By Maulana M. Alonto
Déjà vu is a French term that literally means “already seen”. It has been adopted by English speakers to describe a feeling of experiencing the same event that had taken place in the past.
Indeed, the current deadlock in the MILF-GPH peace negotiations under the Aquino regime accounts for the déjà vu that many of us are going through today. We’ve seen and experienced this before. Not only once but many times under previous regimes of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) since peace negotiations with the MILF began in 1997 and were restarted with international community participation in 2001 after the Estrada all-out war of 2000.
In all previous impasses and deadlocks in the peace talks, nobody could have predicted where these snags led to. That is, until talks again resumed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and everybody from both sides of the fence – not to mention the so-called NGO peace advocates - breathed a sigh of relief with the thought that ‘peace through dialogue’ had been saved and preserved.
There is, however, a big difference between what transpired in the negotiations yesterday and today. Except on one occasion, when the Arroyo regime went to war against the MILF in 2003 and subsequently secretly presented the latter with an ‘expanded ARMM’ proposition, which was of course rejected by the MILF, all deadlocks and impasses which occurred in subsequent negotiations were confined to the nitty-gritty of the political formulation mutually agreed and forged on the negotiating table.
Take for example the crucial period when both parties – the MILF and the GPH – were formulating the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD). The matter of Bangsamoro Ancestral Domain was no longer the issue when the MOA-AD was being deliberated upon starting in late 2005. Ancestral Domain was already a given because it is in the MILF-GPH Tripoli Agreement on Peace of June 2001 inked by the GPH and the MILF in Libya. Consequently, the oftentimes acrimonious debates on the negotiating table were not whether an agreement on Ancestral Domain had to come into being but in what form should it take. It took both parties nearly three years of painstaking negotiations interspersed with impasses, deadlocks and armed skirmishes on the ground before the MOA-AD could take form through consensus and initialed by both parties in late July 2008. However, when it was about to be formally signed on August 5, 2008 in Putrajaya, Malaysia, the Philippine Supreme Court issued a ‘Temporary Restraining Order’ that prevented the Philippine negotiators from proceeding with the signing. Needless to say, another war broke out as result.
The point is, in previous negotiations with bygone Manila regimes, the bone of contention invariably revolved around details, not on principle. And it was on details that snags occurred and violence on the ground was inexorably rekindled.
Peace negotiations under the regime of Filipino president Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III have, however, taken a different tract. The bone of contention no longer involves details – the so-called nitty-gritty - but principle. This deviation puts into question - which the MILF has correctly raised with justified concern - the issue of continuity in the peace negotiations. And it is this utter disregard for continuity by the Aquino regime that the principle which has evolved through 14 years of negotiations and consensus is being consigned to oblivion. This being so, a dangerous paradigm shift has taken place – a shift from what was envisaged by the peace negotiations beginning in 1997 and which produced that historic agreement in 2001 placing premium on political compromise that balances Philippine ‘national sovereignty and territorial integrity’ and Bangsamoro right to self-determination. Now the drift that this shift has engendered has made separation inevitable, which seems to be looming ahead in the horizon of the Moro Question.
How and why?
The MILF-GRP Tripoli Agreement on Peace 2001 is the basic document that provides the principle and direction-setting compass for the peace negotiations. It embodies the principle of balancing the Philippine state’s national sovereignty and territorial claims with the Bangsamoro right of self-determination. But in creating this balance - or compromise, if you will - the Agreement has required that the totality of relationship between the Philippine state and the Bangsamoro people be restructured and reconfigured to address historical and current injustices. This totality of relationship, when redefined, restructured, reconfigured and translated in concrete terms, would result in what the MILF has presented as its proposal: the Philippine state-Bangsamoro substate associative asymmetrical formula.
