(Second of four parts)
MARAWI CITY, Philippines ? AT A RALLY OF thousands of Maranao people demanding resumption of peace talks, a man in his mid-50s came forward and urged the mostly young crowd to ?be prepared to fight to win back our homeland.?
?I have warned you before: This government is only toying with our aspiration for self-determination,? the man cried out. His two sons had died as warriors in the Moro rebellion.
The scene was a plaza in Marawi and the rally was in 2006 soon after the peace talks between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) hit a snag over the issue of territory.
The impasse in the talks spurred a reemergence of extremist thinking in Lanao del Sur, according to an MILF member who translated the man?s thundering speech in Maranao for the Inquirer.
Thus, the crafting of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) two years later, in 2008, was seen in predominantly Muslim communities, including Marawi, as a historic breakthrough in the peace effort.
The accord marked the boldest attempt yet to redraw the country?s sociopolitical landscape and accommodate the hopes of a minority people.
Ironically, the MOA-AD also became a great source of peril for the peace process.
Opposed in many non-Muslim communities, it sparked renewed fighting in several Mindanao provinces. Amid the uproar, the Supreme Court struck down the accord as unconstitutional ?in its present form.?
Mindanao State University Prof. Rudy Rodil, former vice chair of the government peace panel, said the MOA-AD could have paved the way for a comprehensive settlement because it embodied a ?totality of solutions? to the Bangsamoro problem.
An earlier accord signed in Libya in 2001 under the auspices of the Gadhafi charitable foundation set out the framework for a political solution.
Called the ?mother agreement,? the Tripoli accord cited ancestral domain as one of the three key issues the government and the MILF needed to reach a consensus on. The others were security and rehabilitation of war-torn communities.
The three issues were considered necessary to make self-determination a reality for the Moro people. A consensus on ancestral domain would correct ?historical injustices? against the Moros, experts on Moro affairs said.
Bangsamoro (Moro nation) refers to the collective identity?equal to nationhood?of 13 ethnolinguistic tribes in Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan bonded by Islamic faith. Owing to its historical roots, it is an identity distinct from being Filipino.
As a political entity, the Bangsamoro predates Philippine statehood.
3 states, not 1
Rodil, a historian, said that when the Treaty of Paris between the United States and Spain was signed in 1898, there were formal three states existing in the archipelago?the sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao, and the Philippines.
The Sulu sultanate was established in 1450, around 70 years after the Islamic faith was introduced in the region, while the Maguindanao sultanate arose in 1619, a little over a century after Islam reached the Mindanao mainland. Philippine independence was declared in 1898.
With the American pacification campaigns, the Moros and Filipinos became intertwined in a similar political fate, Rodil stressed.
Rodil said the Americans watered down the political strengths of the traditional leaders. With relatively effective control of the islands, they also introduced the alien Torrens titling system.
This meant invalidating the land rights granted by the traditional leaders in favor of state-sanctioned rights.
Rodil said major public land laws passed in 1919 and 1936 went against the Moros and leaned toward homesteaders who were primarily Christian migrants from the Visayas and Luzon, and to corporations.
These accelerated migration into Mindanao, driving away the Moros and indigenous peoples from their ?untitled? lands.
Referendum after 50 years
In 1924, Moro leaders issued the Zamboanga Declaration asking the United States to declare Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan as ?unorganized territories.?
They also called for a referendum to be held 50 years later to determine the peoples? political future?much like the US protectorate state arrangements in Guam, Saipan and Puerto Rico.
The declaration was issued in light of a US plan to hand over rule of the islands to Filipinos, starting with a Commonwealth setup.
Moro liberation advocates considered immoral the ?annexation? of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan into Philippine territory through the 1935 Constitution and the 1946 independence grant.
Thus, the structures of subjugation persisted, the experts on Moro affairs said.
Datu Michael Mastura, a senior member of the MILF panel, said the Moro people were only demanding to secure ?what is left of us now? by seeking to reverse ?lopsided? policies in the state?s current legal framework.
These historical tidbits explain the discomfort of Moro rebel leaders when discussions touch on the Constitution.
?They are very sensitive to that word,? Rodil said.
If the Moro rebels acquiesce to the Constitution, they will be seen as bowing to the terms of colonial subjugation, instead of defending the Moros? national identity.
Even then, they are Philippine citizens by legal reality, Moro lawyer Musib Buat said.