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COMMENT: Bridging the Historic Chasm (4)

III. Strategic Compromises (1. A Re-View)

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/04 November) – The Aquino III Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front forged the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro through compromises. In fact, negotiated agreements in contrast to the spontaneous are always made up of compromises.  The FAB is a strategic compromise.

However, to appreciate fully how the Aquino III government and the MILF reached their strategic compromise and whether it will really bring long lasting peace in Mindanao, we have to (1) re-view history, historic documents, some past policies, laws and programs; (2) see through the clash of two political concepts; and, (3) sift facts from hypes, sincerity from pretenses and truth from false claims.

1. A Re-View

The Bangsamoro Problem was sowed during the Spanish colonization, sprouted and took shape during the American regime and could have been aborted in 1934. The Moro leaders’ demands for redress through the three and a half decades until the grant of the Philippine Commonwealth were essentially similar to those of the Moro rebels in the 1970s until today. But the Americans and the Filipino nationalists turned blind and deaf to the Moro cry for justice and equity; they would not compromise.

During the more than 300 years of Spanish colonization, the Spanish expeditionary forces were able to drive the Moros inland, build forts but failed to conquer the Moros. The Moro warriors would always regroup and launch retaliatory attacks to confine the Spanish forces in their forts; they raided the Spanish and Christian coastal villages in the Visayas and Luzon. They remained unconquered, their sultanates ever sovereign.

Superior American military forces and their “policy of attraction” prevailed upon the Moros to give up their arms and place themselves under the American protection. However, the Americans appointed Christian Filipinos to run the courts and the local governments. They complained of injustices, inequities and prejudices. This turned worse in 1914: the Moro Province was abolished; the Moros were placed under the rule of Manila and the Filipino nationalists and subjected to Filipinization and patronage.

Besides the litany of injustices, inequities and prejudices in their petitions to the U. S. Presidents and Congresses through the Governor Generals, they strongly objected to the inclusion of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan in the Philippine territory ceded by Spain to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. They claimed – rightly so historically – of having never been conquered by Spain. They asked to separate Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan from Luzon and the Visayas and to be independent or a U. S. Territory.

Coincidentally, the revolutionary government under Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo included Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan in the Philippine Republic. At the Malolos Constitutional Convention, these territories had delegates – not Moros but Christians. This implied that Aquinaldo and other revolutionary leaders considered Mindanao and Sulu part of the Spanish Colony like the Visayas and Luzon. It could only be asked: Did they also imply that as such the Moros were under Christian vicars? Doubly, they were wrong!


In their petitions the Moros were conciliatory yet belligerent — proposing compromises for political redress but warning of troubles in the future if refused. The Americans and Filipino nationalists must have considered this as bluffs; they refused to compromise.

In the 1924 Zamboanga Petition, the Moros proposed that Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan “be made into an unorganized territory” of the U.S. To dispel any notion that the Moros “wish to dismember the Philippine Islands,” 50 years after independence has been granted to Luzon and the Visayas as the Philippine Republic, a plebiscite will be held for the Moros to decide if Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan will join the Republic, remain a U.S. territory or become independent.

In the 1934 Dansalan Petition, the Moros, after participating in the election of delegates to the Constitutional Convention – a manifestation that under satisfactory conditions they would join the independent Philippines – submitted to the Governor General, three days before the convention opened, seven proposals for inclusion in the Constitution. Three weeks after the adoption of the Constitution in 1935, they issued the Dansalan Declaration resenting the complete rejection of their Petition and warning of troubles.

The overriding issue in the 1923 and 1934 petitions was “consent” of the Moros before Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan would be included in the Philippine Republic. In the 1924, the “consent” was through a plebiscite; in the 1934, the “consent” was conditional – IF the Moro concerns and welfare would be accommodated in the Constitution. In both, the Moros were offering to compromise their demand for independence.

This fact is most enlightening: In 1934, the Moros sought redress and reconciliation by asking for constitutional accommodation; they were ignored. Today, since the 1970s, the Moro Liberation Front organizations, have been seeking redress and reconciliation through constitutional amendments; they were rebuffed – even vilified – in the MOA-AD (2008 GPH-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain). Will the FAB bring the long-sought redress and reconciliation?

