Aquino’s flawed Moro policy unravels


The storming of Zamboanga City by forces of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that started Monday marks the unraveling of President Aquino’s injudicious, even reckless roadmap to end the Islamic insurgency in Mindanao.

Those were heady days for Aquino in 2011, that he thought he could win the Nobel Peace Prize in the following year by dramatically flying secretly to Tokyo to meet with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front(MILF) chairman Jaafar Gazali for the unveiling of his peace plan for the Islamic insurgency in Mindanao.

He promised to turn over to the MILF their own state in Mindanao, and he thought that his popularity was high that he could have the Constitution amended to allow this. He would buy off Congress to pass the necessary law – the Bangsamoro Organic Law—by tripling the level of lawmakers’ pork-barrel from the P7.8 billion of his predecessor to P24.8 billion.

He forgot, or refused to see the implications though of one thing: There was such an organization as the MNLF, which the Organization of Islamic Conference in 1976 as well as the Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos regimes had recognized as the legitimate representative of the Muslim insurgents.

The MNLF: Ignored in Aquino’s peace plan, now a problem.

The MNLF: Ignored in Aquino’s peace plan, now a problem.

The MILF had not existed when the Tripoli agreement was signed. It was formed after a group within the MNLF disagreed vehemently against the pact.

Because the dictator Marcos at that time was legally both the executive and the legislative, the so-called 1976 Tripoli Agreement was considered an international treaty, which the country was bound to honor, unless it was specifically rescinded by subsequent Congresses, which it was not.

But Aquino has totally ignored the MNLF, with the so-called Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed at the Presidential Palace itself in October 2012 having no reference at all to that insurgent group as if it were only the MILF that had waged a war against the Republic, and the sole representative of Muslims in Mindanao.

His mind obsessed with the delusion that a Nobel Peace Prize was within his reach, Aquino ignored the realities of the Muslim insurgency. True, the MNLF had been drastically weakened since its peace pact with the government, a victim of its own success as many MNLF veterans had been integrated into the police and the military along the terms of the 1994 Final Peace Agreement during the Fidel Ramos administration. True, many MNLF veterans were disappointed—or even disgusted—with its chairman Nur Misuari that they set up their own break-away groups.

What Aquino didn’t understand though was the ethnic dimension of the Muslim insurgency. Moros are deeply divided along ethnic groups, which are nearly nations in that they have their own territories.

Although Misuari tried to make MNLF a secular organization, even leaning towards a socialist orientation because of the influence of Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma. Sison over his thinking, his organization has been basically an organization of Taosugs, who are based in Sulu. This was not unexpected as Misuari is a Tausug himself, with his father part of the Tausug royalty. Misuari had relied initially (and even today) on his kinsmen and their network for the MNLF’s backbone.

However, a big push to the MNLF’s growth was the addition to its ranks of an entirely different group of young Moro leaders led by Hashim Salamat, who unlike Misuari was an Islamic cleric who studied in Muslim universities in Saudi Arabia, the breeding ground for Islamic jihadists in the world. In contrast to Misuari’s views, Salamat saw the Moros’ struggle in religious, Islamic terms, thus its name as an Islamic rather than National Front.

Salamat though is from another Muslim ethnic group, the Maguindanaoans who mostly populate the central Mindanao provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat. The Maguindanaoans—that Salamat recruited into the MNLF of which he was vice chairman until he broke off in 1977—dominated the so-called Batch 90 of MNLF commanders, who were first trained in Malaysia by former British special forces and who would form its officers corp.

The MILF therefore has been mainly an organization of Maguindanaons, with a contingent of Maranaos from the Lanao provinces, but who have been historically known as merchants rather than guerillas. The MNLF on the other hand has been an organization of Tausugs, mostly from Sulu and, to a limited extent, the Zamboanga peninsula. To Muslims, Tausugs are known to be warriors, while Maguindanaoans are farmers, adding to the MNLF’s sentiment that it is the leader of the Muslim rebellion.

It is the MNLF’s ethnic base that provides it with a pool of fighters that Misuari, or even his successors, can call upon to wage war. After all, Sulu has been one of the poorest provinces in the country, making it a breeding ground for insurgents.

The terrorist Abu Sayyaf was mostly organized by sons of veteran MNLF commanders who felt that Misuari had capitulated with his peace agreement with Ramos in 1994. Rather than join the MILF—seen as an organization of Maguindanaons—these MNLF sons instead set up their own armed group, which Al-Qaeda jihadists from Indonesia had brainwashed to their cause.

