Second of four parts
[The first part was published on Thursday May 7. This, the second part of former NS adviser and former DND secretary Norberto Gozales’ column, should have come out yesterday as promised. A production glitch, however, prevented it from being printed.]
The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is becoming more like a blueprint for establishing a major Islamic enclave in Mindanao, actually the full version of the seed that some MILF Ulama had sought to “plant” in Mindanao in 1995. In the meantime, the armed wing of the MILF has grown exponentially, with many of its elements showing more and more the makings of the kind of fanatical religious bands currently sowing mindless destruction and inhuman violence in some countries of the Islamic world.
It is the right of Muslims to live according to the tenets of their faith, and Christians and Muslims alike are duty bound to defend this right. However, the establishment of a major “Islamic enclave” in Mindanao that is inspired by the “caliphate world view” is clearly a serious national security concern.
C. Mishandling the Sultanate Incursion of Sabah
It had been the desire of mainland Malaysia to establish a formidable military presence in the state of Sabah. This was politically difficult in the past. The circumstances of the so-called invasion of Sabah by the Sultanate of Sulu remain unclear, but the incident may have given the Malaysian mainland authorities a good opportunity to implement, without arousing undue suspicion among its neighbors, their long desired defense scheme in the Borneo region. In this connection, an exclusive tax for defense measures has recently been adopted by the Sabah state.
The response of the Malaysian federal government to the so-called Sultanate invasion of Sabah seemed out of proportion to the problem. But Malaysia’s defense strategic planners apparently saw it as an opportunity to accomplish their long-term goals. Even to the casual observer, such display of air, land and sea power by the Malaysian federal government took on the appearance of a full-scale federal military response to a real invasion of Sabah, rather than a simple pursuit operation against a ridiculously tiny band of very poorly armed Tausog intruders.
However, the response of the Philippine government was unfortunate. The Palace indicated no other strategic view of the situation than an unfounded fear of jeopardizing Malaysia’s role in the ongoing peace talks with the MILF. It missed the strategic value of the universal sentiment across the nation in favor of reviving action on the Sabah claim and resuscitating the Sultanate of Sulu, which the government has allowed to lie dormant despite the fact that it is the nation’s most significant historic claim.
The MILF does not want a peace agreement that has anything to do with what was accomplished with the MNLF. To the MILF it is a matter of organizational pride. The government, however, cannot accede to a new political arrangement which could only satisfy the organizational pride of one particular group, and in the process favor a scenario that would lead to the establishment of an enclave in Mindanao that is guided by a non-mainstream Islamic belief.
The government must retain the initiative in the peace effort in Mindanao. It cannot allow a single group, armed or otherwise, and especially armed, to monopolize political power or to seize the initiative of defining the future and well being of Mindanao. It is the government’s duty to provide an atmosphere of freedom for all the peoples of Mindanao to collectively define the course of their lives.
The law that established the ARMM deserves a review. It bears pointing out that this law was a compromise arising from apprehensions that may no longer hold today. Some members of the legislature, receiving guidance from the Palace during that period, saw to it that the ARMM would not function as envisioned. The structural defect of the ARMM’s flow of authority to and from the national to the regional should be examined. The religious aspects of the law should also be studied, making sure that the Muslims are guaranteed the right to practice the tenets of their faith, without necessarily running in conflict with the civil laws of the Republic.
Religious dialogue must continue. This resumption of religious dialogue however must expand on the original concept and strategic design of the Bishops-Ulama conference (BUC). The dialogue can no longer be confined to the Mindano-based Catholic and Protestant Bishops, and the Mindanao based Ulama alone. More than a million Muslims have left Mindanao and established themselves as flourishing communities in practically all cities of the nation. They brought with them their madrasah schools and their Mosques.
Part 3 will appear tomorrow.