War in Moroland — MNLF commander calls for Jihad (Holy War)

War is again afoot in Moroland. Ustadz Habir Malik of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has just declared  Jihad or Holy War against the Philippine Armed Forces. There are again thousands of people fleeing their villages. And to add to the tension between the MNLF and AFP, the non-Islamist and non-Islamic Abu Sayyaf Group has risen from their grave, which the military had claimed to have been digging for the past few months, and beheaded a number of construction workers, who were supposed to be hostages.

Usladz Malik has been demanding that the Tripartite Meeting among the MNLF, the Philippine Government and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) be held as stipulated by the 1996  Jakarta Accord. But the Philippine government kept on postponing the meeting.

The OIC called on the warring parties to cease fighting but the Philippine government rejected the OIC plea and came out with its usual holier-than-thou tirade, calling Ustadz Malik a “rogue MNLF commander” and accused him of being allied to the Abu Sayyaf, the JI and all other Islamist, terrorist groups of the world.

At the height of the “All-Out War” against the MILF during President Estrada’s administration, I delivered a speech at the University of the Philippines – Diliman. The points of the speech were:

First, it is useless to have further agreements with the government because it never fully implemented any of the previous pacts like the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 and the Jakarta Accord of 1996 or the Organic Act for Muslim Mindanao.

Second, the costs of the war were gargantuan. If one were to include property damage, collateral damage and social costs, the amount would be staggering.

Third, the end of the Moro war was nowhere in sight.

Fourth, federalism wherein the states enjoy various powers and rights, could be the solution to the conflict.

Fifth, the Bangsa Moro must be asked what it wants in a plebiscite/referendum because the Bangsa Moro enjoys the inalienable right of self-determination as embodied in various U.N. covenants.

Sixth, there was no need to shed blood. The establishment of a genuinely autonomous Bangsa Moro state / region may put an end” to the Moro Conflict

The points raised then are still valid today.

Here is the article I wrote about the Symposium where I delivered the speech:

War Symposium

Symposium Clarifies Situation in Mindanao

On June 27, 2000, a symposium entitled “‘War’ in Mindanao: Situation and Solution” was held at the C.M. Recto Hall, Faculty Center, UP Diliman. It was organized by three UP groups – the UP Christian Youth Movement (UPCYM), the UP Muslim Students Association (UPMSA) and the Movement for Muslim-Christian Dialogue (MMCD) – all promoting Muslim-Christian cooperation.

The guest speakers were Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, Col. Jaime Canatoy representing AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Angelo Reyes, Mr. Abraham Iribani, former MNLF spokesperson, Ambassador Abul Khayr Alonto, former MNLF vice chair, Dr. Samuel Tan of the Mindanao Studies Program and Atty. Macapanton Abbas, Jr., chair of the Islamic Directorate of the Philippines.

My brother, Atty. Abbas, Jr. could not make it as he was suddenly invited to be part of the official MNLF delegation to the Organization of Islamic Conference’s (OIC) Foreign Ministers Meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Since he had already drafted the speech, he asked me to deliver it for him. The speech turned out to be quite fiery and anti-military. With a former AFP Chief of Staff, and a colonel representing the present AFP Chief of Staff among the guests, I was sure the speech would not go down well with them. In fact, even Mr. Iribani is now working with the military and will soon be inducted as a reserve officer with the rank of Lt. Colonel as soon as he finishes his course at the National Defense College.

Mr. Rommel Romato, president of the UPMSA, gave the opening remarks. He noted that the symposium is held in order to know and clarify the situation in Mindanao.

The first speaker was Mr. Iribani, who gave the historical overview. He noted that President Aguinaldo proposed that the Moros in the South be included in a Philippine federation. However, the Malolos congress delegates insisted that the Philippines must be a “Christian nation.” Mr. Iribani quoted Mr. O.D. Corpus, who wrote “the cultural bias and neglect of the Christian Filipinos would not have been possible had the Malolos delegates appreciated Aguinaldo’s proposal for a federation.”

Col. Canatoy spoke next. He said that the military understands that the problem is complex and multi-disciplinary but that “it’s better to address the war now instead of later.” “Addressing the war” means waging war against the MILF, whose forces had grown form 5000 in the 1980s to about 15,000 as of January 2000. For him, the AFP has to stop this increasing number of MILF forces.

