The price of peace in Mindanao

By Perry Diaz

Recently, in a surprise move, President Benigno Aquino III traveled unannounced to Tokyo, Japan on a “secret” mission: to meet Al Haj Ebrahim Murad, the chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).  Although Aquino’s aides later said that the “secret” meeting was just a tête-à-tête between the two leaders, the issue that brought them together is no secret.

It’s common knowledge that the MILF – which splintered from the Muslim National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1977 — has been fighting for the creation of an independent and sovereign nation carved out of Mindanao, which they claim to be their “ancestral domain.”  But Murad told Aquino at that meeting that MILF was willing to abandon its demand for independence and would settle for a Bangsamoro “sub-state.”

Peace process

And what exactly does a “sub-state” mean?  That is a question that would be the focal point of the peace negotiation from here on, which I can sense would be as contentious, if not more contentious, than before.  However, if the peace negotiation between the government and the MILF is not going to bear fruit soon, the issue could escalate into open warfare in Mindanao just like what happened several times in the past.

Before Aquino decided to meet Murad in Tokyo, the ceasefire pact between the government and MILF — signed 10 years ago — was tenuous and shaky.  However, there seems to be a mutual attempt to maintain a peaceful coexistence.  In a way, the MILF is exercising a certain degree of unofficial  — or de facto – autonomy of the area it occupies.  And while the peace negotiation is going on – albeit at a turtle pace – Mindanao is relatively peaceful except for occasional ceasefire violations.

Now that Aquino has gotten himself directly involved in the peace negotiation, suddenly the laissez faire politics that has dominated the peace process for three decades is now on the wayside.  With Aquino on the driver’s seat in the peace process, he revealed that his administration is working out the details of the creation of a Bangsamoro “sub-state.” Whoa!  Slow down Mr. President.  Driving a twin-turbo Porsche at top speed to reach a peace accord might be dangerously fast; but flying an F-16 at supersonic speed could be suicidal.  Your predecessor — former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo — tried to fast track the creation of a Bangsamoro homeland at warp speed and failed.  Are you sure you want to repeat the same mistake?

Bangsamoro Judicial Entity – 2008

In my article, “What Price Peace” (PerryScope, September 9, 2008), I wrote: “In her fervent desire to have peace in Mindanao, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo went to the extent of secretly forging an agreement that would virtually cede a huge portion of Philippine territory to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The treaty would have expanded the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) into a virtual state within a state replete with all the functions and authority of a sovereign and independent state.

“But, in a twist of fate, the day before the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) last August 5, 2008 in Malaysia, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order in response to several petitions claiming that the treaty was unconstitutional. What followed next was a tragedy of error that cost lives and property in Mindanao.

“In the aftermath of the public uproar over the attempt to partition the country, Gloria decided to scrap the controversial MOA-AD. She also dissolved the government’s peace panel negotiating with the MILF. Basically, it’s back to square one for the peace process. And, worst, Mindanao is now in a virtual state of war or, to be more precise, a civil war between Muslim Filipinos and Christian Filipinos. In reaction, Mohaqher Iqbal, the MILF’s chief peace negotiator declared, ‘The peace process is now in purgatory.’ ”

Bangsamoro “sub-state” – 2011

If Aquino is going to create a Bangsamoro “sub-state,” how will it differ from Gloria’s Bangsamoro Judicial Entity?  Aquino’s solution to that was to remove the provisions of the “sub-state” that are deemed unconstitutional.  But Mr. President, the idea of a “sub-state” – or a state within a state — is by itself, unconstitutional.  We’ve gone through that before and it’s very likely that the Supreme Court would take a hard look at its constitutionality again.

Marvic Leonen, the government’s peace panel chairman, hinted that a Bangsamoro “sub-state” is not feasible.  However, he said that the government is looking at a one-year timetable to “seal a peace agreement” with the MILF.

But the MILF negotiator, Michael Mastura, said that MILF would not settle for anything less than a “sub-state,” which he described as similar in political structure to those of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland who have their own governments but remain within the framework of the United Kingdom. And to make his point crystal clear, Mastura said that if they were not granted a “sub-state,” the MILF would revert to its old position, which calls for secession.


In 2001, RA 9054 was passed to expand the autonomy of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which was created in 1989.  However, the new law states that ARMM “shall remain an integral and inseparable part of the national territory of the Republic.” MNLF claims that the new law violated the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) – signed between the government and MNLF in 1996 — both in letter and spirit.

In November 2007, the first tripartite meeting among representatives of the Philippine government, MNLF, and the 57-member-state Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) met in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  The tripartite meeting served as the mechanism to resolve the “kinks and weaknesses” in the FPA.

Last February 2011, at the fourth tripartite meeting in Jeddah, the Philippine government and MNLF agreed to an “amendatory bill,” which will be introduced in the Philippine Congress for “early adoption.”  The tripartite meeting also welcomed the creation of the Bangsamoro Development Assistance Fund (BDAF).

Price of peace

The ideal thing to do is to expand the FPA to include MILF.  But this is easier said than done.  However, if Aquino is going to pursue a separate treaty with MILF without involving – or consulting – MNLF, the political dynamics in Mindanao could dramatically change.

