Liberals cannot hide from history


As the administration pushes its new calculus for peace in Mindanao, counting on the leadership by Liberals of both houses of Congress for the passage of a Bangsamoro Basic law, Liberal Party leaders will increasingly discover that they cannot hide from history.

Sooner or later, they will learn to their discomfort that the rush to drop the Philippine claim to Sabah and create a Bangsamoro entity, is arrant betrayal of their party’s values and historic contribution to national life, and of the Constitution.

Writing on a similar kind of betrayal in the Middle East, the writer Charles Krauthammer in his book, Things That Matter (Crown Forum, 2013), opines: “You can abdicate, but you really can’t hide. History will find you.”

Liberals initiated the claim to Sabah
What’s the history that will find the Liberals in their hiding places, and will not allow them to just let bygones be bygones?

I think it’s the central role that the Liberal Party played in filing the Philippine claim to Sabah, and in laying the case for it before the world.

The key historical facts are:
1. First, it was a Liberal government, under the leadership of President Diosdado Macapagal, that formally filed the claim of the Philippines to ownership and sovereignty over North Borneo (Sabah) in an aide memoire dated June 22, 1962.

2. From the start, the Philippines pressed its claim via diplomacy, under the able leadership of Vice President and Foreign Affairs Secretary Emmanuel Pelaez.

3. Pelaez laid out the historical and legal bases of the Philippine claim, which provide according to him “incontestable proof of the validity of the Philippine claim and supports beyond question the case for a just and speedy settlement.”

4. Objections to the establishment of the Federation of Malaysia were expressed by both Indonesia and the Philippines. Indonesia showed its opposition through a policy of confrontation, leading even to hostilities. The Philippines did the same peacefully. In March 1963, President Macapagal proposed a summit meeting of the three Malay nations. The summit talks were held in Manila in July-August 1963. At these and in subsequent meetings, Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman and President Macapagal agreed to discuss the methods of settling the Philippine claim including reference to the International Court of Justice.

5. Negotiations between the Philippines and Malaysia reached an impasse in 1964 when Malaysia refused to agree to the Philippine proposal to refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice.

The historical facts and dates underscoring this history can be found in a pamphlet published by the Bureau of Printing in 1967, Historical Notes on The Philippine Claim to North Borneo (Sabah).

Airbrushing Sabah out of the picture
Serious peacemaking in Mindanao in recent years has tried to move Sabah out of the picture. This is clearly misguided because it has caused anxiety and restiveness within the camp of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu. It led tragically to the ill-fated Sabah project last year that resulted in the death of hundreds and stranded thousands of Filipinos in North Borneo.

The attitude of the Philippine government to Sabah has varied from one administration to another since 1962.

The first Macapagal administration initiated the formal filing of the claim. President Marcos took it up when he assumed the presidency in 1966, to the extent of even planning to send an infiltration force to Sabah.

The Sabah question was muted with President Corazon Aquino’s accession to the Presidency in 1986. Sen. Ninoy Aquino, disregarding the Liberal Party’s position on Sabah, cultivated close ties and friendships with Malaysian leaders and royalty. He exposed the training by the Marcos government of troops for Sabah, although the supposed Jabidah massacre proved to be fiction. When Ninoy returned to the Philippines in August 1983, his first stop was in Singapore to meet with a close Malaysian friend.

When the 1986 draft constitution was first unveiled, fears were raised, notably by former Senator Arturo Tolentino, that the Aquino government was preparing to drop the claim to Sabah because the proposed new charter omitted the words “all other territories belonging to the Philippines by historic right or legal title” in the definition of the national territory.

President Benigno BS Aquino appears to reflect this attitude of his parents with his pointed snubbing of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu and his cultivation of close ties with Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia.

Immediately after the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), both Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. expressed their commitment to get their respective chambers to pass the Bangsamoro basic law by the end of the year. They made their commitment in spite of the fact that there is still no draft bill for Congress to discuss. It will apparently be drafted by the MILF.

