Thursday, September 04, 2008

Two Fundamental Postulates for Lasting Peace in Mindanao

After the tragic fiasco regarding the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), I presume as a matter of course that the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are incontact with its other.

As a contribution to any backdoor channeling, I address myself to both Moros and non-Moros, and those who claim to represent them.

The following, I believe, are the two fundamental bases for the forging of lasting peace in Mindanao. At the very beginning of any peace negotiation, there has to be a clear and explicit recognition, mutually accepted: (1) of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines as enshrined in the Philippine Constitution; (2) of the Moro aspiration for self determination and its concrete realization in a manner in accord with the Philippine Constitution. It seems to me that these fundamental concepts are at lease implicitly accepted by both groups.

I believe that the lack of clarity in the MOA-AD with regard to the above two-fold fundamental concepts, aggravated by lack of consultation and reinforced by anger, misinformation, misconceptions, biases, prejudices, and resistance to change, led to the present grave uncertainties regarding the peace process.

The first postulate is clear to non-Moros. The second is not. For most of us the recognition of Moro self-determination and the Bangsamoro Juridical entity in which it is exercised are tantamount to giving away parts of Philippine territory and establishing a Moro independent State. It does not matter if there are several examples in the world, where self-determination is recognized and implemented without necessarily establishing an independent State and dismembering a Republic. It does not matter if the rejected MOA-AD does not in any way express such establishment or dismembering. Great anger and violence have resulted from this situation.

The non-Moro should begin with Moro history to understand Moro self-determination. It is undisputed that Islam was brought to the Philippines before the Spaniards came, even before there was such a name as “Philippines.” It is undisputed that Muslim Sultanates exercised sovereignty and wielded political power over most of Mindanao, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu, a territory considerably larger than the present ARMM or the “expanded ARMM” that the MOA-AD envisions. It is undisputed that the demographic composition of the population and the subject of political authority in Mindanao were completely reversed from Moros to non-Moros within only the 50 years between 1920 to 1970, such that Moros became a minority in the large swath of territory over which they, through their Sultanates, once held sway.

We, therefore, need to accept the fact that the Moro aspiration for self-determination is based on indisputable recorded history Our historical consciousness needs to go back to the times of the southern Sultanates and the religion they professed. There we see a people from the Malay race but with a distinct religion and political identity. They had been part of the indigenous peoples who had converted to Islam. We know that the term “Moro” came much later in their history, introduced by Spanish colonizers to refer derogatively to the people who had the same religion as the Moors that had conquered southern Spain. Through the Sultanates this distinct people from various indigenous tribes held political sway, sovereignty, if one may use the term, over a territory covering most of Mindanao and Sulu. Through the Sultans they governed themselves. At documented periods and occasions, Moros expressed their aspiration for self-determination either by peaceful means or by armed interventions. This aspiration has endured through four centuries of relative peace and short periods of war. Restlessness for self-determination lies deep in the collective Moro subconscious. Like Rizal and the Filipino elite of their time, Moro scholars, intellectuals, writers, warriors and leaders kept this aspiration alive.

The desire for self-determination we recognize now as a fundamental right. It does not necessarily mean an independent State. It simply means as a common attribute of all peoples an option for self-government outside or within a national community. It is an option that is enduring, lying deep in the subconscious of the human community, part and parcel of that divine gift we call freedom, or self-determination. It does not die. It maybe dormant, it might be repressed, but sooner or later it will want to surface either in rebellion or in peaceful assertion. War will not defeat this fundamental human option. It cannot be killed. Without recognition and some form of implementation, peaceful co-existence is simply an artificial temporary veneer. That is the human condition, the condition of human communities with distinct cultures and identities, especially with a history of self-determination.

Recognizing that legitimate aspiration, we also need to recognize the realities that came during the American period of our history. Spain ceded the entire islands to the United States. It was the United States that eventually and effectively placed all the islands under its political power. Yet even the United States recognized the aspiration of the Moro people with the creation of a “Moro province.” Historical records tell us that from time to time, Moro leaders would remind the ruling power of their right to self-determination, of not wanting to be under “Filipino” sovereignty.

But we cannot also escape the development of history. The historical reality is that the the United States, followed by the Philippine government, exercised political power over all of the Philippines. And so we have the concepts of national sovereignty and territorial integrity enshrined in successive Constitutions. Even if one might not accept the Constitution, the reality of national sovereignty and territorial integrity predates the Constitution which simply came later to express or articulate the reality.

These then are the two-fold realities that are fundamental to any peace negotiation: the recognition of Moro self-determination and the acceptance of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

These two concepts are not contradictory. They do not cancel each other out. One can exist with the other. It is the balancing and concrete implementing of these two fundamental postulates that is the central task of peace negotiating.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
September 4, 2008

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