Showing posts with label Philippines. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Philippines. Show all posts

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Philippines: Bangsamoro Basic Law Looms Over Mindanao



By Elizabeth Kendal,
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 11 Dec 2017


As the Battle for Marawi City comes to an end the struggle for Mindanao heats up.

As would be expected, ISIS and its affiliates are busy regrouping and recruiting across western Mindanao. Having looted thousands of homes and emptied all Marawi’s banks they are now offering recruits a “sign-up purse” (one-off payment) with the promise of further payments and benefits if they join a battlefront. The recruiters target displaced Muslims and Islamist sympathisers, many of whom are furious about the physical destruction of Marawi City which they blame on the Philippine military. Rommel Banlaoi from the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research warns that cashed-up “sleeper cells are everywhere”. 

But transnational jihadists, in particular Islamic State (IS/ISIS) and its affiliates and sympathisers, are not the only ones seeking to exploit the Marawi crisis.

As should be expected, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is also busy, exploiting the Marawi crisis for political gain. MILF’s efforts and aims, along with the implications for Christians, are the focus of this posting.

See also: Philippines: Battle for Mindanao far from over, 
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 435, 6 December 2017

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BANGSAMORO BASIC LAW LOOMS OVER MINDANAO
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CONTEXT

On 2 September 1996, the Government of the Republic of Philippines (GRP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) signed a peace deal which established the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The deal was supposed to end more than two decades of civil war. However, the more hardline Islamist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rejected the agreement. Reiterating the demand for an independent Islamic State, MILF continued the fight/jihad. 

On 27 March 2014, the Government of the Republic of Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), negating the GRP’s agreement with MNLF. Under the terms of the CAB, the MNLF-ruled ARMM would be abolished and replaced with an expanded and MILF-ruled Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (or Bangsamoro Judicial Entity). The deal was supposed to end nearly four decades of civil war. However, the even more hardline Islamist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) rejected the agreement. Reiterating the demand for an independent Islamic State, BIFF continued the fight/jihad.

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) is one of ten “fighting battalions” in the Philippines to have subsequently pledged allegiance to Islamic State. Other groups includes “a portion or all of the ASG [Abu Sayyaf Group] . . . Ansar Khilafah in the Philippines, Katibat Ansar al Sharia, Katibat Marakah al Ansar, the Islamic State in Lanao, Jund al Tawhid (a former ASG battalion), Jamaat al Tawhid wal Jihad (a group formerly loyal to al Qaeda), and parts of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).” (Caleb Weiss, Long War Journal, 12 June 2016)

After signing the CAB, the GRP and MILF drafted the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which would establish the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (also known as the Bangsamoro Judicial Entity) in Mindanao under MILF rule. However, progress of the bill stalled in Congress in late January-February 2016 after a violent clash between Philippine elite police and MILF forces in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, left 44 police commandos, 17 MILF fighters and three civilians dead. 

Isnilon Hapilon (second from left)
plotting the siege of Marawi.
(AFP forces killed Hapilon on 16 Oct 2017).
Having pledged allegiance to ISIS in January 2016 on behalf of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Isnilon Hapilon subsequently defected from the ASG and joined Islamic State, becoming the group’s first Emir for South East Asia. From his hideout in the 99.6 percent Muslim city of Marawi, Haplion plotted an Islamic State take-over of Marawi City. The plan was to establish Marawi as the capital of an ISIS wilayat (province) in South East Asia, much like Raqqa in Syria, or Mosul in Iraq. He was confident the local Muslims would not resist.

On 23 May 2017 the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) moved to arrest Hapilon. But the raid was botched and jihadists from various pro-ISIS groups flooded into the city to fight the AFP causing all hell to break loose

MILF AND DUTERTE MOVE TO EXPEDITE BBL

After the events of 1979 – specifically the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Siege of Mecca in Saudi Arabia – the regional trend of Islamic revival went global. As Shi’ite Iran strove to establish its ascendancy in and across the Middle East, Saudi Arabia got busy “Wahhabising” (often referred to as “radicalising”) the world’s Sunni Muslims so as to bring them in line with Islamic fundamentalist Saudi Arabian Wahhabi doctrine. In this the Saudis have been phenomenally successful. From Morocco to Mindanao, Sunni Muslims have submitted to Arabisation and become more fundamentalist as Sunni Muslims. African and Asian Muslim women who never wore veils now do, religiously. Muslims who never resisted non-Muslim leaders now reject them, religiously, as occurred in Jakarta, Indonesia, last year. [See: Indonesia: Ahok’s ‘Blasphemy’, by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 29 Nov 2016].

Still, political elites continue to blame radicalisation on its victims; in this case, on the Philippine government whose failure to pass and enact the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is said to have left Mindanao’s Muslims not only frustrated but vulnerable to manipulation by jihadist groups such as ISIS.

“We live in very dangerous times,” said MILF chairman Al Haj Ebrahim Murad on 17 July as a new BBL drafted by a panel of representatives from government, the MILF and religious groups, was submitted to the president.  “We watch with utter disgust of the destruction that violent extremism has inflicted in the city of Marawi. These misguided people have filled the vacuum created by our failure to enact the basic law and (they) feed into the frustration of our people.”

Front row centre: President Duterte
Front left: Murid (MILF Chair)
Front right:  Jaafar (MILF Vice-Chair)
Convinced that ISIS had exploited the government’s failure to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), President Duterte vowed on Monday 17 July, to expedite the passage of the BBL. “May I say to you my brothers . . . I will support and hasten this instrument as it goes to the legislature,” Duterte said in a ceremony for the handover of the bill, drawing loud applause.