No hiding from historic agreements
Drilon and Belmonte can try to rationalize the party’s turnaround on Sabah as the pragmatic choice of today’s Liberals. But they still confront the fact that there is an existing peace agreement on Muslim Mindanao—the related 1976 Tripoli agreement and the GRP-MNLF final agreement of 1996—which led to the creation of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as called for by the 1987 Constitution.

Many Filipinos don’t understand why President Aquino and his peace negotiators did not simply strive to improve the final agreement to implement the Tripoli agreement, instead of introducing a radically new idea – the creation of the Bangsamoro.

The reason of course is that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), originally part of the MNLF, refused to recognize ARMM and put a gun to the heart of the peace process.

In 2000, President Joseph Estrada ordered an all-out war against the MILF and laid siege and took over its various military camps.

Estrada did not last long enough to see the MILF completely beaten. He was deposed by coup early in 2001.

When President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took over, she restarted peace talks with the MILF. Her peace efforts led to the drafting of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral domain which was slated to be signed on August 5, 2008 in Malaysia. The MOA-AD represented a radically new approach by giving recognition to Bangsamoro historic claims to an ancestral domain in Mindanao, and by providing for the creation of the Bangsamoro juridical entity.

The signing of the MOA-AD was stopped by the Supreme Court , with a temporary restraining order.

In the same hole as GMA
The peace initiative of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, has continued along the same lines carved by the MOA-AD, perhaps because it has tapped the same negotiators.

When the early drafts of the Comprehensive agreement for the Bangsamoro (CAB) were unveiled, there was immediate criticism and skepticism that the proposed pact would pass muster in the Supreme Court.

Now that the CAB has been signed, Aquino is being forced into the same problematic hole as his predecessor. The questions and doubts about the Bangsamoro project will not go away. These are:

First, the MILF is trying to create their own state through double talk about a “sub-state”, “juridical entity”, and “asymmetrical design.”

Second, the MILF wants a peace pact that will allow them to keep their arms.

Third, the MILF wants to include more territory under the Bangsamoro, such as cities that never voted to be part of ARMM.

Fourth, the MILF wants Bangsamoro to have its own police force.

These are all deal breakers, and it’s a wonder why our negotiators ever agreed to them. The coming debates in Congress and the Supreme Court do not look good for Bangsamoro.

Like his predecessor, President Aquino may have to content himself with an unfinished project.

In a fine essay included in The Moro Reader (Cenpeg, 2008), “The Struggle of the Muslim Peoples in the Southern Philippines: Independence or Autonomy,” Professor Temario Rivera suggests that the way forward in Mindanao “is not to abandon the concept and practice of regional and specialized autonomy but to expand and deepen it—whether in the framework of a shift to a formal federal system or a radical amendment of the existing organic act that created ARMM.”

Whatever approach is tried, there is no blinking the fact that no peace pact will work unless it is fully reconciled with the Constitution, and no agreement will be acceptable to the nation unless all 13 known Muslim groups are party to the covenant for peace.

The nation is weary of negotiating peace with every group that takes up arms against the state. At this point, there may be more popular interest in President Estrada’s solution of waging war until rebels surrender.

If I read the temper of our people correctly, the nation is prepared to grant autonomy to our Muslim brothers and sisters to the fullest extent possible – but never to the extent of establishing another state within our one and only archipelago, or of violating the solemn provisions of the 1987 Constitution.


Please follow our commenting guidelines.


  1. President Estrada’s solution was perhaps very much in the right.

    The government cannot be held hostage by continues cycle of violence, negotiations, agreements. Peace with MNLF, a splinter group forms MILF. Peace with MILF, a splinter group forms BIFF. What’s next???

  2. Granting the CAB will pass all legal scrutinies, what will stop Malaysia from annexing the Bangsamoro, and later on the whole of Mindanao ala Russia with presently Crimea? Just a thought.

  3. Eddie de Leon on

    You should say Liberal Party members instead of just Liberals, Sir Makabenta.
    For a while I thought you meant by Liberals the loosely moral people who oppose normal human values.