The MNLF may have neglected the expansion and strengthening of its military organization ever since the 1994 final peace agreement. However, it could easily call on the Tausugs—most of whom after all are still mired in poverty—and arm them to undertake such trouble as the Zamboanga siege, so the government would be forced to include them in its talks with the MILF.

It is easily rousing Tausug’s wrath against the government with its valid argument that the Tausug people (the MNLF) shed their blood to fight for the Moro nation, yet the Aquino government is turning over Muslim Mindanao to the Maguindanaoans (the MILF).

The tragedy here is that even the administration’s peace plan with the MILF is itself unraveling as Aquino becomes more and more of a lame-duck president each month. Aquino had declared that he wouldn’t push for amending the Constitution. However, a Constitutional provision is clearly necessary to set up “the new autonomous political entity” that the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro calls for.

Part VII of the agreement also specifies that a major role of the Transition Committee, which has to implement the Agreement, is “to work on proposals to amend the Philippine Constitution for the purpose of accommodating and entrenching in the Constitution the agreements of the Parties.”

Worse, the pork barrel controversy, which has shattered this administration’s image as a graft-buster, will make the Agreement with the MILF impossible to implement. This is because it also requires a law to rescind the 1989 Organic Act (amended in 2001) that had set up the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, so it could be replaced by the Bangsamoro (which means “Moro State) Aquino promised the MILF.

But with the pork barrel system removed, which Aquino is forced to do so or face the nation’s wrath, he will be unable to bribe the legislature to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which the dominantly anti-Moro Congress actually hate.

For its part, when the MILF realizes that Aquino was merely promising them the moon, it would undertake its own, more deadly version of the MNLF’s Zamboanga siege. and


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  1. During Cory Aquino’s presidency, you’d wake up in the morning greeted by the news of a coup d’etat. In PNoy’s current presidency, you’d wake up in the morning greeted by the news of a Moro rebellion.

  2. I am a foreigner, but seeing that your pork barrell is about to be cut or abolished, I hope your leaders will consider using the saving to fund a world class anti-terrorist unit, similar to America’s Delta Force, or SEAL Team Six. It is quite expensive, but it seems to me you need a native force to kill these terrorists, and keep killing them until they stop, and with the ability to rescue the hostages. One unit of 40 or 50 guys is enough, along with the pilots and support staff. Give the Mohammedans a nation, and they have a secure base and sanctuary, and things will be blowing up all over the Phillipines. The solution is to maintain sovereignty, and to kill the terrorists.

    • True. An elite special forces unit could come in handy for a nation such as ours beset with secessionist elements and muslim bandits of all shapes and colors lording the forests and hills in Mindanao.

      I was born down south so I am “native” to the events that continue to unfold to this day since I was born.

      Sadly, this archipelagic nation of nearly 100 million people have no idea what sovereignty and nation-building is all about. I blame all our leaders who by sheer reason of accidental circumstances, sophisticated cheating machinery, or call it sheer voter stupidity have gone elected and seated to public office without the required leadership skills and vision that are necessary to whom power, authority, and trust is bestowed by the people. Worse, our presidents have one thing in common. They are all thieves. They only differ in the scope and value of money or resources looted from the six year terms they occupied the seat of power.

      Political problems have themselves become money-making enterprises by some military and public officials. Even the kidnapping incidents in the past of the notorious ASG have demonstrated how such banditry have become a rich source of funds to conniving elements in the local political scene.

      Our leaders will only implement Band-Aid solutions. There is money to be made and the troubles in the south normally come in handy to divert a looming political storm or upheaval that to this day continue to visit the seat of authority in central Manila.

    • Tim, I agree with you but our nation is full of softies, believing in giving more and more concessions to the “southerners”; the result is one day our grandchildren find themselves at the losing end.

  3. Everyone in the congress and in the senate and of course the president, they only care about their image and their bank accounts. All they do is TAKE and NOT serve. It’s always been a personal gain and interest and never been a public service. They, alongside with the leaders of each provinces uses the the civilians and soldiers and even rebels just to get what they always wanted – power, authority, fame and wealth! They never work for the people of the Philippines or even for the country itself! They remain slaves of their wicked, filthy desires! That’s why Philippines, even with its rich natural resources and mostly hardworking citizens, will remain as one of the “developing countries” or in other word, poor!

