Last of four parts
Will the Bangsamoro agreements help solve the root causes of rebellion in Muslim Mindanao?
The answer would give a fair indication whether the accords would succeed in its ultimate goal: lasting peace in Mindanao. For if the drivers of discord and separatism continue to fester in the envisioned Bangsamoro despite its enhanced autonomy, then the political, economic and social problems fueling separatism could regain their centrifugal force.
There is, of course, no way to assess in one chapter of this special report on the peace accords how the Framework Agreement and Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB and CAB), along with their six Annexes and one Addendum can affect every major grievance and problem fissuring Mindanao.
Still, analyzing the main drivers of insurrection would give a substantive idea of how positively the peace pact could impact Muslim Mindanao. That is the focus of a key chapter in the Bangsamoro special report to be published this week by the Center for Strategy, Enterprise & Intelligence, excerpted in this four-part article. (For complimentary copies of the CenSEI report, email email@example.com.)
Three of those paramount drivers of rebellion are the historic resistance of Mindanao Muslims against external rule, the endemic and entrenched poverty and underdevelopment in their region, and the religious, feudal and tribal frictions and confrontations pitting Mindanaoans against one another. Let’s look at them one by one.
The quest for freedom
The struggle to establish a homeland for Mindanao’s indigenous people, called Bangsamoro in the peace agreements and annexes, springs from centuries of Muslim resistance against foreign subjugation, first by the Spanish colonizers from the 16th to the 19th centuries, then the Americans in the 20th.
All that time, recounted Philippine Army Lt. Col. Alan Luga in his 2002 master’s thesis at the US Army Command and General Staff College, “Mindanao and the rest of the Philippines were, in effect, separate countries. … The strong feeling among the Muslims that they constitute a distinct and separate nation from the Philippine nationhood and that the Philippine government is a colonial government engendered a strong desire for freedom and independence resulting in the organization of the resistance movement in the 1960s.”
Writing in the Small Wars Journal last September, political risk analyst Priscilla Tacujan cites “a strong consensus among scholars of Philippine Muslim politics that the only practical and just solution to the ethnic problem in Mindanao is to grant the Muslim insurgents exclusive right to their lands based on the principles of self-determination and cultural separatism.”
That seems to be the goal of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in its peace negotiations, even asking for a sub-state. The Bangsamoro Agreements get close, providing for a parliamentary government different from the rest of the country, enlarged territory and shares of resources and revenues, an enhanced system of Islamic Shariah justice, and the creation of a regional police not explicitly placed under presidential control as provided in the Constitution (see Part 3 this past Wednesday).
The MILF had previously demanded even more powers, including the making of treaties with foreign states stipulated in the Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain Aspect of the Tripoli Peace Agreement of 2001 (MOA-AD) forged with the Arroyo administration. These were set aside at least for now after the Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional in its 2008 ruling striking down the MOA-AD.
There could be efforts to further expand Bangsamoro powers or, as Part 3 warned, move toward independence as the entity becomes more and more like a separate state. Hence, it is a must not only to follow and enforce the Constitution’s limits on autonomy, but also to show Muslim Filipinos that there are big gains in being part of the Republic.
The imperative for development
That’s where the other two age-old obstacles to peace in Muslim Mindanao come in. Reducing poverty and internal conflicts would uplift the masses of Muslim Filipinos and hopefully give them reason to stay with the Philippines. Will the Bangsamoro Agreements help significantly to bring about these long-sought gains?
After nearly one and a half decades, the current autonomy initiative, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), remains the poorest area in the country. And as the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre of 56 people has shown, as well as continued bombings, attacks and abductions, longstanding feudal, political, religious and ethnic conflicts remain serious threats to peace, harmony and security in the south.
The Bangsamoro Agreements would channel more funds to the region. Besides increasing its share of mineral revenues, the pact also empowers the envisioned entity to impose its own taxes. But public funds isn’t really the problem. The ARMM too had ample revenues as well as a huge chunk of the national budget. But as countless reports have attested, massive corruption diverted mammoth amounts away from development needs.
As late as 2010, a Commission on Audit special report noted that the ARMM budget had P850 million set aside for infrastructure, but not one construction project was completed that year. COA also reported that 90% of the region’s funds was allocated to salaries, but “until now, that money has not been accounted for.”
There is no provision in the Bangsamoro Agreements specifically targeting corruption. Further, it is debatable whether the shift to ministerial government would address it. It may make it easier to replace undesirable leaders and administrations. But as seen in the pork barrel scams, lawmakers themselves could be sources of corruption, and they could very well abuse their enhanced clout in a ministerial system.
Moreover, the much greater power and resources enjoyed by Bangsamoro ministers and lawmakers may just further intensify existing rivalries among political and social factions in the region, with even more clout and cash to fight over. And if the military gives up its law enforcement functions as required under the FAB, there would be less firepower to restrain Mindanao’s private armed groups (PAGs).
The Annex on Normalization provides for a national government drive to dismantle PAGs in tandem with decommissioning MILF forces. Just like progress and peace in Muslim Mindanao, however, that disarmament goal in a land still rife with internal divisions and discord, will demand far more than the Bangsamoro Agreements.
(The first three parts on the constitutionality of establishing Bangsamoro; on power sharing, geographic area, and taxation and resources; and on security were published on April 4, 7 and 9. For the full Bangsamoro report, email firstname.lastname@example.org.)