Will peace reign in Mindanao?

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Sunday, March 30, 2014


I AM a full-blooded Mindanaoan. I was born and spent my boyhood in Dipolog City in Zamboanga del Norte. I went to college in Zamboanga City, where I took up Mass Comm at the Ateneo De Zamboanga. It was where I also started my broadcast/journalism profession. That was 34 years ago.

I left the place in 1987 and transferred to Cebu where I landed a job at dyMF Bombo Radyo.

While I was still in Zamboanga City, I covered the series of consultations between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chaired by one of the its founding members Nur Misuari, which paved the way for the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), in compliance with the Organic Act provision of the 1987 Constitution.

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I witnessed the historic meeting of then president Cory Aquino and Misuari in Jolo, Sulu on Sept. 2, 1986 upon Nur’s return to the country after a self-imposed exile in Libya during Marcos years. It was former senators Butch Aquino and Nene Pementel and negotiator Norberto Gonzales who arranged his return. I used to cover Nur’s activities in Region 9 during that time.

I am not writing this to reminisce but because the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) recently signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). Will some parts of Mindanao finally find the elusive peace as a result of this “peace agreement”?

I said “some parts of Mindanao” because it’s not the entire island that has peace and order problems or is affected by the rebellion of our Muslim brothers who are fighting for independence. Zamboanga del Norte and other provinces, especially the Christian-dominated provinces, are relatively peaceful. There a harmonious co-existence between Muslims and Christians in these areas.

Who am I to judge the outcome of the comprehensive agreement? But I am just skeptical about its fate because not all our Muslim brothers are behind it. There are too many Muslim factions operating in the island and they cannot get along with each other perhaps because of personal agenda or tribal factions. The Maranaos and Maguindanaoans in Central Mindanao cannot co-exist with the Tausogs in Sulu and the Yakans in Basilan.

Consider the creation of the MNLF. The group which declared war against the government in the ‘70s was founded by Misuari, a Tausug; and Hashim Salamat and Dimas Pundatu, who came from Maguindanao. After heavy fighting against the military in their controlled areas (remember the Muslim barracudas against the Ilaga?), the three personalities parted ways.

Salamat organized the MILF whose stronghold is in Maguindanao. Pundatu created the MNLF reformist group, which was based in Lanao provinces. Misuari retained control of the MNLF, whose stronghold was in Sulu.

Salamat died a few years back. He was succeeded by Alhaj Murad. I don’t know where Pundatu is now.

Preparatory to the creation of ARMM, Cory and then president Fidel Ramos only negotiated with Misuari’s group. Ramos pampered Nur and gave him various positions like appointing him chief of the Southern Philippines Development Authority (SPDA) and gave him billions of pesos as budget. Then Nur became governor of ARMM. But Nur treated government funds as his personal money. He failed to implement projects that
would have raised the living condition of his fellow Muslim brothers.

Because the MILF was left out of the negotiation, it strengthened its forces and waged war against the government. The group was “dismantled” by then president Joseph Estrada after government forces conquered its main headquarters in Camp Abubakar. But despite that temporary setback, the group survived and managed to get consensus with the government with the backing of the Malaysian government. Hence, the CAB.

Good for the MILF. But how will the government deal with the Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters, headed by a MILF breakaway Commander Bravo, which is creating havoc in Central Mindanao? How about Misuari’s group and the Abu Sayyaf? Will peace reign this time in Mindanao? I doubt it.

(bobby.nalzaro@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 31, 2014.

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