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The Ultimate Basis for a Just and Lasting Peace
in Central and
Southern Mindanao

  By  Sen. Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr.  

The proposal to adopt the federal form of government is meant primarily to provide the foundation for a just and lasting peace in central and southern Mindanao and secondarily to provide an equal opportunity for the development of the regions of the country to counter the perception, if not the reality, that Metro Manila is favored over other regions in matters of development.     

Vital distinction

The search for a just and lasting peace in central and southern Mindanao has proven to be intractable over the last five centuries. The Spanish and American colonizers had failed to bring peace to the area. Indeed, eve our own government has not solved the recurrent Moro armed uprisings in that part of Mindanao.     

The reason is that the various governments have tended to oversimplify the so-called Moro problem and they have thus proposed superficial solutions that merely scratch the surface but do not address the fundamental issues inherent in the problem.      

Our government's response to the armed challenges of the Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, for instance, is a good example. In its response to the twin problems posed by the Abu Sayyaf and the MILF, the government has blurred the distinction - a vital one - that divides the two groups into a gang of cut-throat hooligans, on the one hand, and a band of armed revolutionary partisans, on the other.     

The Abu Sayyaf has used its guns to pursue a criminal agenda specializing in kidnapping, murder, arson, torture and other heinous crimes. The MILF has used its guns to advance a political agenda, secession or independence.     

Parenthetically, I believe that the MILF call for secession or independence is merely a bargaining chip, that means that it is negotiable.

Recognizing the difference      

If a meaningful solution is to be provided to the Abu Sayyaf and the MILF challenges, we must begin by recognizing that the two groups are different from each other and should, thus, be treated differently.

The Abu Sayyaf should be dealt with as a police matter, which means that the police should go after these hoodlums hammer and thongs and bring them before the bar of justice.

The MILF should be dealt with as a political matter, which means that the government should exert every effort to bring them back to the negotiating table and discuss all possible avenues that will lead to a just and lasting peace to the region that is now wracked by violent unrest.
The distinction bears underscoring because, as said earlier, even the government treats the Abu Sayyaf and the MILF as one and same brutal gang simply because their adherents are for the most part Moros or Muslims.     

As a consequence of that wrongful premise, resort to the gun primarily to overcome the problems posed by both the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf is gaining currency among the people as demonstrated by the rising popularity rating of the president.     

Gun-point policy, anathema to peace     

There is, thus, a need to remind ourselves that the gun has never succeeded in establishing peace in central and southern Mindanao. The historical experience of our country bears out this conclusion.      

For almost four hundred years, the Spanish colonial government (1521-1898) attempted to impose its will by force upon the Moros in central and southern Mindanao. They failed. For almost fifty years, the American commonwealth government (1898-1946), tried to do the same by force and guile. They did not quite succeed. And for the last fifty-four years, our own independent government (1946 to the present) has been struggling to address the same problem. Neither have we had much success.

In my own limited experience, alone, I recall four incidents involving the government's resort to force to counter and suppress Moro armed uprisings in central and southern Mindanao. In all four incidents, the just and lasting peace desired by the government had failed to materialize.     

Dimakaling of Lanao     

As boy in short pants, I remember a ballad about Dimakaling who had led a rebellion against the American regime to demand a different treatment for the Moros from that accorded to the rest of the people.     

The American government called Dimakaling a bandit, ran after him, killed a lot of people and crushed his rebellion. Dimakaling was from Lanao in mainland Mindanao.     

Kamlon of Sulu

When I was in high school, I remember the uprising of Kamlon against our government. Kamlon rallied his people to fight the government and assert the differentness, if there is such a word, of the Muslim people. The government had to send battalions of soldiers to capture Kamlon. After the loss of so many lives and the destruction of so many properties, the government managed to capture Kamlon, imprisoned him and ended his rebellion. Kamlon was from Sulu.     

One would think that the sheer superiority of government guns that had crushed Dimakaling's and Kamlon's rebellions would have taught the Moros in Mindanao the futility and uselessness of rebelling against the government. Not so.     

Udtog Matalam of Cotabato

For in my early years as a lawyer, I saw the eruption of another Moro rebellion in Mindanao. This time the armed uprising was led by Datu Udtog Matalam. Matalam's Mindanao Independence Movement said what his uprising was all about. It was anchored mainly on his grievance that the Moros of Mindanao and consequently Mindanao, itself, were discriminated against by “imperial Manila.”     