After his speech, there was an audio-visual presentation by the AFP’s Civil Relations Service. The presentation stressed that “behind the conduct of the Peace Process”, the MILF increased its strength in firearms and manpower. (Ergo, the peace process is wrong?!) It also showed the location of the various MILF camps that the military had taken over.

Then came my turn. My speech (my brother’s, actually) insisted that the military had no reason whatsoever to attack the MILF along the Narciso Ramos highway. Less than a day before the attack, the MILF and the Government Peace Panel had signed an Aide Memoire in which the MILF agreed to pull back and allow the Philippine National Police (PNP) to patrol and secure the highway. There are several points in the speech.

First, it is useless to have further agreements with the government because it never fully implemented any of the previous pacts like the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 and the Jakarta Accord of 1996 or the Organic Act for Muslim Mindanao.

Second, the costs of this war are gargantuan. If one were to include property damage, collateral damage and social costs, the amount would be staggering.

Third, the end of this war is nowhere in sight.

Fourth, federalism wherein the states enjoy various powers nd rights, could be the solution to the conflict.

Fifth, the Bangsa Moro must be asked what it wants in a plebiscite/referendum because the Bangsa Moro enjoys the inalienable right of self-determination as embodied in various U.N. covenants.

It ends by saying that “there is no need to shed blood. The establishment of a genuinely autonomous Bangsa Moro state / region may put an end” to this war and that “the coming millenium may yet be one of peace and harmony for us all.”

Amb. Abul Khayr Alonto noted that the Spanish-era policy of war and hatred is still being followed today. He mentioned unfair laws from the American era such as the Public Land Act of 1909 which allowed Christians to register lands in Mindanao up to 24 hectares but limits the Muslims to 10 hectares per family. He stressed that the Spanish, American and Filipino policies promoted the idea that “a good Moro is a dead Moro.” Today, he said, that old slogan has a new variation: “A man is presumed innocent unless proven Muslim.”

Senator Biazon then took to the stage. He was very animated and looked younger in person than on TV. His thesis was that Filipinos, both Muslims and Christians, belong to one race, one nation and one republic. He went on to mention that the Philippines was peopled by waves of migration — the Negritos (whom he called the aborigines), the Indonesians (whom he called the Indons) and the Malays. (I did not have the heart to mention to the old senator that the Wave Migration theory had been debunked by archaeologists and other scholars some time ago.)

He pointed at the tapestry adorning the hall. The design had a Crescent and a Cross on top and people in Moro and Indio costumes. It was a perfect depiction of the Filipino nation, according to the senator except that one figure was holding a weapon — a kris. I thought that the kris was essential to any depiction of the Moro

kris21.jpg

   .

In the open forum, Sen. Biazon noted that federalism should be studied and considered. He suggested that there is no need to change the Constitution, ARMM’s power can be expanded to include almost anything.

Finally, it was the turn of the academe. Dr. Samuel Tan, a respected scholar and historian, said that one must “bring out from history the answer to the Bangsa Moro problem.” Conflict, he said, characterized the Bangsa Moro’s colonial relationship with the rest of the Philippines. He stressed that the historical root of the problem lies in the fact the Moros are actually seeking “the recovery or retrieval of their historical losses to colonialism.” The Muslims were politically, economically and socially dominant. The Moros of today; therefore, are seeking to recover such dominance. I agree with him, although I would add that at this stage, the Moros are already fighting for mere survival.

Dr. Tan concluded that the military may be able to reduce the Bangsa Moro’s capacity to resist, but it can never remove the Bangsa Moro’s will to resist. Lastly, he said that although many would disagree, he had to say that to a large extent, Christianity is to be blamed. The colonial prejudice brought by Spanish Christianity is so much at fault. He mentioned studies that showed the level of prejudice of the Christians towards the Muslims are so much greater than vice versa. And today, the level of prejudice has increased even more.

More information and ideas came out during the open forum. To my pleasant surprise, the audience seemed to be quite apprehensive of the military and was all against a military solution to the conflict.

================Published in the Philippine Post July 14, 2000=================

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