No Rectification

After the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth, the government under the full control of the Filipinos led by President Manuel L. Quezon did not rectify the established policies and laws unjust to the Moros – especially those pertaining to lands. Instead, more laws supported the policy to develop Mindanao regardless of its adverse effects on the Moros. Mindanao was dubbed the “Land of Promise” that to the Moros meant promise not for them but for the Christians.

[NOTE: To elaborate on the point: The Philippine Commonwealth was inaugurated on November 15, 1935. Among the last acts of the Philippine Legislature was Legislative Act 4197 — the Quirino-Recto Colonization Act – declaring the opening of settlements in Mindanao to solve the problems of the government with the Moros. Among the early laws under the Commonwealth were C.A. No. 141 “declaring all Moro ancestral landholding” not authorized by either the Spanish or American government as public lands and C.A. 441 creating the National Land Settlement Administration.  The Moros saw these as “legalized land-grabbing.]

As it was in the past, Moros were appointed as heads of municipal districts and lower local government units; the Christian Filipinos as heads of municipalities and provinces in Moro areas before these were allowed to hold regular elections. In fact, President Quezon curtailed the traditional political and social powers of sultans and datus without authority from President.

The unjust laws and policies were the perpetuation of the injustices and inequities that were ignored in the Moro petitions. The anti-Moro laws and policies were manifestation of ethnic prejudice. The outcry against the MOA-AD and the adverse Decision of the Supreme Court are signs that the injustices, inequities and prejudices still dominate against the Moros.

In the 1934 Constitution, no provisions specifically protecting the Moro political, social, cultural, religious and other rights were accommodated despite the efforts of Mindanao delegates like Sultan Alaoya Alonto and Tomas Cabili. The same was true to the 1972 Constitution despite the many proposals from Moro and other Moro-friendly delegates as recounted by Delegate Datu Michael O. Mastura in his books. The 1987 Constitution is not an exception.


In the 1950s, there was peace in Mindanao as there was no war. But the recurrent Moro uprisings like that of Hadji Kamlon in Sulu puzzled the government. After a three-year study starting in 1954, a House Committee must have found injustice, inequity and ethnic prejudice at the root of the Moro problem.  The Moro petitions three decades past were ignored; but the grievances had continued fanning unrest.

Congress created the Commission on National Integration to integrate the Moros and other so-called cultural minorities to the mainstream Philippine society. The problems were deemed rooted in poverty and ignorance, hence the socioeconomic solutions. Like the past Filipinization policy, integration aimed to harmonize the Moros and Christians by bridging the socioeconomic and cultural gaps between them.

However, young Moro militants saw in the program the obliteration of the Moro identity. They availed of the CNI scholarship program but kept strong the political root of the Moro problem and their aspiration for independence – their only solution. Ironically, the CNI facilitated the formation of leaders of rebellion not of integration.

The CNI was dissolved in 1975, two years before the expiration of its 20-year term, as a total failure. Evidently, it was poorly managed and funded. Even at the relatively low costs prevailing at that time, how can P5 million a year support projects for meaningful change in the life of millions in Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan? And, worse! By official reports and accounts of some CNI commissioners, only about half of the annual funds were actually released. Good projects announced in media were miscarried or aborted.


In 50 years from the establishment of the American rule to the creation of the CNI, the assessment of the Moro problem as rooted in ignorance and poverty had not changed; and so had socioeconomic and cultural development as the solution. And, in another 50 years from CNI to the Aquino III administration, the assessment has virtually remained unchanged. Their agreement in the FAB notwithstanding, this poses as a fundamental difference between the MILF and Government negotiating panels.

Almost 80 years after the Moro efforts for redress and reconciliation were blocked at the 1934 constitutional convention and 40 years after similar efforts were frustrated at the 1972 constitutional convention, Filipino national leaders and constitutionalists still block proposals to amend the Constitution to accommodate Moro demands for redress and reconciliation. While the Moros look at the Constitution as the solution, they see it as the problem in the Mindanao peace process. Can the FAB hurdle this roadblock? (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at patpdiazgsc@yahoo.com.)

(Next:  Clash of Concepts and More)

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