  4. Mr. Tiglao,
    you seem to know more about the history and the current situation regarding the MNLF and MILF than P-Noy’s advisers. Now that you have criticized how this administration as well as past administrations have tried, and apparently failed (as you have pointed out) to address and defuse this decades-old debacle, maybe you can put your efforts in offering your alternatives, or solutions. We would like to hear your suggestions on what the government can and should do. We all know that administrations change, and with it, attitudes and mentalities change along with it. But in the case of the MILF and MNLF, the braintrusts behind those movements do not. What do you think the MNLF or MILF will do if in a free and honest referendum the people of Mindanao overwhelmingly reject secession and vote to stay within the republic? Will they lay down their arms?

    What if the people were to vote for secsssion? Will the MILF and MNLF fight it out among themselves and engage in a Mindanao-wide civil war for control of the state?

    What do you think will happen to the people? Do the MILF or MILF care for these people? We see that in Zamboanga, the rebels have used them as human shields, The people seem to be out of the equation as far as they are concerned. What was it they call them? COLLATERAL DAMAGE.

    Anyway, we would like to read about your suggestions on how this can be resolved.


  5. Well! blame the Aquinos mother and son, they started all these with their ignorance and treachery. Pinoy is no different than Misuary. He’s got vindictiveness and treachery in his blood.

  6. You can not practically correct a mistake by instituting another blunder. When will they ever learn? Such a shortsighted action will become dangerously catastrophic to the entire Philippine Republic. Just imagine, Christians here in Mindanao are taking things with a deafening eloquence of silence. Our present leader lack the character of a brilliant statesman. Since his assumption to office, litany of comedy of errors in governance flows like a video streaming. I begin to wonder right now if he is a true to life President of our beloved country. In his incumbency until he finish his term on 2016, I do not subscribed to the idea that there is an affective and peaceful solution to the conflict in Mindanao without soliciting genuine representation from Mindanao home-breed leaders. All is just an duping illusions.

  7. Too many bla, bla here. Without actions, only actions speaks louder than words. Actions first then peace talks later!

  8. how can u atain lasting peace when u deprieve the existing one and give in to to the new useless spent of taxpayers money. wake up advisers you are presume you knows everything without consulting the veterans. wake up panoy how could you get your dream of nobel peace award when there is problem from the start have you not seen the problem from the start?

  9. you forgot the FVR show, the SPCPD! some lackey of his also want to nominate him for the Nobel Peace prize! the way things are going it wouldn’t be far when another group crops up like the “Moro-Moro FF”! or whatever they will call themselves!

  10. Maybe, just maybe, Misuari was thinking, that almost everybody in government is taking part of the “pie” (Pork), why not he? For sure, PNoy fed the MILF very well while putting him, the MNLF and Kiram by the side, something had to be done. This is another problem which this incompetent President have to face. Will not be surprised that after his term, PNoy will have no more hair and possibly will commit suicide before his term ends. Let us all remember this man is a psycho case.

  11. Jose A. Oliveros on

    PeNoy’s mother, the late Pres. Cory Aquino also thought she could get the Nobel Peace Prize by having Nur Misuari fetched from Jeddah by her brother-in-law, Butz Aquino and by Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. This was in 1986 when the MNLF was already a spent force and Misuari already sulking in Saudi Arabia. The elder Aquino also broke protocol by meeting with Misuari – the only time in Philippine history then – when the President of the Philippines met with a secessionist leader. PeNoy would later imitate his mother by meeting with Hashim Salamat in Tokyo.
    Conclusion – The Cojuangco-Aquino mother and son never understood the dynamics of the Mindanao conflict as lucidly narrated by columnist Rigoberto Tiglao and the sad part is blood of Filipinos – soldiers, rebels and specially innocent civilians continue to be spilled in a fratricidal conflict that should have been ended long ago if not for the eagerness of the late Cory Aquino to project herself as a peace-maker.

  12. But we Mindanaoans have enough of these fighting with no end on sight. We might as well urge Misuari and MNLF to bring the fight to imperialist Manila to let the powers in Malacanang take a taste of what its like dodging bullets and RPGs. Maybe then we could get genuine reforms in Mindanao specially in Jolo and Sulo.

  13. This is armed insurrection. The government has no right in making peace offer or else it will drag the problem forever just like what happen 40 years ago.

  14. A minor observation: The final peace agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was signed in 1996, not in 1994.

  15. MNLF are disgruntled element lead by a lost and manipulator leader. Who had no respect for life and country. Sedition is punishable by death. Imagine terrorizing people knowingly nothing for your crusade. Sick mind.