Chronology of failures

By Perry Diaz

Imelda Marcos signs the "Tripoli Agreement" on behalf of the Philippine government in 1975 in Tripoli, Libya.

Imelda Marcos signs the “Tripoli Agreement” on behalf of the Philippine government in 1975 in Tripoli, Libya.

For the past 40 years several attempts have been made to create an autonomous government for the Filipino Muslims in Mindanao. In 1975, representatives of the Philippine government and the rebel Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) met in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to discuss MNLF’s demand for autonomy. Consequently, the “Tripoli Agreement,” which called for the establishment of an autonomous region in the Southern Philippines, was signed.

But in an attempt to derail the negotiations, the Marcos administration insisted that the local population of the region – which included the Christian majority – should make the decision through a plebiscite. The plebiscite, held in April 1977, rejected the Tripoli Agreement; thus, denying the MNLF’s aspirations for a “homeland” of their own. The MNLF refused to accept the results of the plebiscite and the civil war continued.

The failed attempt to establish a Muslim autonomous region led to a split in the MNLF. A splinter group, called the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), broke away from the MNLF. The MILF’s mission was to create an independent and sovereign nation carved out of Mindanao, which they claimed to be their “ancestral domain.”

In 1979, Marcos created the “Regional Autonomous Government in the Western and Central Mindanao” through the rubber-stamp Batasan Pambansa (National Assembly). But that, too, failed to take off.

President Cory Aquino meets MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari in Jolo in 1986 to talk peace. Photo - Philippines Free Press (Source:

President Cory Aquino meets MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari in Jolo in 1986 to talk peace. Photo – Philippines Free Press (Source:

In 1989, during the presidency of Cory Aquino, the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was created through Republic Act No. 6734 in pursuance with the new 1987 Constitution, which mandated to provide for an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao. A plebiscite was held and only four provinces – Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi – voted to join ARMM.

FVR’s peace initiative

Nur Misuari and FVR celebrate signing of "Final Peace Agreement."

Nur Misuari and FVR celebrate signing of “Final Peace Agreement.”

In 1996, President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) and MNLF leader Nur Misuari – who was elected ARMM’s third governor that year — signed a peace agreement, known as the “Final Peace Agreement.” It ended the 24-year secessionist war. The 57-member Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) recognized the Misuari-led MNLF faction; however, the MILF opposed the peace agreement and continued the fight for an independent ancestral domain.

But instead of fighting the MILF, FVR pursued an all-out peace, allowing the MILF to hold territories. He even constructed a highway that ran deep into MILF territory including Camp Abubakar, the MILF’s headquarters. But the highway also improved the government forces an easy access to the MILF fronts.

Erap’s folly

President Erap Estrada inspects government forces at Camp Abubakar.

President Erap Estrada inspects government forces at Camp Abubakar.

In March 2000, President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, FVR’s successor, declared an all-out war against the MILF. He attacked and captured Camp Abubakar. However, he failed to stop the insurgency. The MILF merely changed it strategy and went into guerilla warfare.

On January 20, 2001, Erap was deposed in a sham “people power” revolution staged by supporters of Erap’s vice president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Upon assuming the presidency, Gloria pursued a different tact.

On March 24, 2001, the Arroyo administration and the MILF agreed to resume peace negotiations mediated by Malaysia, Indonesia, and Libya. On June 22, the two parties’ representatives signed the “Tripoli Peace Agreement.” On August 7, they signed a formal ceasefire agreement, which ended the war that Erap waged at a high cost: Nearly one million displaced and 70,000 killed.

Gloria’s gambit

Philippine Supreme Court

Philippine Supreme Court

In my article, “What Price Peace” (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.’ ”

P-Noy’s secret deal

P-Noy secretly meets Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo, Japan.

P-Noy secretly meets Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo, Japan.

On August 4, 2011, Gloria’s successor, President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III, left the country unannounced on a “secret” mission to Tokyo, Japan where he met with MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim. Their agenda: Ways to push the peace process forward.

On October 15, 2012, representatives of the government and MILF signed a preliminary peace accord, the “Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” which called for the creation of an autonomous political entity named “Bangsamoro.” It would replace ARMM.

On March 27, 2014, the Philippine government and the MILF signed the historic “Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro” (CAB). On September 10, 2014, P-Noy submitted to Congress the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which would provide for the basic structure of the Bangsamoro autonomous government. It would supersede the existing Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Finally, peace was just around the corner. And then all hell broke loose!

On the wee hours of January 25, 2015, 44 members of the elite Special Action Force (SAF) were massacred in Mamasapano in Maguindanao by joint forces of the MILF and the splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Many believe that P-Noy should be held responsible for the massacre for ordering the nearby military camp to stand down when the beleaguered SAF commandos radioed for reinforcement, which begs the question: Why did P-Noy order the military to stand down and leave the SAF commandos at the mercy of the Muslim rebels? One reason that has gained traction was that P-Noy didn’t want to jeopardize the establishment of the autonomous Bangsamoro political entity and the passage of BBL, which is pending in Congress. In an effort to fast-track the creation of Bangsamoro to replace ARMM, P-Noy had been saying that ARMM was a “failed experiment.”