Again, the government unleashed its military might against Matalam. It was the first time I saw on TV a live newscast showing government howitzers shelling the rebels. Again, after causing the loss of several lives and destroying several properties, the government finally neutralized the Matalam rebellion. Matalam was from Cotabato.     

Misuari of Sulu     

Then, at the onset of the Marcos martial law years, another Moro armed uprising challenged the government. This time it was led by Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front.     

The MNLF insurrection proved to be the longest lasting Moro led armed uprising (1973-1996), we have thus far witnessed as a people.The government tried to use force to suppress the MNLF uprising. It did not work.

It was only after the MNLF war had killed more than 100,000 people and uprooted more than 200,000 people in the areas of conflict that the government realized that we should talk things over, not shoot it out, with the MNLF to bring peace to central and southern Mindanao.

The government, then, resorted to diplomacy and guile to bring the MNLF to the negotiating table. Misuari told me some days ago that he is probably the only rebel leader in the world who had signed three peace agreements with the very government he had been fighting against. But up to this very day, he feels betrayed by the government in that he says there are some provisions of the last peace agreement he had signed in Jakarta in 1996 that had been, to use his words, 'smuggled' into the treaty without his consent.     

Misuari is from Sulu. Now whether or not, Misuari is correct in his apprehensions about the integrity of the Jakarta peace agreement is one thing. At least for the moment, the Jakarta peace agreement holds, even if probably a little tenuously.

Guns spewing violence     

Unfortunately, the applicability of the government peace agreement with the MNLF, notwithstanding, the guns of rebellion in central and southern Mindanao have not been silenced and are spewing violence as the current situation shows.     

For as mentioned earlier, two armed challenges still confront the government in central and southern Mindanao in the armed banditry of the Abu Sayyaf and the armed rebellion of the MILF.     

Eschewing sound analysis, the government has compounded the problem by lumping the Abu Sayyaf and the MILF together as if they are one and the same gang of cutthroats and by deciding to meet their challenges by a single approach: the use of an all out superior armed force to quell their uprisings.     

Fundamental grievances

The position of the government is only partially correct and that is as far as the Abu Sayyaf is concerned. Certainly not as far as the MILF is concerned because as discussed earlier the two groups are miles apart in their objectives and methods of challenging the government. Moreover, the lessons of history teach us that the use of all out force against Moro arms has never brought and will never bring peace to central and southern Mindanao without a comprehensive plan that addresses not the seasonal, tribal complaints of the Tausugs or the Maranaos or the Magindanaos or any other Moro group but the fundamental grievances of the Bangsa Moro as a people.     

This is not to say that the government should merely sit idly by while tribal Moro arms challenge it. The government, of course, has the right and the duty to assert its superiority over those who challenge it by the use of force. But the use of superior government arms should only be tactical, not strategic, in the matter of dealing with Moro armed uprisings.     

Otherwise, the use of force will result only in establishing the peace of the graveyard, not the just and lasting peace that we all want for Mindanao and the rest of the country.     

Divide and rule policy, ineffective

That the use of force has not solved the so-called Moro problem in central and southern Mindanao is plainly evident. In all the Moro uprisings that I have witnessed vicariously or actually, I have seen the government fail in bringing about a just and lasting peace in the area. As pointed out earlier, the government killed Dimakaling of Lanao; subdued Kamlon of Sulu; pacified Matalam of Cotabato, and alternately warred against and talked peace with Misuari of Sulu.

A clearer case against the use of force and of the tactic of divide and rule as a policy could hardly be established. But what is abundantly clear is that the policy of force and of divide-and-rule has never worked to achieve a just and lasting peace in central and southern Mindanao in the past.     

Neither will it work today as against the MILF. Every day, the pages of the dailies and the air lanes of radio and television report killings that are obviously spawned by the violence unleashed by extremists of both sides of the war now raging in central and southern Mindanao.     

What, then, is the solution? I suggest the following steps: (a) in the short run, we have to declare a cease-fire; (b) in the middle run, we should negotiate with the MILF rebels, and bring development to Mindanao; and (c) in the long run, we have to offer to the Bangsa Moro a federal state of their own that will remain as a part of the federal republic.     

