1. The Mindanao situation
The current official peace effort in Mindanao has practically failed, and its conduct may have worsened the situation in the area. The possibility of a worse kind of Mindanao conflict now exists. A religious war is possible. Part of the problem is the failure of the official government peace process to use the lessons and gains of the past.
A. Creating a hostile environment for peace
True or not, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) considers itself sidelined by the current official peace effort. So far the reactions coming from factions of the MNLF are still mostly noise. Significant though are the ongoing re-organization of the Bangsa Moro Army of the MNLF, and the intensification of contacts between its key officials and Malaysian intelligence.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has not recovered from the loss of some of its revered leaders like Hassim Salamat and Alim Mimbantas. The current central leadership does not have the charisma essential to organizational unity in case of serious reverses. The MILF could split into factions, with some groups underlying their cause with extremist religious undertones.
Optimistic announcements of success in the peace talks triggered unwarranted expectations among the rank and file of the MILF. Sad and probably without subtantive basis, but rumors of lands owned by Christians being eyed for occupation by roaming MILF bands and old biases about Muslim communities are now fast spreading in Christian held Mindanao.
The abrupt cessation of cooperation between the Mindanao Bishops-Ulama Conference and the national government upon the assumption of the Aquino administration in 2010, effectively closed the avenue to the most effective and prestigious channel of religious dialogue in Mindanao. Religious dialogue is essential to peace. This is fundamental in any peace process most especially in communities where major religions co – exist.
The Islamic world is changing radically because of recent events. Its impact on the Filipino Muslim community should not be taken lightly. Past administrations had exerted enormous efforts in making sure that overt influence from other Islamic countries is harnessed towards religious harmony. Government efforts in the past had made sure that the slightest hint of religious persecution, specially of Muslims, was corrected and checked. The principle of non-violence in asserting the political rights of Filipino Muslim communities was generally supported by many Islamic countries. This had been achieved on the generally accepted principle that religious persecution did not exist in the Philippines.
b. Enhancing the threat of Islamic extremism
The Islamic world has been experiencing religious revivalism for several decades now. With this heightened religious fervor also comes the rise of fanatical extremism or the tendency to employ violence as an expression of deep faith. The idea of reviving the Muslim caliphates to dominate the world had once more resurfaced in earnest during the 90’s and has not spared Mindanao. A significant aspect of this revival is the fanatical commitment of its adherents to destroy all unbelievers in its path by waging their interpretation of jihad or holy war.
In 1995, a group of Ulama identified with the MILF attempted to establish the beginnings of an Islamic enclave composed of five or so “liberated” barangays in Lanao del Sur. In the words of the MILF leadership then:” It is not the size of the enclave that matters now, but success in planting the seed of an Islamic enclave.”
The MILF has not evolved as a liberation movement in the classical sense. It had no Nur Misuari for an ideologue. Its organizational pillars were mostly religious teachers. Its fighters are mixed; some are of the religious zealots variety, and some are veterans or trained guerrilla fighters. At its height the MNLF succeded in convincing practically all of the OIC countries and most of mainstream Islamic institutions and organizations to officially support its cause and recognize it as the sole representative of the Moros in the Philippines. Because of this, the MILF had to operate mostly outside the mainstream or moderate influences of the Islamic world. This explains why some elements of its armed wing are fashioned more like armed bands of fanatical religious extremists.
Part 2 will be published tomorrow