In other words, this principle of balance, which the Agreement has so ingeniously formulated ‘out of the box’, presents a political paradigm which both parties have agreed to by virtue of their having signed this Agreement in 2001 that precludes both perpetuation of constitutionally-mandated colonialism on one hand and the clamor for separatism on the other; but – and here’s the crux – it necessitates shared sovereignty between the Philippine state and the Bangsamoro people to be entrenched through the latter’s restoration of their historic identity and the exercise of genuine self-rule in what remains of the Moro ancestral homeland.
Unless one ignores totally or contrives to depart from this Agreement signed in Tripoli, there is no other political destination and there is no other end-result but to arrive at the state-substate formulation. This is what the whole shared sovereignty paradigm presents and what it is all about.
Unfortunately, this is the paradigm that the Aquino regime, in its counter-proposal to the MILF’s, has shifted away from. The GPH counter-proposal simply does not dovetail with the letter and spirit of this paradigm. Thus, the question of continuity is now very much at the heart of the discourse in the peace negotiations, which unnecessarily has prolonged the negotiation process and renders closure elusive. The question of continuity, or the absence of it, as a matter of fact, is the very reason why peace talks have stalled.
In presenting its counter-proposal in September 2011, which it calls 3-for-1 - not 3-in-1 perhaps as an afterthought because it may be mistaken for the instant coffee mix sold at groceries and sari-sari stores - the GPH has departed from this principle, and, therefore, the paradigm that both the MILF and GPH were guided by in the negotiations.
The GPH counter-proposal, to explain it very plainly, has a hierarchy of priorities at the topmost of which is Socio-Economic Development. The second priority is a ‘reformed’ ARMM that it is offering to the MILF. The third priority is rewriting history as a sort of remedial justice to the Moros who have their own colorful history of resistance to foreign colonialism and imperialism.
Putting economic development as a priority over the political resolution of the political conflict is, by its implication alone, suspect. It is suspect because counter-insurgency basically operates on the assumption that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. In short, the Philippine government not only hopes but believes its own theory that through massive infrastructure and economic development, such as housing for the internally-displaced persons (IDPs), roads, livelihood, etc., our people would eventually abandon their aspiration for the right to self-determination and freedom. This would, accordingly, presumably make them withdraw their mass support to and for the MILF-led struggle for self-determination and shift their loyalty to the ‘gobirno a sarwang a tao’ (government of the foreigners) in Manila.
The assumption that underpins this counter-insurgency gambit is very much flawed –as the Americans bitterly realized in Vietnam and are similarly re-discovering in Afghanistan and Iraq - in that it fails to take into account that factor of natural attachment to freedom so much so that even a well-fed bird imprisoned in a golden cage would not give up its longing to be free from captivity. There’s no doubt that many Moros would accept and welcome massive economic development but it will be the Moro politicians and elites, as usual, who will reap the pecuniary benefits accruing from such economic development. The Moro masses will eventually end up as bystanders. This is a systemic problem that can only be solved if the oppressive and morally-corrosive system perpetuating colonialism and its attendant problems such as political patronage, repression, criminality and political feudalism in the Bangsamoro is effaced.
Moreover, infrastructure development in a pre-conflict resolution situation will be vulnerable targets for any armed group opposed to government. The recent P3 billion worth of destruction wrought by the NPA guerrillas on the mining companies in Surigao del Norte is a clear example.
In arguing that the political resolution to the Moro Question should come first before any massive development could take place in the Bangsamoro, the MILF is taking the correct position. It is correct because it makes sense considering that without political resolution the conflict will still exist. Putting the ‘economic’ cart before the ‘political’ horse is a wrong proposition. But by insisting on it in its counter-proposal, the GPH has exposed its hidden agenda, which is counter-insurgency. It does not intend to peaceably solve the political armed conflict down to its roots through a political formula; it intends to solve it through massive economic bribery that it imagines would, in the long run, marginalize the MILF in particular and the Moro liberation movement in general. And this is where the Philippine government is dead wrong.
