusion but were excluded from the ARMM during the plebiscite in the late 80s because voting was reckoned by province and not by municipalitiy or barangay. It is true that many areas dominated by Bangsamoro were not included in the core territory of the Bangsamoro. The reason is contiguity. These areas are not contiguous to the core territory, and contiguity is the rule of thumb at the time of the negotiations. They will be the subject of future negotiations. There are, however, contiguous areas that were not included. Nonetheless, the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro does not – repeat does not – close the door to the inclusion of these areas because it provides that a resolution by the local governments in these areas or a petition by 10% of the voting population therein on inclusion at least two months before the conduct of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law will suffice to have them included in the territory of the Bangsamoro. Look for it in the Framework. It is there in item no. V on Territory.