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In Search of the Ultimate Solution of the Bangsamoro Problem*

I-share ko lang papel na binasa ko sa Philippine Pol. Sci. Association sa Cagayan de Oro kahapon.

Sana makatulong, kahit na yong ibang punto ay nasabi ko na noong una.


In Search of the Ultimate Solution of the Bangsamoro Problem

by Rudy Buhay Rodil

It has been 37 years since the start of the negotiation between the government and the MNLF, and now with the MILF.  The proper question to ask at this point seems: Why is the peace negotiation taking that long? Are the two parties solving the same problem? Are they really talking to each other? Or are they just fencing to see which one would collapse from exhaustion and give up the fight?


Allow me to share my ringside and inside the ring views, as a Mindanao historian (engaged in research and writing on Mindanao, specifically Moro and Lumad since the summer of 1973), as a member of the Regional Consultative Commission in Muslim Mindanao that helped draft the organic act of ARMM, and as an active participant in the peace negotiations between the Govt and the MNLF (1993-96) and between the government and the MILF (2004-2008.


First, from the very start (1968), when the MIM articulated its intention to put up an Islamic State in predominantly Muslim areas of Mindanao, when the MNLF proclaimed its goal to establish a Bangsamoro Republic covering the entirety of Mindanao,  Sulu and Palawan, and the MILF announced its objective to create an Islamic State covering the predominantly Muslim areas of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan,    the government has always been threatened and has consistently defended itself by asserting that it cannot allow the constitution and national sovereignty to be undermined and the territory of the republic to be dismembered.


Second, in the ensuing peace negotiation with both the MNLF and the MILF, the instruction of the Office of the President to the peace negotiating panel is always: negotiate within the framework of the Philippine Constitution and the territorial integrity of the Republic.  And that was how the Tripoli Agreement of December 1976 was reached.

This was how the Final Peace agreement of 1996 was resolved. And this was how the MOA-AD was ruled upon by the Supreme  Court in October 2008.


The first paragraph of the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 reveals the extent to which the Philippine Government has opened itself to political restructuring.  It says:  First: The establishment of Autonomy in the Southern Philippines within the realm of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines. Sub-paragraph 16 provides: The Government of the Philippines shall take all necessary constitutional processes for the implementation of the entire Agreement.

Up to the present this position has not changed.


Third, re-reading of Philippine history. I have a question at this point. Which Philippines are we talking about here? And which Bangsamoro juridical entities are the Bangsamoro advocates referring to.  May I invite you to take one step backward to June 12, 1898.  Or even several steps backward to 1450. Or to 1619.


On June 12, 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Philippines. As an affirmation of that event we now celebrate our independence on June 12. Questions: Was that Philippines the same as the Philippines we have today? Did it include the Sulu Sultanate which had been a state since 1450 to 1898? Did it include the Maguindanao Sultanate which was put together by Sultan Kudarat in 1619 and was still intact in 1898.


My reading is that in June 1898, there were at least three states here in the region we now know as the territory of the Republic of the Philippines: the Philippines, the Sulu Sultanate and the Maguindanao Sultanate.  All three suffered the same fate of victims of the manipulation of two colonial powers, Spain and the United States, embodied in the Treaty of Paris of 10 December 1898.  Spain sold or ceded its so-called sovereignty over the Philippines, Sulu sultanate and Maguindanao sultanate. And that was how the Moros of the two sultanates and the Pat a Pongampong ko Ranao became, on paper, one body politic, and part of the present Philippines. Our defeats in the wars against the United States completed the process of domination. And unification without benefit of consent. We all became colonial subjects of the Philippines Islands, part of the island possessions of the United States of America. In 1946, the United States gave back only one independence, to the Republic of the Philippines. This was how the Moros became Filipinos.


So, please take note, identity-wise, who were the Filipinos in June 1898? Only those who were covered by the Philippines declared as independent by Aguinaldo. The citizens of the two sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao and the constituencies of the Pat a Pongampong ko Ranao had their own identities were definitely not Filipinos.


The territory of the Philippines refers only to those parts which were colonized and governed by the Spaniards and declared as independent by the Aguinaldo government.  The two sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao, and the Pat a Pongampong ko Ranao were badly battered by war, suffered the ignominy of defeat many times and garrisons were maintained within their territories, but they were never effectively colonized or governed. They were certainly not colonized in the same way as the Filipinos were. I say that the two sultanates retained at least their de facto status as states–as de facto as the Philippines. This political reality is probably the reason why Aguinaldo sought authority from Congress to negotiate with the Sulu Sultanate for a possible confederation.


So what is the role of the Treaty of Paris in our current discourse? In what way is this connected with the Constitution of the Philippines?


American occupation of the Philippines (as defined in the Treaty of Paris) is premised on the legitimacy of this treaty.  What basic documents were used to govern the Philippines Islands?


The Philippine Bill of 1902

The Jones Law of 1916

The Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934

The Commonwealth Constitution of 1934.


Take note that each of these is affirming the legitimacy of the Treaty of Paris. And since none of the subsequent constitutions have questioned this very point, I assume, too, that these latter constitutions have affirmed the Treaty of Paris. The Republic of the Philippines of 1946 as we know it today was anchored on this wrong fundamental premise.  It was the structure grounded on this wrong premise that gave way to the extinction of the Moro political structures.


Fourth, who created the Moro problem?  As I see it the Moro problem is a creation of the colonial structures and of the basic colonial documents carried over into the republic.  The marginalized situation of the Moros and the Lumad of Mindanao and Sulu was a direct product of these very structures.  It is precisely these structures from which the Bangsamoro is trying to extricate itself in its effort to create its own modern political niche.


Fifth, search for solution.  It is now our historic task to jointly find its solution. The solution includes constitutional change.


But the Government insists we have to find the solution within the framework of the Constitution. The way I see it, it seems that the consciousness that created the problem is the very same consciousness that the government is using to solve the same problem. And we are all stuck!


At this point, may I invite you to reflect on this axiom by Albert Einstein:


We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

So,  what do we do to move forward? If you ask me, I will say: only by constitutional change. We need to reframe the foundations of this republic, this time based on the free and informed consent of the governed. We need to create new boxes, and see realities with new lenses. Our own lenses, not those left behind by our colonizers.#


* 2012 International Conference Philippine Political Science Association (PPSA) 12-14 April 2012, Xavier University,  Cagayan De Oro City.

  • § Mindanao historian, peace advocate. Commissioner of Regional Consultative Commission in Muslim Mindanao, member Govt peace Panel in talks with the MNLF, 1993-96. Vice chair Government peace panel in talks with the MILF, 2004-2008.


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