There is no need to go into the lengthy historical narrative that underpins the conflict in Mindanao and Sulu as this has been the subject of the discourse that has been there with us since time immemorial.
What is imperative, however, is that in the collective quest to find a peaceful political resolution to this conflict, it behooves on us to understand its character, which, for quite some time has been erroneously called the ‘Moro Problem’ but which should properly be addressed as the ‘Bangsamoro Question’.
Positing it in this perspective rectifies the established notion and convention that it was the Moros who created this conflict and are not the wholesale victims of the colonialist and imperialist wars began by the Spaniards, the Americans and now the Filipinos. With this as a starting point, it would be easier to view this conflict objectively and clearly and, as such, proceed towards addressing its root cause, thus, allowing the formulation of a more permanent solution that is precisely attuned to righting the historical and current injustices committed on the Bangsamoro people.
In this context, the logical question that has to be asked is: what is the Bangsamoro Question?
In the language of international conflict resolution, the Bangsamoro Question is categorized as a sovereignty-based conflict. To be more precise, it is a conflict between two colliding principles, or ideologies if you may: the ideology of ‘Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity’ on one hand, and the right of the Bangsamoro people to self-determination on the other.
The collision arose when the Philippine state, as the veritable successor-in-interest to Spanish colonialism and early 20th century American imperialism, imposed and applied its ideology of ‘Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity’ on the Bangsamoro people, thereby ignoring historical and moral factors that should - using the yardstick of what is right and wrong – not have spawned this conflict that is without question debilitating to both the Filipino people and the Bangsamoro people.
It is, on the other hand, the dictates of defense – defense of their freedoms, their homeland, their identity, their culture and Islamic faith – that this imposition by the Philippine State was, and is, now being met and confronted by armed resistance of the Bangsamoro people underpinned by their reassertion of the right of colonized and captive peoples and nations to self-determination and freedom recognized by international law and the universal principles of human rights.
Since the right of a modern nation-state, such as the Philippine state, to preserve and defend its national sovereignty and territorial integrity is also recognized by international law, it would seem that the sovereignty-based conflict that confronts us is complicated.
This perceived complication as seen from and by the Philippine side, however, is not grounded on firm historical antecedents simply because of the gross injustice surrounding the annexation of the Bangsamoro people and their homeland into the Philippine State without their plebiscitary consent initially in the 1935 Philippine Commonwealth and finally in the grant of Philippine independence by the US government in 1946. Looking farther back, neither would the Treaty of Paris of 1898 justify the inclusion of the Bangsamoro homeland into the Philippine islands hitherto possessed by Spain and sold to the Americans simply because Spain never exercised colonial suzerainty over the Bangsamoro people.
Simply put, the facts of history put a big question mark on the applicability of the Philippine State’s right to exercise that principle of ‘Philippine national sovereignty and territorial integrity’ with respect to the Bangsamoro people and their posterity.
At this juncture, Moro right to self-determination should be seen not only as a political issue but a big moral issue that underscores the question of justice. It is a question that involves the existing colonial relationship between the Philippine State and the Bangsamoro people – an unjust relationship that has given birth to the conflict that hounds us to this very day.
Today, the MILF and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) are engaged in peace negotiation. To the MILF, the negotiation has as its guiding compass the restructuring and redefining of the totality of colonial relationship between the Philippine State and the Bangsamoro people. Addressing the root cause of the Bangsamoro Question, insofar as the MILF is concerned, must be the primordial objective of the negotiation without which the conflict will never end and will go on for generations.
However, the MILF also believes that midway between the right of the Philippine State to preserve its ‘national sovereignty and territorial integrity’ on one hand and Bangsamoro right to self-determination (which would cover a wide range of political options including political independence) on the other, is a compromise political formula sourced out from paradigms of similar sovereignty-based conflicts around the globe.
This compromise political formula necessitates the creation of a Bangsamoro state or sub-state within the larger framework of Philippine statehood. Such a political arrangement precludes outright separatism but restructures Philippine State-Bangsamoro colonial relationship into one that institutionalizes parity of esteem between the two parties by way of association similar to what has been successfully adopted by other states which were in conflict with their captive peoples and nations.
We are in full agreement with this compromise political formula presented by the MILF to the GPH on the negotiating table. This is the last card, so to speak, that would allow, short of political independence, the Bangsamoro people the space and freedom to reassume their Bangsamoro identity, preserve what is left of their ancestral homeland, exercise that right to genuinely govern it, recover control of their natural resources within their homeland for their development and progress, and finally to live according to their Islamic way of life.
Should this be absent, we have no other option, no other choice, but to continue the Moro liberation struggle but this time for complete independence.