The real challenge for Aquino would be how to bring MILF and MNLF together within the framework of ARMM.  That was the spirit of the law creating ARMM.

The President’s meeting with the MILF chairman was indeed a great leap forward.  However, it remains to be seen what direction it would take?  Will it lead to the creation of an autonomous Bangsamoro “sub-state,” exclusive of MNLF and separate from ARMM?   Or, will it unify MILF and MNLF under the aegis of ARMM… and bring peace to Mindanao?


12 Responses. Have your say.

  1. albertO says:


  2. Roy says:

    You cannot solved a problem when a group of people does not want to integrate to be part of the country. What did American did to native indians? More forces to place them in reservations. If you are a weak government, you cannot do that. Just keep on yakitak, while your citizens where displaced. Place the military headquarters in mindanao to manned the peace. Well-armed them with modern weapons with bullet-proof vests. Arm-helicopters and planes will do the rest. Get all their high powered arms and place them all in the reservations with arm guards. Pinas navies should guard all extended islands in the south for penetrations from other muslims countries who would like to slip in to aids the rebel groups.

  3. Martin Celemin says:

    Hi Perry:

    I am glad you bring up the issue of MILF, Bangsamoro & ARMM and the history of negotiations between the Philippine government and MILF/MNLF as President Aquino meets with the MILF leader in Japan..
    The creation of ARMM in 1989 was a great concession to the Muslims/Moros in Mindanao.
    I don’t think there was a referendum in Mindanao in creating ARMM. It was an act congress
    in which majority members were from outside of Mindanao.
    This “ancestral home” position by the minority of Moros is preposterous and unacceptable.
    Would the Italians claim Britain as their “ancestral home” since the Romans occupied Britain some hundred years ago? With wars, how many countries had changed ownerships since the middle ages? How far in time (hundreds or thousands of years) can religious sect (Moros) claim for “ancestral home”?
    The ARMM was imposed by congress upon the people (Christians, Moros, Nomads, etc) of
    Mindanao without the benefit of their consent. This is one example of Imperial Manila’s bullying
    tactics towards Mindanao for decades. Majority of the inhabitants of Mindanao(about 80%) are Christians. Imperial Manila and the president should or must respect the wishes of the majority of the people in Mindanao otherwise a greater catastrophe may happen.
    Philippine armed forces and some Christian civilians (the socalled Ilaggas) have shown the Moros that they cannot win as proven by President Estrada’s decision to retake Moro stronghold. Moros are just like the Christians, human beings. They should be respected and treated with fellow Filipinos However, if they misbehave, they should be disciplined and not give in to their preposterous and unreasonable demands.
    With my best wishes, Martin Celemin

  4. Victor says:

    Once a sub-state has been created in that part of the land, other people —- possibly insurgents that’s been providing help to Moro Organizations — from other Muslim Nations can very easily access it and plan all sorts of negative covert acts against the Philippine government. Malaysia, based on some written reports I’ve read, has been the main source of troubles, which it’s been widely providing arms to the Philippine government enemies, mainly the Moro Insurgents. Please do not give in to them, Philippines is one nation not like Korea or Vietnam before its war against the U.S.

  5. RGL says:

    To create a “sub-state” along the lines of Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the United Kingdom sounds seductive, but, on further analysis, is utterly preposterous considering that those British isles share the same cutlure and language as England, while the Muslims in the Philippines have no similar heritage with most Filipinos except perhaps for geography.

    When I think of the Moros’ demand, I think a better parallel is the partition of India into two countries back in 1947, when Pakistan was created. The vast majority of Pakistanis are Muslims, though there are still millions of them living in India. The relations between the two countries since then have been at best tenuous, though there have been sporadic border wars flaring up now and then. Both countries have nuclear weapons, and I suppose the fear of MAD, or mutual assured destruction, will continue to prevent an all-out war, similar in fashion to the Cold War days when the U.S. and the old USSR were locked in rhetorical combat.

    If concessions made by the Phlippine government the past 22 years have not created permanent peace, would allowiing the Moros to secede make a better alternative? I doubt it.

    For one thing, how much of Mindanao will have to be ceded to the secessionists? But on top of that, what about the displacement of Christians living in those lands being claimed?

    Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that the process of creating an independent Moroland goes smoothly, there is still no guarantee that there would be stability and peace in the region, particularly with the distinct possibility of infiltration of this new state by extremist elements from neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia. No, I cannot think of a scenario where allowing the Moros to have their own state would redound to their best interests, or, for that matter, to the interests of the Philippines.

    It would be interesting to find out what Noynoy has up his sleeves in his tete-a-tete with Murad. Like most Pinoys, I find it hard to believe that was purely a casual, or accidental, meeting. The president needs to lay everything on the table, and we can begin anew the process of how to find that elusive peace with our Muslim brothers in the South.

  6. perry says:

    Dear Perry,

    The village idiot strikes again!

    Once more, PeNoy exposes his utter incompetence.

    This toy president loves fooling around. First he fiddled with the Spratlys. Everytime his ghostwriters drum up on this issue, Secretary Albert del Rosario shuttles from Washington DC to Beijing to troubleshoot and control damage of numerous presidential faux pas.