Federal states

Briefly, the proposal to adopt a federal form of government for the country will establish federal states to cover the various parts of the country.     

Luzon may have four federal states. One, the federal state of northern Luzon; two, the federal state of central Luzon; three, the federal state of southern Tagalog; and four, the federal state of Bicol. Metro-Manila may be converted into a special federal administrative center, like Washington, D.C., or Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.     

The Visayas may have three federal states. One, the federal state of eastern Visayas; two, the federal state of western Visayas; and three, the federal state of central Visayas.     

Mindanao may have three federal states. One, the federal state of northern Mindanao; two, the federal state of northeastern Mindanao; and three, the federal state of the Bangsa Moro.     

Sharing of powers

As for the powers of government, the federal states may have powers over matters that are not reserved to the federal republic. The powers of the federal republic may cover, among other things, foreign affairs, national defense, federal taxes, customs and immigration, basic education curriculum, basic justice.     

Other powers may be assigned to the federal states, including primacy in matters of development, environment, local taxes and police.     

The enumeration is not all-inclusive or exclusive. In other words, the constitution will be final repository of what powers should be exercised by the federal republic, itself, and those powers that should be exercised by the federal states.     

The constitution may also provide that certain powers be placed under the concurrent jurisdiction of the federal republic and the federal states. Whoever exercises a certain power first precludes the other from exercising it.     

Effect on local governments

What will happen to the local governments if the federal form is adopted? It depends on the way the constitution would deal with the matter. If the constitution would empower federal states to deal with local government units as they please, then, the present structure and powers of provinces, cities, municipalities and barangay - as we now know them - may be modified, retained or altogether abolished by the federal states.

It is important to state that the adoption of the federal form of government needs the revision of the constitution. And that to my mind is the hardest obstacle that we have to overcome. People are wary of attempts to amend or revise the constitution. Thus, it is safe to assume that even if we are able to get the senate to agree to push for the adoption of a federal form of government, it will take a lot of time before that can realistically be achieved.     

Benefits of federalization

Before we leave the matter of federalism, I would like to state that the adoption of the federal form of government would enable the Bangsa Moro a fuller opportunity to promote their own identify and culture and their own economic development at their own pace without the need of seceding or declaring their independence from the republic.

Hopefully, the federalization of the republic will lead to a just and lasting peace in the provinces and cities of central and southern Mindanao which will compose the federal state of the Bangsa Moro.     

The adoption of the federal form of government would, likewise, address the concerns of the rest of the country that their respective development efforts are being thwarted by the bias shown by Manila-based bureaucrats in favor of what is now popularly called 'imperial Manila.' In their own federal states, the state governments, including that of the Bangsa Moro, would have greater leeway to plan, push for, fund and implement projects that will speed up the development of their own regions.     

Living together as neighbors

Can Muslims and Christians co-exist? My answer is why not?

Muslims and Christians do peacefully co-exist in my city, Cagayan de Oro city; in Davao city; in Cotabato city; in Tagbilaran city; in Cebu city; in Manila, in Taguig, in Tuguerao, in hundreds of communities throughout the land.

The fact that in those communities, Muslims and Christians live together as neighbors without killing one another shows that, indeed, no religious divide categorizes our people into irreconcilable, hostile blocs. It is true that violence has occasionally rocked the serenity of other communities where Muslims and Christians live side by side as in Marawi city, Basilan and Sulu where Muslims predominate. But it is also true that one has yet to hear of the Muslim majority oppressing the Christian minority in Tawi-Tawi. Unless that is the best kept secret in this country.     

One father: Abraham

Moreover, I am most optimistic that sooner than later, the Christians and the Muslims of this country will realize that we belong to one country and are descended from one and the same father: Abraham. And that our two religions instead of separating us should bind us to the same Supreme Being and lead us to respect one another.

After all, Muslims do proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace and all Christians believe that Christianity is a religion of love. If that be so and I have no reason to doubt that it is so, it is only a question of time before we will be embracing one another as children of the same God and as brothers and sisters of the same race and the same nation.     

I pray with all my heart that we will get to that situation before more lives are lost and things get worse.
Paper prepared. before a forum organized by the University of  the Philippines, Department on Political Science, Dilliman, Quezon City, August 24, 2000.
Used with permission by the author.
  Copyright 2011 Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication