After Zamboanga, what’s next?

After Zamboanga, what’s next?

By Apolinario Villalobos


Many observers say that, had the MNLF-Misuari faction not attempt to raise their flag at the Zamboanga capitol, there could have been no bloodshed. That, had they just went on with the allegedly planned rally, there could have been no gunshots. But who instigated it? The rest of the factions of the MNLF washed their hands, then later, Misuari himself, did the same, while pointing at Malik, the commander as the instigator. Now, Senator Miriam Santiago is saying that Enrile funded the group in an attempt to divert the attention of the nation from the hotly monitored Napoles/pork barrel issue. According to Defensor, Enrile is the most and obviously guilty, being a beneficiary himself of the pork scam, aside from being the Senate president during the period of commission. But, that’s jumping to the conclusive stage. We should look beyond Zamboanga and in doing so there are situations in the past that need to be pondered on:


1. Quoting a passage from the September 23, 1996 issue of Time Magazine, “…by 1521, Islam had made its way up the rivers of Mindanao and even established a beachhead as far north as Manila when Magellan crossed the Pacific and claimed the Philippines for Spain. The conquerors were aghast to find Muslims, promptly dubbed Moros after the Moors who had recently been evicted from Spain.  A campaign to crush the faith, to “Hispanize” the sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao, launched a conflict that has lasted more than 400 years”, but failed.


2. When the Spaniards came to Mindanao, they found the Muslims already with highly developed  society trading with neighboring sultanates, and living in accordance with the Koran. Sulu was already a bustling trading post in that particular area of the Asian region.


3. Although, there are structures in Mindanao pointing to the occupation of some areas by the Spaniards, such as Zamboanga and Dapitan on the western coast,  they never subjugated the whole of Moroland, particularly, Sulu archipelago. On the other hand, they were able to put the Visayas and Luzon islands under their control.


4. Despite its being not subjugated fully by the Spaniards, the whole Mindanao was included in the Treaty of Paris of 1898 when they sold the Philippines  to the Americans  at the sum of $2million. With that deal, the Americans felt it their obligation to put the whole archipelago under their control. It was during McKinley that the Homestead Act was enacted, encouraging Filipinos from the Visayas and Luzon to settle in Mindanao, dubbed “Land of Promise”, where they could cultivate and eventually own up to 24 hectares of land.


5. Under the Republic, Presidents Manuel A. Roxas and Elpidio Quirino continued the occupation of Mindanao by Filipinos from the north. In 1950, by virtue of National Land Settlement Administration (NLSA), 8,300 families swelled the already settled 9,172 families from 1918 to 1939.


6. When the NLSA was abolished, the resettlement program was continued by President Ramon Magsaysay under different programs, such as, Land Settlement and Development Corporation and National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Administration (NARRA). More families numbering to 22,500 were moved to Mindanao from 1950 to 1963, and 30,444 more until 1975. It was during the administration of President Magsaysay that a pocket rebellion in Luuk, Sulu, led by Hajji Kamlon was checked.


7. In 1968, the Moros were united by the notorious Jabidah massacre which involved the slaughter of young Muslims recruited by the military to undergo a secret training in Corregidor. This was in preparation for the attack  and eventual  occupation of Sabah. An alleged mutiny by the recruits ensued after finding out their mission and which eventually led to their massacre.


8. In early 70s, there was an outbreak of Muslim rebellion led by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founded by Nur Misuari. The number of sympathizers and active members grew in number from 1970 to 1972. When the Martial Law was imposed in September 1972, they openly rose in arms. In 1975, Misuari and his top aides fled to Libya to seek protection from Col. Muammar Khaddafy. With Misuari out of the country, there was momentary peace in the country, although, the danger was still lurking. Marcos sought all possible means to bring peace to Mindanao even going to the extent of sending Imelda Marcos to Libya to forge a peace agreement with Misuari  and with Khadaffy mediating.


9. In December 23, 1976, the Tripoli Agreement was signed. It was a cease-fire agreement which virtually silenced the guns of the rebels in Mindanao and immobilized Misuari in Libya whose objective was rejected by most of the provinces that should have comprised the Bangsa Moro, in a plebiscite held on April 17, 1977. Out of the 13 provinces, only 4 voted to join the autonomous region – Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-tawi. The 13 provinces that supposed to have comprised the Bangsa Moro are Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato and Palawan. In other words,  the result of the plebiscite, put the dream of Misuari for a Bangsa Moro to rest.