    Now he is fooling around with so-called “substates”.

    Gloria Arroyo made a mistake with the MOA-AD. Now PeNoy repeats history with a possible “reframing” of the same mistake. Once is an error, twice is stupidity.

    This time he is risking impeachment for treason or even assassination with his right hand, and rekindling the Moro wars with his left hand.

    The MILF of course knows that nothing will fly with its talks with PeNoy. But they are using the impending disaster to justify future saber-rattling to gain some concessions under-the-table.

    PeNoy does not seem to know he cannot commit anything to the MILF especially when it comes to any “reframed” MOA-AD.

    The matter of autonomy is ruled by Constitutional provisions on the Organic Act.

    Thus, to intelligently discuss any matter of granting autonomy to the Moros, or for that matter aspiring for any amendments, one must verse himself by reading the Organic Act provision of the Philippine Constitution.

    “AUTONOMOUS REGION / Section 15. There shall be created autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and in the Cordilleras consisting of provinces, cities, municipalities, and geographical areas sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures, and other relevant characteristics within the framework of this Constitution and the national sovereignty as well as territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines Section 16. The President shall exercise general supervision over autonomous regions to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed. Section 17. All powers, functions, and responsibilities not granted by this Constitution or by law to the autonomous regions shall be vested in the National Government. Section 18. The Congress shall enact an organic act for each autonomous region with the assistance and participation of the regional consultative commission composed of representatives appointed by the President from a list of nominees from multisectoral bodies. The organic act shall define the basic structure of government from the region consisting of the executive department and legislative assembly, both of which shall be elective and representative of the constituent political units. The organic acts shall likewise provide for special courts with personal, family, and property law jurisdiction consistent with the provisions of this Constitution and national laws.The creation of the autonomous region shall be effective when approved by majority of the votes cast by the constituent units in a plebiscite called for the purpose, provided that only provinces, cities, and geographic areas voting favorably in such plebiscite shall be included in the autonomous region. Section 19. The first Congress elected under this Constitution shall, within eighteen months from the time of organization of both Houses, pass the organic acts for the autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras .Section 20. Within its territorial jurisdiction and subject to the provisions of this Constitution and national laws, the organic act of autonomous regions shall provide for legislative powers over: (1) Administrative organization; (2) Creation of sources of revenues;(3) Ancestral domain and natural resources; (4) Personal, family, and property relations; (5) Regional urban and rural planning development; (6) Economic, social, and tourism development; (7) Educational policies; (8) Preservation and development of the cultural heritage; and (9) Such other matters as may be authorized by law for the promotion of the general welfare of the people of the region.Section 21. The preservation of peace and order within the regions shall be the responsibility of the local police agencies which shall be organized, maintained, supervised, and utilized in accordance with applicable laws. The defense and security of the regions shall be the responsibility of the National Government.”

    The Organic Act was signed into law by President Corazon Aquino on August 1, 1989. Read the full text at

    Obviously even after nine years in the legislature before sitting as president, PeNoy has never read the Philippine Constitution.

    Kawawa naman. He has nothing between his ears.

    Ado Paglinawan
    (Sent by email)

  7. perry says:

    Hi Ado,

    Thanks for your comment. I posted it in

    By the way, I wonder what his agenda is in “inviting” himself to a state visit in China? Is he going to sell (or give away) the Spratlys and the Benham Rise for a bargain price?


  8. this is such an educational topic for me ..never had these subjects in my secondary -college education in the Philippines years ago….Global Balita is doing great with current events. Thank you

  9. nap maminta says:

    I have it from knowledgeable people that Noynoy Aquino actually visited Moammar Quadaffi
    in Libya in an effort to enlist the dictator’s commitment to a revolution in the Philippines to topple Marcos in exchange for the entire island of Mindanao. The Aquinos think alike- Noynoy,
    Cory, and now P-noy. To me this is treason.

  10. Romeo Sirate says:

    The Philippine government will probably have to deal with the Moros much like the Israeli government’s dealing with the Palestinians with no possible peace in sight.

  11. roy says:

    Mindanao is my land and part of the Philippines. Under national government laws, all citizens should abide by that laws. When a person or group of persons will rise up against the government, what will the government do?
    What did a democratic government of America did to her native americans when they rose up against the government? Now most of them are in reservations.
    Same here, but we have a very weak military and government and felt very impossible to win. Thats why the government agreed all the time. Very inutil!

  12. Majority of the Moros are illiterate or rather at the lowest grade of education. The logic embedded on their mind is different, a result ingrained from their upbringing. If they ask your fingers and you give it, they will take it including your arm. If you give your fingers and arm, they will include your shoulder. If you give your fingers and arm and shoulder, they will include your head…and so on. Until you realize the whole of your body was taken.

    There were shortcomings from our previous leaders. The mandatory free education was not implemented. There was no effective watchdog to monitor the corrupt officials (because the president is corrupt also). The administration of Fidel Ramos had armed the groups…a blunder! Now, the situation is a large and enduring mess.

    To get out of this is ARM THE CHRISTIANS!

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