There’s no need to discuss further the second agenda in the 3-for-1 GPH counter-proposal, which is the so-called reformed ARMM, and that includes a new organic act for the same ARMM to be eventually renamed as ‘Bangsamoro Autonomous Region’. The ARMM is an instrument of the Philippine state through which it tightens, instead of loosening, its colonialist grip on the Bangsamoro people, and then cleverly clothes this sham with the garb of ‘autonomy’. As such, the ARMM is deliberately designed to be manned by servile Moro politicians who are the ‘favorites-of-the-day’ of an incumbent regime in Manila. As the Philippine rulers’ surrogates, corruption is one of their privileges. In this context, Michael Mastura, a senior member of the MILF Peace Negotiating Panel, was accurate in saying that the ARMM is “irreformable”.
In the drafting of the proposed new organic act for the envisioned ‘Bangsamoro Autonomous Region’, the Philippine state does not even want to concede to the Bangsamoro people the exclusive right to craft their own ‘autonomous law’. In its counter-proposal, the Aquino regime has come up with the lopsided configuration that membership to the body (‘Bangsamoro Commission’) to be tasked with the production of the new organic law shall be 1/3 chosen by the Philippine government, 1/3 by the MILF, and 1/3 to be mutually picked from the so-called stakeholders (meaning any Tom, Dick and Harry who the government decides is a stakeholder). Tingting Cojuangco, I’m pretty sure, who happens to have a house in a military camp in Cotabato and whose aspiration is to become the vice-governor of the ARMM would be glad to be appointed to such a body because she is a ‘Mindanao stakeholder’ residing in Forbes Park and a former governor of Tarlac!
That aside, the third priority in the 3-for-one proposal is rewriting Philippine history to accommodate Bangsamoro heroes who fought for freedom. This is the Philippine state’s convoluted and shallow idea of remedial and/or restorative justice for all the things wrong it has done to the Bangsamoro people. Rewriting history to right a wrong is a fine gesture but not enough. It has to be concretized in terms of deeds. And what better justice could the Philippine state and government give to our people than to recognize their right to self-determination even if this would mean political independence?
But the MILF is not even demanding for political independence. It is only asking for a substate status for the Bangsamoro people within the larger framework of Philippine statehood. Yet, even to this the Philippine government cannot accede because it is “unconstitutional”. So where is justice here? What purpose would rewriting history serve? Nothing.
But, of course, more funds will be coming in from international donors who are willing to underwrite the expenses for the symposia, seminars and conferences held here and there for rewriting Philippine history and integrating into it the Moro narrative. The result of all this, however, would be akin to how they now present our Moro indigenous cultures, folklores, and arts as ‘Filipino’. Just as the Moro Maranaw indigenous dance ‘singkil’ is now claimed to be ‘Filipino’ and is performed in the Folk Arts Theater, Sultan Qudarat would now be wearing the label ‘Filipino hero’ and painted portraits of him will be hanging in government buildings. In fact, of all the ironies that one could conceive of, a statue of him now stands erect in Makati, which is the bastion of the creole and mestizo elites of Philippine society, the Philippine state’s equivalent of New York City, and where their plush subdivisions and exclusive villages named after Spanish conquistadores (Magallanes, Legazpi, Salcedo, Urdaneta, etc.) and an American (Forbes) are located.
The Filipino ruling elites are, indeed, strange creatures. They are full of contradictions. They immortalize and, thus, honor foreign colonizers – supposedly their former oppressors - by naming their exclusive enclaves after them. Yet, they want us, Moros, to glorify their Filipino heroes who were never honored and immortalized by them in the same manner as the foreign colonizers are, and whom our Moro forefathers and their generations had never even heard of when they were resisting the Spanish and American invaders.
Ruminating further, these are the same Filipino ruling elites whose ‘illustrious’ intelligentsia, in August 1991, sat attentively and nodded their heads approvingly while Alfonso Felix, Jr., spoke before the Philippine Historical Conservation Society of which he was then president, and spewed all the venoms against the Moros that his mouth could produce. This bigot Felix likened the Moros to “reptiles” and a “snake” and recommended to the Philippine state that “…extermination is the best way to handle them.”
