March 30, 2014 OPINION/NEWS





Noel Tarrazona


Zamboanga City: Manila describes the March 27, 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) as the most historic accomplishment for the Aquino administration, whose term ends in 2016.


The so called ‘final peace deal’ is the outcome of the seventeen year negotiation process that provides fresh hope on ending the forty year old Moro armed struggle in the Southern Philippines that had claimed more than 140,000 lives including those of women and children.


The CAB ceremonial signing was held in Malacanang and was witnessed by 1,500 guests that included Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, some ASEAN diplomats, attaches from Middle East embassies and Muslim Filipinos from Mindanao.


For the part of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), its chairman Murad Ebrahim described the CAB as the ”crowning glory of our struggle” caused by the shared victory of the Bangsamoro and Filipino people. The Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro is not only for the MILF but for the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) as well and the MILF “will never claim ownership of the CAB”, Ebrahim added.


Furthermore, Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Quintos-Deles said in the ceremony, “No more war, no more injustice, no more evacuees, no more misgovernance, no more poverty and no more fear; we are all tired of it.”


bangsamoro signing


More Questions Than Answers


While Manila claims the peace efforts are falling into place, some Mindanao leaders raise more questions than answers to the conflict.


Mindanao lawmaker and staunch critic of the CAB Celso Lobregat reiterated his question on its legality. He claimed the government signed a final peace accord with the MNLF in 1996, which represents the Bangsamoro Community, and that the government is now entering into a peace deal with another group claiming to represent said community also.


Lobregat said it needs a congressional law to create the Bangsamoro government and that congress has not passed any law related to this yet. He appealed to fellow Mindanaoans to be vigilant and watchful to protect the sanctity of the Philippine Consititution.


When Mayor of Zamboanga in  2008, Celso Lobregat led Mindanao leaders to the Supreme Court to question the government’s attempt to sign the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) with the MILF in Kuala Lumpur. Lobregat lambasted the national government for initiating the MOA with the MILF without consulting the people of Mindanao. The Supreme court declared the MOA-AD unconstitutional and aborted its signing ceremony.


On the other hand, Political Analyst Federico Pascual raised an important question: “By what democratic process was the 10,000 strong MILF chosen as the authentic voice and representative of the four million Muslim population?”


“The political and economic flowering of Mindanao is not in the hands of the MILF minority but rests on the consensus of a wider community that embraces diverse although dominantly Muslim stakeholders,” Pascual added.


He also said that in the peace signing, there are no MNLF members from which the government has an agreement, none from the Sultanate of Sulu whose Sabah claim is in danger of being sold out, and none from the respected Muslim families, scholars and religious leaders. Why only the MILF? Because the MILF’s being central to the creation of the proposed Bangsamoro was suggested by foreign governments too influential to ignore.





Meanwhile, in Zamboanga City, the MNLF Islamic Central Command stated via a local radio station that they are considering filing a case at the United Nations questioning the peace deal with the MILF as the government has an existing peace deal with the MNLF in 1996. The MNLF claims they represent the Bangsamoro community.



Meanwhile the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway faction, reportedly joined the ranks of the MNLF early last year when the government and MILF signed the first few annexes of the peace deal. The BIFF claimed to have 500 active fighters while the MNLF claimed to have more than 10,000 combatants and civilian supporters. These separatists groups warned of more attacks to dramatize their protest on the CAB.  In September 2013 around 400 MNLF fighters attacked Zamboanga City and had a three week stand off with 3,000 Philippine soldiers, displacing more than 100,000 residents, while businesses were losing a combined USD 60 million each day.



Peoples organisation Mindanaoans for Mindanao’s national convener Rolly Pellingon said the growing criticism of the CAB and the defection of militants to the MNLF is already expected especially when you rush a framework agreement without consulting the other stakeholders of Mindanao.


“Perhaps the solution to the Mindanao problem is not autonomy only for the Muslims but autonomy for everyone, and that is the federal system of government” Pellingon added.





The 1996 Final Peace Pact


Prior to the MNLF signing a final peace agreement with the Philippine government a MNLF sub leader, the late Hashim Salamat, broke away from the MNLF in 1977 to continue the struggle for a separate Islamic state and eventually form the MILF. In 1996 the MNLF finally signed the peace deal, the MILF entering also into peace talk negotiations with the government. A MILF field commander, Umbra Kato, opposed the negotiations, forming the new BIFF  in 2008.


Kato is presently facing rebellion charges similar to the rebellion charges of MNLF Leader Nur Misuari who reportedly instigated the 400 seasoned MNLF fighters to attack Zamboanga, a bustling city in the Southern Philippines that hosts hundreds of U.S. soldiers holding joint military exercises with Philippine troops.






No to Bangsamoro


In another development, key officials of the newly created Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) conducted an open forum at Zamboanga City with 200 locals in attendance. Akmad Sakkam, a BTC official, urged Zamboanga locals to “change their minds and join the Bangsamoro.” This caught the ire of the Zamboanga Mayor Isabelle Salazar who responded “let us all stand up and show a resounding ‘no’ that we do not want to be included in the Bangsamoro” from which the locals cheered, giving the Mayor a standing ovation as the crowd became rowdy.


Surprisingly, the Mayor announced she supports the peace deal of President Aquino with the MILF but doesn’t want her City to be part of the new Bangsamoro entity.






Noel Tarrazona

Noel Tarrazona is a Mindanao UniversityAssociate Professor in Conflict Transformation. He is also a freelance contributor to Asia Times Online and Link Asia and can be reached at [email protected]



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