By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
The Bangsamoro
posted 24-Oct-2012  ·  
1,937 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

Islam is the oldest recorded monotheistic religion in the Philippines, having reached our shores well ahead of Christianity between the 12th and 14th century, with the arrival of Muslim traders from the Persian Gulf, Southern India, and their followers from several sultanate governments in the Malay Archipelago. Lapu-Lapu was a Muslim, being one of two datus of Mactan before the Spanish arrived in the archipelago, the other being a certain Zula. When Portuguese explorer and conquistador Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the Philippines in the service of Spain, Zula was one of those who gave tribute to the Spanish king while Lapu-Lapu refused. On the morning of April 27, 1521, Lapu-Lapu led 1,500 Mactan warriors in a battle where Magellan and several of his men were killed. The first mosque was established in the Philippines on Simunul in Mindanao in the 14th century. In the 15th century, Islam had reached the Manila area. At the time the Spanish forces first came to Luzon, Rajah Sulayman was the Muslim Rajah of Maynila. Lakandula was the Lakan (paramount ruler) of the pre-colonial Philippine Kingdom of Tondo in the 1570s.

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When the Spanish colonialist saw the Muslims in the Philippines practicing Islam much in the same way as the Moors of Spain, their archenemies, they called the local Muslims as Moro. “Bangsamoro” evolved from this word. The term Bangsamoro comes from the Malay word bangsa, meaning nation or people, and the Spanish word moro. Three hundred years of Spanish colonization converted most people in Luzon and the Visayas to Christianity. They enthusiastically embraced Christian traditions, beliefs and practices, some even becoming more popish than the pope. But the Spanish and, later, the Americans were never able to assert broad governance over those areas of the southern Philippines that remained Muslim. The Moros have nurtured a sense of separatism for most of our history. Our Muslim brothers in Mindanao preserved their own culture, religion, language, practices, way of life, history and political aspirations. They see Mindanao as their ancestral homeland dating back to Islamic sultanates established before Spanish Christians arrived in the 1500s. In the end, the Moros survived, Islam survived, and the Moro country survived. There are roughly four million Muslims in Mindanao, now a minority. But they have insisted they should be allowed largely to govern the region themselves and control its riches.

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The Bangsamoro problem is largely caused by the fact that the Philippines is a unitary and highly centralized state which, historically, was an arbitrary creation of the succession of colonial powers that invaded this country. The central government in Manila imposes policies that are invariably based on the standard of the majority people's (the Christian’s) interests. A symmetrical relationship is what defines the relationship between the Philippine state and all its local government units from the barangay, municipality, city, province and up to the regional level.  All of these political units have the same laws, systems, rules and procedures and guidelines from Aparri down to Sulu.  It assumes that each unit or region is the same and similar with one another and therefore should be subjected to the same systems and procedures. The Moros, as discussed earlier, valiantly stood their ground and succeeded to preserve their distinct way of life and consolidated their own national political life separately from the colonized natives. The Bangsamoro struggle for right to self-determination is basically the anti-thesis to this assumed symmetrical relationship.  Essentially, what the Bangsamoro says is, "No, we are not the same with the majority Filipinos and therefore we should have a different, dissimilar, asymmetrical relationship with the Philippine state".

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Another source of frictions and conflicts between Filipino Christians and Muslims are economic inequities. Resettlement policies in the 1950’s encouraged Filipino Christians to migrate from over-crowded Luzon provinces to Mindanao. As a result, Christians Filipinos became the majority in Mindanao and gained a solid preponderance of land.  By the 1970’s, a Muslim separatist group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), arose to challenge Manila’s rule in Mindanao. At it’s height as an insurgent force, the MNLF had 60,000 combatants. The rebellion has claimed more than 150,000 lives, most in the 1970s when all-out war raged, and left large parts of Mindanao in deep poverty.

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For over 400 years from colonial period up to the present, the changing times and the changing leaders have failed to solve the Bangsamoro problem.  In January 1987, the MNLF accepted the Philippine government's offer of semi-autonomy of the regions in dispute, subsequently leading to the establishment of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). However, this still did not bring peace. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), another Muslim separatist group, refused to accept the ARMM as a solution to the problem and continued their insurgency operations. A general cessation of hostilities between the government and the MILF was signed in July 1997 but the truce ended in 2000 when then President Joseph Estrada ordered an all-out armed campaign against the Muslim rebels. In response, the MILF declared a jihad against the government, its citizens and supporters. Later, under President Gloria Arroyo, the government entered into a cease-fire agreement with the MILF and resumed peace talks. In 2010 President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III resumed the 6th Peace talks between the MILF and the Philippine government in the formation of a Moro homeland.

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Recently, as a result of renewed negotiations, President Aquino announced that the government has forged a deal with the MILF and will replace the ARMM, which Aquino characterized as a "failed experiment." Instead, a sub-state will be created within the Philippines, known as the “Bangsamoro”. A sub-state is basically a political subdivision of a state which is vested with self-government and law-making powers within a defined autonomous territory.  As the term implies, it is not equivalent to an independent state because it is still under a parent state. Examples of a functional state-sub-state relationship is Hong Kong which is a bustling, progressive self-governing region of China. Aceh in Indonesia is another example. Aceh has a history of political independence and fierce resistance to control by outsiders, including the former Dutch colonists and the Indonesian government. After the transfer of authority from Dutch Government to the Indonesian State in 1949, Aceh was amalgamated with the nearby province of North Sumatra, leading to resentment from many Acehnese due to many ethnic differences between themselves and the mostly Christian Batak people who dominate North Sumatra. This resentment resulted in a rebellion in 1953, under the banner of an Islamic state. The rebellion finally ended when the Indonesian government gave Aceh a "special territory" status, giving it a greater degree of religious autonomy from the central government in Jakarta than most other regions of Indonesia have. For example, the regional government is empowered to construct a legal system independent of the national government. In 2003, a form of sharia, or Islamic law, was formally introduced in Aceh.

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The Aceh formula appears to have influenced the proposed agreement with MILF. The Muslim area will gain more political and economic powers, including imposition of taxes to cut central government subsidies, a bigger share in revenues from natural resources and a more active role in internal security. Political power will be shared and devolved to Bangsamoro except national defense, foreign relations, coinage and currency, and postal system. Bangsamoro will not form its own military force because that power is still lodged in the central government.  With respect to internal security however, Bangsamoro will have jurisdiction over peace and order and regional policing.  It can therefore set-up a regional peacekeeping force or police in order to curb criminalities and maintain peace and order. Bangsamoro's territory will be composed of the present geographical area of the ARMM, the cities of Cotabato and Isabela, as well as  the municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal in the province of Lanao del Norte. Other barangays in the municipalities of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit and Midsayap that voted inclusion in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite will also be part of the Bangsamoro. In the deal, MILF fighters will give up their weapons as soon as a final deal is reached. Let us hope that this finally puts an end to the centuries-old Bangsamoro problem, and that we can finally stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our Muslim brothers.

Atty. Romulo P. Atencia

Email add: romuloatencia@yahoo.com
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