Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (center) and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (second from right) witnessed the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) led by its Chief Negotiator Mohagher Iqbal (second from left) and the Philippine government led by Miriam Coronel-Ferrer (third from right)

Author’s Note: Part I of this article can be found here (http://www.iapss.org/wp/sunday-bloody-sunday-the-future-of-peace-in-southern-philippines-i/)

To what the Moro rebels thought would be an effective way to advance their interests, the relationship between the government and Muslims just became more antagonistic.  Though the singing of the Tripoli Agreement in 1976 and a ceasefire agreement between the government and the MNLF proved to be a sign that the armed struggle had the government heard the demands of the Moros, this proved to be superficial as hostilities continued from the end of the Marcos regime up to the new democratic government. There is an allegation from these groups that the government did not conform to the conditions of the Agreement, a reason for the continuance of hostilities in the area. But in fairness to the government, the creation of the region was made through a referendum and only the provinces of Sulu, Maguindanao, Tawi-Tawi, and Lanao del Sur had the required number of votes to be included in the region.

Pax Islamica in Mindanao

If the armed struggle movement still persists even though it has been ineffective in advancing the interests of the Moros, some Muslim movements have another way of interest articulation in the democratic Philippine society. Just like what the Muslim communities did to stop the public screening of “Innocence of Muslims,” Muslim Filipinos also use peaceful means to articulate their interests. An initial action can be traced to the enactment of Bates Treaty between the newly-dispatched American troops and the Sultanate of Sulu during the early years of US occupation of the Philippines that resulted to the short-lived independence of Moros during that period.

The method of peaceful negotiations is basically giving up arms and going into the dialogue table to discuss things and settle differences. Unlike armed struggle, peace talks usually take time to produce the desired results because the process entails numerous methods such as dialogues, finding neutral mediators, community development, and many more. The parties — the government and various Muslim groups — also needed to be committed in ensuring concrete and definite goals so that few or no disagreements will prosper, which shall hinder the development of peace talks. With the Philippine society more tolerant in welcoming Muslims, it is conducive to settle for peace talks as it avoids destruction and the loss of lives.

The creation of Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) can be said to be a product of peace negotiations through the Tripoli Agreement. As the peace talks between various Muslim movements and the government continue, albeit interrupted by change of administration and strategy, there is a decrease in the number of armed encounters between government troops and Muslim movements. Also, the method does not only promote internal changes among fellow citizens but also the cooperation among neighboring states like Malaysia which the Philippines had issues before. The aborted Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) could have reflected the primary demands of the MNLF from the Philippine government, such as greater autonomy on the exploitation of natural resources and creation of policies within the so-called Bangsamoro Judicial Entity. It could have also been the scale of the effectiveness of the peace talks used by the government and the Muslim movement but since the Supreme Court deemed it “contrary to law and the Constitution” on a 8-7 vote, the effectiveness of peace talks would be determined by some relatively minor achievements compared to the said Agreement, until the creation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the succeeding Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Challenges to a peaceful Mindanao

With Muslim Filipinos trying to find their niche in the contemporary Philippine society, it should be noted that the identity of the Filipino nation itself remains to be uncertain. This has been the main criticism for the misunderstanding of the Moro struggle, as the concept of a Filipino nation had not been espoused until the late years of the Spanish occupation of the Philippines. This is in contrast with the concept of a Moro nation that already existed before the foreign occupation. It is hard to integrate these concepts into a unified one with due consideration to the stronger identity that the Moros claim against those of the colonized Filipinos.

Another challenge faced by Muslims in the Philippines is the perceived incompatibility of Islam with democracy. This has been observed in the Middle East where countries rarely have democratic tenets and autocratic governments are more prominent. This has been seen as one the reasons why integration of Muslims into the political structure seemed to fail, as the Christian Filipinos were accustomed to the ideals of democracy brought by Americans during their colonization. But this has seemed to be proven wrong through the efforts of several Muslims to participate in the democratic political system of our country.

The ways to overcome the challenges that Muslim Filipinos face can be hard to find considering that they have always been a minority since the era of colonization reached the Philippines. Solutions should be formulated without compromising the development of self-identity and shall serve a channel of unity among different ethnicity and culture to promote peace and prosperity. The most practical solution to the challenges faced by them is to continue the peace talks among secessionist Muslim movements. The dialogue between the Philippine government and the MILF has come a very long way since both parties agreed to settle the armed dispute into the negotiating table. It is for Filipinos to determine the path of peace that they will take in order to pursue inclusiveness and development.

Image source: Philippine Daily Inquirer