Recipe for failure

Not too long ago, the Philippine Constitutional Association (Philconsa) released a 75-page position paper claiming that the BBL bill was flawed and cluttered with unconstitutional experimental features. But assuming that Congress will approve BBL and P-Noy signs it into law, it is expected that it will be challenged in the Supreme Court.

Surmise it to say, ARMM was a political solution to an economic problem. The region is one of the most – if not the most – impoverished regions in the Philippines. Long neglected by “Imperial Manila,” its per capita is 75% lower than the national average. It is the lowest among the country’s 17 regions, and lower than the second lowest region by one-half. Its poverty incidence is almost twice the national average. It is the country’s poorest region, where the average annual income is less than one-third of Manila’s level.

The records show that since the establishment of ARMM in 1989, the Philippine government failed to infuse development funds into the region; thus, perpetuating – if not worsening — its dire economic conditions.

If P-Noy were serious about achieving peace in Mindanao, he should – nay, must – address the economic well-being of the region. He cannot give autonomy to the Filipino Muslims and leave them to fend for themselves.

At the end of the day, economic prosperity is the surest guarantee that would preserve peace, and no peace plan in Mindanao could succeed without uplifting the lives of the Muslims.  Simply put, economic freedom is the only solution to a political problem.

It’s time to break the chronology of failures.


7 Responses. Have your say.

  1. Gabriel says:

    Obviously, most if not all our Political leaders do not have the actual experience in living in the Areas where our Muslim brothers are living. They need to understand more about their actual living condition and not necessarily about their religion. Because if we only give the right food, health and education to the greater majority of our Muslims brothers, the terrorist and other no good Muslims will not survive as the majority would like to live peacefully. I really bet you.

  2. pat talens says:

    A very informative article Perry. Kudos to you, especially to your untiring research on these important political and economic challenges in the South of the Philippines.

    Your article says the region is one the most, if not the most, impoverished regions in the Philippines. I believe this is caused by classic corruption and thievery of development funds by powerful and killer politicians in the region. In fact it is here (in Ampatuan, Maguindanao) where the still unresolved Ampatuan massacre happened. It is also here where the Ampatuan politicians had so much unexplained wealth and who wielded so much intimidating political and militia power because of their support from the then-Gloria administration.

    Thus I beg to add to your article that this region not only represents the classic political failures by successive Presidents, but it highlights the greed and corruptions well ingrained in the minds of many political leaders in the country—that give rise to sobering socioeconomic conditions to the Filipinos.

  3. Paul Briones says:

    Philippines is for the Filipinos not for the Muslims.That does not mean they are not recognized though.
    Let them do what Filipinos do. Like if you go to Rome, do what the Romans do. Rome is not for Filipinos. But you can participate if you want to.

  4. Another brilliant analysis of the Muslim problem in the Philippines. I wish this piece is shared by all the members of Congress, discussed and then remedied…soon. The mistreatment of Muslims since the Kano took over the counfry in 1898 has never really changed. The Muslims in the Philippines are like the Negros (African Americans) who have been royally mistreated by the whites for centuries in the U.S.

    • Bobby Bagos says:

      You and your friggin’ blame game. So it’s still Uncle Sam’s fault even though he’s no longer around. I think it’s time for us to look at our own self for what is happening to our country, not just in Mindanao but the whole shebang. You sound like the Muslims in Mindanao are the only ones getting the screws, what about the other indigenous people of our country, the Aetas and the Negritos, do you even know that these people existed? If you really want to blame somebody start with your own self, I’m willing to bet that some, if not most of the elected official ruining our country are of your own doing, you probably voted for them. The Muslims in Mindanao wants to be on their own, they’ve wanted that for a long time and with the influence of radical Islamist in the Middle East the violence in that island will get worst. I can’t blame my white friends and neighbors here in California for what the slave owners did over 300 hundreds ago, heck even their grandparents have no recollections of them having black slaves. Black Americans are still in blaming slavery for their failures in life because it’s the easy way out, just like you Mr.Joaquin.

  5. jose balmadrid says:

    Excellent perception Perry. Perhaps if P-Noy
    will make you in charge of the region, a lasting peace and prosperity in that region surpassing the whole of the country can happen. With all of those Islands and peace and security in place, one can imagine the tremendous tourist revenue that could be generated to uplift every family’s economic
    conditions and advance and achieve lasting peace. I hear Mindanao has virtually have its land virtually covered with gold.
    turned into a peaceful, people co-existing community, look at what revenue could be generated. Of course when this happens we will see the likes of napoles, of enrile, revilla, estrada and the rest out there greedy polticians and businessmen. Maybe you can just concentrate them in one of the island there for the remaining blood hungry, warlike people to devour as they devoured the children, the weak the sick the and the hungry Pilipinos. Maybe a Lee Kuan Yeu style of strong leadership and just governance can be a good start. Maybe just maybe God will make things happen. Just for a start.

  6. roy says:

    I think Mindanao will have peace and prosper if system of government change to federal parliament. Right now, most incomes goes to the central government with a trickle sustenance for Mindanao.

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