One could only conclude that the Filipino ruling elites have never ‘outgrown’ Spanish and American colonialisms. Inside their hearts, they’re still Spaniards and Americans though they can project, if their collective vested interests so dictate, the most patriotic visage of Filipinism that corporate money can buy especially when it comes to the Moros.
In any case, rewriting history to bring our Moro heroes at par or on an equal level with Filipino heroes is, to me, an apologetic approach, a ‘consuelo de bobo’ at best, to the age-old demonization (the moro-moro and zarzuelas and anti-Moro vitriol of modern Philippine media) that the Philippine state and the Filipinos had been heaping on the Bangsamoro people and their ancestors. There is no need to invoke history to tell the Filipinos and the whole world that our Malay Moro forefathers were not ‘pirates’ but freedom-fighters who took on the might of the mightiest colonial powers of their time. There is no need to boast that the Moro people collectively fought Spain as a de facto nation for more than 300 years while the Filipinos did so as a nation (and this is even questionable) for only three years – 1896-1998. There is no need to re-visit history to know that what our Moro heroes, our forefathers, fought and died for was not the same as the “cause” that Filipino heroes fought and died for.
Let me expand this little bit to make more things clear.
The foremost Filipino national hero, Jose Rizal, was shot by the Spaniards at Bagumbayan (Luneta) in December 1896 for a cause which he, Rizal, did not even believe and participate in and in fact denounced and renounced, which is the Katipunan-instigated ‘Philippine Revolution’.
The Katipunan was founded by Andres Bonifacio, a Spanish mestizo whose mother was the illegitimate daughter of a Spanish friar. The Bonifacio-led Katipunan never won a battle against the Spaniards since it made that momentous ‘Cry in Balintawak’ or ‘Pugad Lawin’ (nothing more than merely sound bytes really) or whichever in August 1896. And its political objective was nebulous: it did not call for the restoration of freedom and independence for the whole of the Philippine colony but only for the ‘Katagalogan’ – the Tagalog region. Any serious college student of history now knows this. There is so much confusion in Philippine history that its leading personas are also clouded in confusion. Creoles like Antonio Luna, Torres Bugallon, etc, who vehemently opposed the so-called Philippine Revolution against Spain but who later on joined it only when the ‘revolution’ turned against the United States of America after the Treaty of Paris in 1898 became Filipino heroes. To honor them, streets in Manila have been named after them.
Rizal can never equal Sultan Mohammed Dipatuan Qudarat. Sultan Qudarat knew what he was fighting for; Rizal did not. Sultan Qudarat was a Muslim: indigenous Malay in looks, attire, speech and thinking; Rizal was a mestizo Chinese, a Mason but Catholic-bred, European in manner and attire (he preferred to die before the firing squad wearing a European bowler hat and European winter clothes), Spanish in speech, and European in thinking. It is a mockery of the highest order to extol him as the “Pride of the Malay Race”. Qudarat was an avowed enemy of Spanish colonialism and fought it to the last breath of his life; Rizal exposed the abusive and corrupt Spanish friars in the Philippines because his family was a victim but he remained ever loyal to Spain and Spanish colonialism. Rizal wanted the Philippine colony to be a regular province of the Spanish Crown, not liberate it from Spanish colonial rule. In fact, when he was arrested prior to his execution in Manila, he was aboard a ship in Hongkong on his way to Cuba to join the Spanish colonial army fighting the Cuban revolutionaries.
How can they be equal to our Moro heroes who fought both Spain and America? No similarity there, I dare say! Sultan Qudarat and all Moro patriots did not die and fight for Filipinism; on the contrary, they fought and died for Islam and Moro freedom against colonialism and imperialism and what these two forces spawned today: Filipinism and the Philippine state.
We were free when the creoles, mestizos and indios - now called Filipinos – were yet fighting for their freedom in 1896. This was the logic behind why the Sultan of Sulu rejected the invitation of Emilio Aguinaldo for a joint partnership in the struggle against Spain. Yet, when the opportunity arose, the same creoles, mestizos and indios, through the military might of their American imperialist masters to whom they surrendered eventually, took away our freedom and independence and reduced us to colonial vassalage.