10. When Mrs. Corazon Cojuangco Aquino was swept to power, thanks to the “People Power”, she paved the way for “reconciliation” by being considerate to the forces that were anti-Marcos. It was perhaps, her way of showing that she belonged to their fold. As one of the official acts, she invited Nur Misuari to return to the Philippines. The mission was carried by her brother in law, Agapito “Butz” Aquino and Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel. In their enthusiasm, they forgot about the Tripoli Agreement signed in 1976 and the rejection plebiscite which followed a year after, resulting to a comfortable peace in the contested southern island. 


11. When Misuari came back to the Philippines, he was warmly welcomed by his colleagues in the University of the Philippines where he had a stint as a professor. The same warm welcome was accorded to him by his province mates and other groups who espouse reconciliation. With such seemingly support shown by sympathizers, he began to campaign again for the same advocacy – secession of Mindanao from the Republic. The Cory administration was caught flatfooted without any option. His aggressiveness resulted to pockets of skirmishes between the MNLF splintered bands and the government forces. The invitation for Misuari to come home gave the Cory administration a big black eye.


12. For the next 10 years since the time he came home, Misuari defiantly carried on his cause until the administration of President Fidel Ramos. On September 2, 1996, a peace agreement was signed in Malacanang between Ramos and Misuari. The Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) was created to be manned mainly by MNLF under Misuari. The Council was the brainchild of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP). The Council shall oversee a 3-year transition period for the almost absolute autonomy in the Special Zone of Peace and Developemtn (SZOPAD). But the big question is: Why did the SZOPAD still include all the 13 provinces stipulated in the Tripoli Agreement, of which ONLY 4 showed their consent to join the autonomous region, in a plebiscite conducted in April 17, 1977, a year after the Tripoli Agreement was signed?


13. In a purportedly rigged balloting, Misuari was elected as Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARRM), as a desperate effort to qualify his  leadership over the region. The region was allocated a big budget. Unfortunately when the transition came to a close with the ascension of the new President, Noynoy Aquino, the accomplishment report of Misuari did not show much as expected. His dismal performance showed his weak leadership. A new governor took over.


14. Lately, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a breakaway chunk from the MNLF is gaining ground as the representative of the Moro land. Secession is out of their agenda. Their advocacy is integration and cooperation with the government. The new government under Noynoy Aquino forged with the group a Memorandum of Agreement that paved the way for the final one which is being discussed until now.  On the other hand, the MNLF has been further segmented into several factions, one of which is led by Misuari, a clear indication that even within the MNLF organization, he is no longer a recognized overall leader of the movement that he, himself founded.


It is in the light of the present situation that the unfortunate skirmishes between the MNLF-Misuari faction and the government forces took place in Zamboanga for two weeks that began on the third week of September, rendering thousands of residents homeless, and the local government lose millions of pesos in revenue.


It is now alleged that a big portion of the contested region in Mindanao is no longer Muslim-dominated. The issue therefore is no longer about religion and culture. Other issues have been brought to light. Accordingly, the biggest oil deposit in Asia is found in Mindanao.  This could be the reason why the British Petroleum, the Malaysian Petronas, and American oil firms set up offices in Palawan and Mindanao. Aside from oil, Mindanao has vast deposits of iron, reputed to be the largest in the world, gold, silver, copper, nickel and chrome. Despite uncontrolled logging, a great part of Mindanao is still greened with forests. Just recently, a controversial discovery is added to the list of Mindanao’s wealth – deuterium which is a heavy water  that could give leaps to the energy-related industry, as it could make engines run. It is supposed to be found off the northeastern deep of Surigao provinces.


In a recent interview on TV, while the skirmishes in Zamboanga were still ongoing, Deles a government representative in the peace talks with MILF said candidly that the government is planning to talk with MNLF. …


This same Deles did not give a coherent answer when she was interviewed on TV by Winnie Monsod and asked what the government will do if MILF will do a drastic move because MNLF is again invited to the table of negotiation. The two groups are practically different in their views.


To where will our naïve and obstinate ignorance lead us?