Oct 15, 2012

Philippines - An official end to Philippines' Moro rebellion

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Heavily armed Moro rebels gather in their camp in a village in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province. The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have announced a framework agreement aimed at settling the 40-year guerrilla war in Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago. Jeoffrey Maitem/Inquirer Mindanao

The Philippines and Moro rebel group are set to sign a framework of peace agreement today.

Just one month shy of turning 40 years, the Moro rebellion in the Philippines, officially comes to an end as the Aquino administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are set to sign today a framework agreement creating Bangsamoro.

While the stirrings for Moro revolution emerged after the infamous Jabidah Massacre on Corregidor Island on March 17, 1968, it was not until Nov. 14, 1972, that "the guns of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) started to speak," Salah Jubair wrote in the book "Bangsamoro: A Nation Under Endless Tyranny."

The first assault was in Jolo, Sulu, a month after then president Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. Rebels put the town to the torch in an attack reminiscent of the World War II bombing of Manila by Japanese invading forces.

In all, the Moro rebellion is estimated to have claimed some 120,000 lives and kept Mindanao impoverished.

The preliminary pact provides the "overarching architecture" for the process of addressing the so-called Bangsamoro question, defining the powers and structures of a new self-governance entity that will replace and have far greater political and economic powers than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

It also lays down the principles, processes and mechanisms "that will shape the new relations between the Central Government and the Bangsamoro."

Bangsamoro force

Although details are still to be threshed out, the agreement enshrines the MILF's agreeing to "undertake a graduated programme for decommissioning of its forces so that they are put beyond use."

In turn, the government agrees to "a phased and gradual" transfer of  law enforcement functions from the Armed Forces of the Philippines to a Bangsamoro police force, which is also to be defined further.

Chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen has said the decommissioning of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, the MILF's armed wing, "can keep apace within the period of transition" from the ARMM to Bangsamoro. This means within the next two years.

By mid-2016, the first set of elected Bangsamoro leaders, to rule under a ministerial government, is expected to assume power.

"The agreement heralds a change of status of the parties vis-a-vis each other, from enemies to partners," Leonen said.

With an estimated 12,000-strong army, the MILF is the remaining Moro revolutionary group in Mindanao which enjoys international legitimacy.

The self-styled Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, a band of some 300 armed men led by erstwhile commander Ameril Umra Kato, has been relegated by authorities to "a lawless group" that will be subjected to joint pursuit efforts by government and the MILF.

Although still posturing as a revolutionary movement, the MNLF has disintegrated into various factions after it signed a final peace agreement with the government on Sept. 2, 1996.

The MILF itself split from the MNLF in 1977 over differences in strategy and political outlook.


National Democratic Front chief Luis Jalandoni has expressed apprehension at the overdependence on legal and constitutional processes for entrenching the Bangsamoro.

But MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said they were confident the government would fulfil its commitments especially in the face of a very high international interest on the Mindanao peace process.

MILF chief Murad Ebrahim has praised President Aquino for his "unflinching commitment to justice and reforms" which is "amply manifested by the exercise of his resolute political will to resolve the Bangsamoro question on the negotiating table."

In a statement, the MILF said the framework agreement "is a template for real self-rule for the Bangsamoro in Mindanao."

"It is a solid document, [although] short of the ideal option providing for an independent state," it added.

"Of course, it is not a perfect agreement, especially for those who wish for a better one. But for those who have been in the negotiation since 1997, especially negotiators of the MILF, the agreement is the best," the MILF stressed.

"There could never be another like it, because so much blood, sweat  and tears have been invested in it, and there would have been no time in the past and perhaps in the future that such agreement will ever be possible."

Ryan D. Rosauro
Philippine Daily Inquirer

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