Summing it up, there is no need to create another myth like much of the stuff that Filipino history is made of because the Moro historical narrative can stand on its own historical truths. The Bangsamoro historical narrative is totally at variance with Filipino history. There is no meeting point, no convergence, because there is no commonality in cause let alone in ideology. Let us not delude ourselves. Philippine and Moro historical narratives are a history of collision – the collision between the Filipino, as a successor-in-interest to foreign colonialism, and the Moro who still fights for his rights and freedom.
If there is to be a rewriting of history, it shall be done by the Bangsamoro people themselves. And it shall be done when the totality of relationship between the Philippine state and the Bangsamoro people has been transformed along the lines of a state-substate relationship or, for that matter, when they become equal sovereign and independent states. This is restorative justice in its true meaning.
All in all, the Philippine counter-proposal is a far cry from that of the proposal of the MILF; they are so far apart, in fact, that they have been repeatedly described, even by our MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, as like “heaven and earth”.
So is there any point of convergence between the MILF and GPH present positions? None on all of the substantial issues. On top of that, none on the matter of principle. The GPH under the Aquino regime has presented a new paradigm altogether that departs from the paradigm that both the MILF and the GPH had earlier fashioned with their consensus on the negotiating table. It never even mentions the Bangsamoro substate, whether in name or essence, in its counter-proposal.
This explains why the MILF Peace Negotiating Panel rejected outright this counter-proposal that led to the current deadlock.
Regardless, the MILF, in the spirit of the historic Murad-Aquino meeting in Tokyo on August 4, 2011, in which the parties agreed to fast tract the peace negotiations before President Aquino becomes a “lame duck president” in 2013 (his words, not ours), has submitted a proposal on how to resume and proceed with the talks despite the wide disparity in the proposals. This procedural proposal, as the term implies, is merely confined to the modality in approaching the comprehensive political compact. As such, it is not to be misconstrued as a new proposal that means the MILF is abandoning its substate proposition: the shared sovereignty paradigm. And this procedural proposal had been submitted through the good offices of the Malaysian facilitator in September for conveyance to the government panel and its principal.
Still, the GPH has not responded despite the passage of adequate time that allowed it to study the proposal. Not only that, Aquino remains averse to constitutional amendment. Even granting that the MILF and GPH would be able to ink a comprehensive political compact, without constitutional amendment to accommodate this agreement the peace negotiations, let alone the political compact, will all be an exercise in futility.
Meantime, people like Ameril Ombra Kato, driven by extreme impatience and frustration, not to mention agitation by agents provocateurs, are creating ‘problems’ on the ground. And this has been used as a ludicrous pretext by the GPH to allege that the MILF is disunited and therefore its position to speak for the Moro liberation movement and the Bangsamoro people is questionable. This, again, is premised on a wrong assumption. Kato and his followers do not even count for 2% of the entire fighting force of the MILF on the ground. And if we use the same argument on the GPH, how would it explain the dysfunction of the Aquino regime caused by the political conflict between and among the three branches of government? Should we stop talking peace to the Aquino regime just because it is in a ‘state of war’ with the Supreme Court and the entire Philippine judiciary? Were the MILF and the Bangsamoro people not the victims of this government dysfunction and disunity in 2008 when the MOA-AD was abandoned unceremoniously by the Arroyo regime because of the Supreme Court’s ‘TRO’? So far, we do not know of a similar ‘TRO’ being issued by Kato to derail the negotiations or whatever agreement that comes out of the peace talks!
As if done deliberately, the GPH, by its intransigence, flimsy excuses and foot-dragging, is stretching the limit of Moro patience to a breaking point.
The question is why given the oft-repeated official mantra that a peace deal between the MILF and the GPH will be concluded in the term of President Aquino.
