Some readers and friends have written and called to say that my column on the Trojan horse (“BBL is a Trojan Horse”, Times, 18 April 2015) did not cover the entire problem. I failed to discuss Malaysia’s self-serving role in brokering the Mindanao peace negotiations and its often undisguised interference in Philippine affairs. Malaysia could be, in fact, the real creator and beneficiary of the Trojan horse.
If any party or group besides the MILF has benefited greatly from the Mindanao peace process, and stands to benefit some more from the BBL, it is Malaysia.
Malaysia is profiting because President Aquino, on his own recognizance, has frozen the Philippine claim to Sabah, and treated with indifference efforts of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu to recover Sabah from Malaysia and secure fair compensation for their historic claim.
Many lawmakers, as well as journalists, have long felt that unseen forces and powers are deeply involved in the spiral of events in Mindanao and Sulu. Some, especially the Left, have focused on the possible entanglement of the US in developments there.
Yet inexplicably, most have avoided asking disquieting questions about Malaysia’s hand in the outbreak and persistence of the secessionist rebellion in the South.
Obsession with the US role had the effect of shielding from scrutiny Malaysia’s far more strategic involvement.
Malaysia: eminence grise in Mindanao
That oversight is due for correction.
At the House of Representatives, partylist congressman Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz of Abakada has filed a resolution calling for an inquiry by the committees on foreign affairs and national security into a reported exchange of notes between the Philippine and Malaysian governments concerning Sabah and statements by senior Malaysian officials that openly interfere in our internal affairs.
The inquiry, if it happens, will surely delve as well into Malaysia’s suspected role in the Mindanao peace process.
By handing Malaysia the role of peace broker and mediator in the negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF, the Aquino government made it appear that our ASEAN neighbor is solicitous for our national interest. It enabled Malaysia to steer the talks and help shape the resulting agreements in such a way that Malaysia’s interests in Sabah would always be protected.
To state matters bluntly, Malaysia is the eminence grise (power behind the scenes) in the Mindanao peace process. Our Helen of Troy, Ferrer and Deles, had no idea what they were dealing with. Even with the Mamasapano incident, Malaysia continued to hold sway in the direction of events. It heads the International Monitoring Team (IMT) that is expected to render its own report on the incident, which many fear will lay blame on the SAF commandos for the tragedy.
Not surprisingly, it’s the younger generations (generations X and Y), who are most vocal about their misgivings about Malaysia. Why, they ask me, is Malaysia not being told off by our government? Why do we find Malaysia’s hand everywhere in the unfortunate events in Mindanao – to wit:
1. Marwan, the high-value target of Exodus, was Malaysian, and he had been living among our Muslim communities for 10 years, mounting countless bombing attacks and training local terrorists. Was he in the payroll of the Malaysian government? Was his mission to destabilize Mindanao?
2. The secessionist rebellion launched by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the 60s and 70s during the previous century was funded covertly by Malaysia. The first MNLF fighters and leaders were trained in that country by British and Malaysian security forces.
3.When the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) broke away from the MNLF and staged its own secessionist rebellion following the 1996 peace agreements, Malaysia again served as its main sponsor and financier.
Malaysia and Indonesia as mediators
The unfriendly acts of Malaysia toward the Philippines and the naivete of the 2011-2015 Philippine peace panel stand in relief when we compare the 1992-96 peace talks and the 2011-2015 peace talks.
In the earlier negotiations, Indonesia served as the mediator as chair of the ministerial committee of the six of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The talks enjoyed the full support of the Islamic body.
The two sides met in Tripoli, Jakarta and in the Philippines. The talks culminated in the signing of the GRP-MNLF final agreement on 2 September 1996 in Malacañang.
President Fidel V. Ramos has recounted in detail the story of the 1992-96 GRP-MNLF peace negotiations in the book, Break Not the Peace (Friends of Steady Eddie, 1996).
He explained how he conducted consultations to come up with a policy and guidelines for the GRP panel in the formal negotiations. Preparations included the drafting of a manual of negotiations.
In the peace talks during the Benigno Aquino 3rd presidency, Malaysia became the chief mediator in the GRP-MILF talks. Most of the talks took place in Malaysia under Malaysian auspices. The OIC was inexplicably removed as sponsor of the peace negotiations.
The elimination of OIC participation became inevitable because President Aquino, the MILF and Malaysia had reached an understanding even before the negotiations started that the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a key product of the 1996 peace accords, would be abolished, and replaced by a new body to be headed by the MILF.
For the new talks, President Aquino did not consult with anyone before embarking on negotiations with the MILF. He did not convene the National Security Council to get some advice or guidance. He rushed to an unprecedented meeting with MILF chair Murad Ibrahim in Tokyo, that made plain his keen interest in concluding a peace agreement.
No effort was undertaken to develop a comprehensive Philippine government position and policy for the negotiations.
The talks were to be conducted like a whirlwind, because the Philippine side was in a hurry. They wanted to reach a final peace agreement in time for nominations to the Nobel Peace Prize before Aquino’s term runs out in 2016. Aquino’s peace adviser and peace negotiators had sold the president on the idea that he could win the Nobel peace prize if he successfully concluded peace with the MILF.
By taking shortcuts, they reached a comprehensive peace agreement in March 2014.
But there were glaring flaws in the rush-rush handiwork. Under the final agreement, the Aquino government committed to the passage of a Bangsamoro Basic law, that would significantly create a sub-state for the MILF.
Criticisms of the peace agreement and proposed BBL have mounted over the past year. The Nobel fantasy has had to be abandoned.
President Aquino was banking on a complaisant House and Senate to pass the BBL, because it had earlier proved pliant in impeaching a sitting chief justice of the Supreme Court.
A legacy of death and failure
But then on the early morning of January 25, 2015, in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, several units of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police launched Operation Exodus to capture or kill two high-value targets and terrorists.
The strikers came under heavy fire from forces of the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters during the operation.
Before the day was over, 44 SAF commandos lay dead. And most, autopsy showed, were killed while defenseless.
The resulting outcry and the difficulty in reaching closure have created a crisis of survival for President Aquino.
Instead of peace in Mindanao crowning his legacy and a Nobel prize as his reward, Aquino will leave behind a saga of death and failure.