First of three parts
THE Bangsamoro bill is based on the premise that it will produce the panacea for peace in the troubled island of Mindanao. It is possible however that this proposed cure can be worse than the disease.
The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is anchored on the proposition that Central Mindanao, belongs entirety to the Muslims who first inhabited the place and who can now claim to be the first nation – a claim made compellingly about themselves by American Indians and Australian Aborigines. But truth to tell, the first settlers in Mindanao where not Muslims – these were the seafaring Indonesian and Malaysian tribes as well as the Bagobos, Manobos, Mandayas, Bukidnons, Tirurays and Sabanuns – many of these occupying the highlands and who today occupy as well as claim vast tracks of lands in Mindanao – the so-called ancestral lands. Having spent a week with the Bukidnons and Manobos recently, I discovered that these ethnic minorities have their own culture and traditions, some of whose land holdings are occupied by Moro secessionist and transformed into armed camps.
Historically, it was only toward the end of the 14th century that the Muslims arrived in Mindanao spearheaded by the Saudi by the name of Mukdum who built the first mosque in Sulu. He was followed half a century later Abu Bakr who went to Jolo to found the Sultanate of Sulu. Another Arab trader, Kabungsuwan, landed in Cotabato and “conquered” that valley and by marrying a local princess founded the Sultanate of Maguindanao. In truth and in fact,, therefore, the first Muslims were foreign missionaries and conquerors.
A somewhat legitimate claim made by some Muslim communities is dispossession. After the Second World War, to stop the agrarian militancy in the country, President Magsaysay resettled elements of the Hukbalahaps in Mindanao. Today these migrants are a thriving community and even control the economic and political sectors mostly because of their frontier spirit. Like the successful Chinoy’s in our society who control the distributive trade of the country and became the object of discrimination – the successful Christian farmers in Mindanao now accused of land grabbing became the object of envy among local Muslim communities. Their envy lead to war.
A multi-cultural society
Be that as it may, the fact remains that Mindanao is no longer a frontier area inhabited only by Muslims in Mindanao. Today it is a multicultural society. In the areas claimed by the Bangsamoro proponents a multi-ethnic community of Muslims, Lumads and Christians live side-by-side. Given the above demographic situation, the Central Mindanao Muslim demand that the territory must be governed by Bangsamoro must be challenged.
Another argument Bangsmoro Basic Law (BBL) proponents advance is that somehow the Filipino nation owes an apology to the Muslims for rights violation and benign neglect and therefore should give the Muslims what they demand. That is not completely accurate.
Whatever wrongs were perpetrated by the colonizers cannot be attributed to this Republic.
Admittedly the underdevelopment of the island as well as the land redistribution under the homestead and other acts in favor of Christians might have been less than equitable, while the benign neglect of the land of promise is certainly a fact whose guilt must be equally shared by both Muslim and Christian leaders of Mindanao who like the Ampatuans and other Muslim warlords and politicians, helped themselves freely to the natural resources of the island. The Muslims cannot claim to have been marginalized or alienated in any way. Politically, Muslims have occupied prominent positions in government in both the national and local scenes. The Sinsuats, Pendatuns, Rasuls, Alontos, Dimaporos, Lucmans etc. had graced the congressional corridors even as other Muslims occupied high positions in the executive, judiciary, armed forces and other agencies of government. Culturally we see mosques standing beside Catholic churches while Maranao traders are all over the retail trade in urban areas.
The third premise that the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which has been operational for a decade or so is allegedly a “failed experiment” is, to our mind, rash judgment. The ARMM, to our mind, is a work in progress and given the successful transfer of power to Muslim local executives without disastrous results testifies to its viability.
While admittedly Misuari squandered resources and windows of opportunity, this cannot be said of his successors. But like many of our weak local governments it cannot be considered as a failed one. More government administrative support in terms of social and physical infrastructure and a bigger dose of local autonomy could get the constitutionally mandated autonomous region moving.
Cure worse than the disease
Having discussed the false assumptions above underlying the bill we now go to the proposed remedies.
The main thrust is local autonomy. The wonder of it all is that having conceived and created the ARMM, run democratically by elected Muslim representatives, we will now substitute it with an untried and untested asymmetric form of government – a parliamentary system which can only flourish under a mature democratic governance of highly competitive political parties, which under the BBL is unrealistically assumed to be in existence.
Another unrealistic assumption is that somehow or other, the MILF under Malaysian tutelage will be able to produce from a magic box some sort of a Sabah-like state governed by a Chief Minister who will be able to produce overnight, higher levels of productivity, incomes and employment in Central Mindanao which will lift the region out of poverty.
This is a pipedream entertained only by most naive and inexperienced development planners in the world. At a time when the country is talking about Asean regionalism so as to allow the country to enjoy the fruits of free trade and bigger markets, the BBL is thinking of exclusive growth for the Muslim community which is tantamount to delinking itself from the supposedly fastest-growing economy in the region. Economists are aware that natural resources per se, unless fully developed, cannot increase the quality of life.
That is the reason that this country is now trying to woo local and foreign capital and whatever the foreign sponsors of BBL say, this does not happen overnight. Capital seeks skilled labor, infrastructure etc. which Central Mindanao and the rest are very short of. It will therefore be a case of Bangsamoro trying to pull itself up by its own bootstraps!
The second part will come out in the PAFI Ambassadors Corner column on Saturday, Oct. 25.