A good guess is that the GPH has already made the paradigm shift back to counter-insurgency. A lot of reasons would account for this shift. But one reason that conspicuously juts out of the woodwork of the Philippine agenda is the discovery of the presence of oil and natural gas in the Bangsamoro territories. That’s why from politics, the obvious shift is now toward economics. It is economic considerations that henceforth dictate Philippine policies with regard to the peace negotiations. It is economics in the form of wholesale bribery that occupy the priority of the Philippine counter-proposal to the MILF’s substate proposal. Simply put, the ruling elites running a bankrupt Philippine state do not want the Bangsamoro people to have control over their newly-discovered natural resources. For this purpose, they have to remain a colony of the Philippine state but a colony that would have the trimmings of an ‘autonomous region’ that is the ARMM, albeit under a new nomenclature and a new organic act authored and crafted by the Filipino ruling elites and their surrogates in government.
This would also then explain the surge of Philippine combat troops in the Moro areas, their widespread deployment even in the most isolated areas of our countryside, and the sporadic military operations against MILF units, the remaining MNLF and other armed groups - particularly the ‘over-killed’ scapegoat Abu Sayyaf anarchists. By using one pretext or the other, the Philippine military is provoking war by a ‘show of force’ and encroaching on and occupying Moro territories despite the standing ceasefire agreement. There is sufficient reason to believe that an offensive war patterned after the Sri Lankan formula is a likelihood rather than a far-fetched conjecture of a conspiracy theory. Such a war provides the ‘hard power’ flipside to the ‘soft power’ side, which is economic development, of the same counter-insurgency coin.
It is axiomatic in human behavior or even in physics that for every action, a corresponding reaction ensues. Action begets reaction. Ignoring this natural law of dialectics, the Philippine state does not realize that a paradigm shift is not exclusive to it alone. The Moro liberation movement can also shift paradigm. If the Philippine state therefore has reverted back to counter-insurgency, what would prevent the Moro liberation movement from reverting, too, to its original aspiration for full political independence? This would bring us back to square one as it were before peace negotiations began in 1997. Probably the only difference is the presence and involvement of the international community in the Mindanao peace process.
We are far from being alarmists but in reading the situation we ‘see’ and ‘hear’ the sounding of the alarm bells. If we are to take at face value the recent briefing of the Philippine National Security Council wherein the MILF has been named as a ‘national security threat’ together with the NPA and the Abu Sayyaf, there is ground, indeed, for the alarm bells to be sounding. The renewal of armed conflict on a larger scale is not only a possibility but a looming reality as current trends in the peace negotiations continue.
Speaking in a tone of certainty, it will not be the MILF that will rekindle the armed conflict. The MILF is averse to violating signed agreements not only because it is a matter of Islamic principle, but also because it knows that the international community has its eyes set on the Mindanao situation. But some warmongering and hawkish quarters within the GPH and its military establishment with political and economic agendas of their own do not look at it that way and will only be too glad to spark a war even without the nod of Aquino. It happened before. It can happen again.
This is the déjà vu that of late we have been experiencing as the present deadlock in the peace talks drags on. It remains to be seen, though, whether this is just a passing phenomenon, like a brewing typhoon, or whether this is now for real. If it is for real, then a longer and more difficult struggle is ahead of us. In that case, preparation for the worst case scenario is not out of order.
Victory is not achievable without struggle and conflict. Again, this is the law of dialectics. Neither is freedom and peace served on a golden platter. The captive always has to fight for his liberation; short of that, he remains a ‘caged bird’ no matter if his cage is forged from gold. For, a just peace that emerges out of hard struggle is far, far more satisfying and authentic because it is liberating than peace imposed by the ruling colonialist power even if this is accompanied by ‘economic development’. There can and will never be a substitute for freedom. This is a truism whose relevance has defied time, race, nationality and geography.
The 14th Century Scottish patriot and hero, William Wallace, once cried “Freedom”. In a different time, in a different land, in a different language, the same cry is heard: Merdeka!