In a 17 July interview with Reuters in Cotabato City, Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF’s top peace negotiator said he feared the Marawi siege could complicate the passage of the law if there was a perception that the MILF and the radical Maute group fighting in Marawi were associated with each other because both hail from the same region.

Concern over perceptions may well have been at the forefront of MILF’s thinking when it decided in August to take up arms against the pro-ISIS BIFF jihadists wreaking havoc across the MILF heartland of Maguindanao province.

Bong S Sarmiento reports from Maguindanao for Asia Times Online (1 Oct): “MILF is fast emerging as a local counterforce to that threat [i.e. BIFF], an ironic voice of moderation after plunging the region into decades of debilitating civil war. ‘Violent extremism is not acceptable in Islam,’ Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF’s peace implementing panel chair, said in a recent statement.

MILF fighters and flag
“In August, the MILF dusted off its rusting guns to launch an offensive against the IS-aligned Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the little-known Jamaatul Muhajiren Wal-Ansar in Mindanao’s violence-prone Maguindanao province, the MILF’s strategic hub located about four hours away from Marawi.”

As Sarmiento notes, “It’s not altogether clear if the MILF’s motivations for launching the fight are driven more by political, religious, tactical or personal imperatives. While certain MILF members have known ties to the IS-linked Maute Group, including through marriage, MILF leaders have been consistently critical of the Maute Group’s IS-inspired scorched earth tactics.”

Considering the years of carnage and suffering the MILF has inflicted on the people of Mindanao, I think we can say its criticism is hypocritical, its actions are strategic, and its motivations political.

TARGET: MARCH 2018

Carolyn O. Arguillas reports for MindaNews (26 Nov): “With only nine session days left from November 27 until the two houses of Congress go on recess on December 16, no Bangsamoro law will be passed by year end as originally envisioned by the Duterte administration’s Bangsamoro Peace and Development Roadmap approved in July 2016.”

Lanao del Sur Rep. Mauyag Papandayan, Jr., chair of the Committee on Muslim Affairs told MindaNews, that the new target for passing the law is March 2018. Committee hearings will start in the first week of December, after which Congress goes on recess from December 16 to January 14. When Congress resumes there will be public hearings, followed by committee deliberations then plenary session. “Hopefully,” he said, “by March tapos na’ (it’s done).”

Once the BBL is ratified, the President will appoint the Bangsamoro Transitional Authority which will rule in the ARMM until the 80-seat Assembly is elected in 2022.

Map courtesy Stratfor Intelligence, 2014

SO WHAT DOES THE BBL INVOLVE? 

The full text of the Draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), as submitted to the president on 17 July 2017 can be found HERE.

The Articles that will cause the greatest concern among Christians and other non-Muslims will be Article III (3) which deals with territory; and Article X (10) which deal with the judicial system.

Article X (10) BANGSAMORO JUSTICE SYSTEM 

As would be expected in an Islamic sub-state, the justice system will consist of Shari’ah law and Shari’ah courts. The system will be backed up by a Shari’ah Academy which will not simply teach courses in Islamic law, but “develop the curricula, textbooks, and learning materials of schools and universities in the Bangsamoro” (Article 10, section 22. page 54).

Hudud will apply (section 4): “Under Shari’ah, the penalties for Hudud, plural for Hadd (capital crime) which are seen as crimes against Allah (God), and Qisas, which are crimes against persons, are imposed in the Qur’an.”

Theoretically the Shari’ah judicial system will only apply to Muslims “who voluntarily submit to the Shari’ah Court”. Theoretically indigenous (Lumad) rights and religious freedom will be respected.  Theoretically, Shari’ah will not be applied to non-Muslims, national laws will still apply, and all courts will be under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

However, as anyone familiar with the situation in Northern Nigeria, Aceh, or even Malaysia knows, it never actually works out that way. It is highly likely that any Muslim who refuses to “voluntarily submit to the Shari’ah Court” will be accused of being apostate. The Shari’ah prohibition on apostasy (leaving Islam) means all Muslims in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region will lose their religious freedom. According to Shari’ah, children inherit their faith from their father. If a Muslim man cannot convert, then he cannot raise his children as Christians. In line with this, Shari’ah prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men. If a Muslim woman cannot convert, then she cannot marry a Christian man and raise Christian children.  And while cases could theoretically be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court of the Philippines, not many Filippinos will have the funds for that. When similar cases have been tried in Malaysia and Egypt, the Supreme Court ruled that apostasy falls under the jurisdiction of the Shari'ah Court, making the constitution nothing more than a mirage. 

Further to this,  imposition of Muslim rule and legitimisation of Islamic law tends to elevate Islamic zeal and inflame feelings of Muslim supremacism. It is generally the case that Muslims in newly Islamised states become less tolerant and increasingly expect Christians to live as dhimmis, second class citizens, humiliated and subjugated under Islam.

Article III (3) TERRITORY

The most disturbing aspect of Article III is the potential for perpetual expansion.

Once enacted by Congress and signed into law by the president, the BBL will be submitted to the people for ratification in a plebiscite. All registered voters in the core territory will be able to vote. Generally speaking, Christians are a minority across the region, so their vote will not save them from inclusion in the MILF-ruled Islamic sub-state.

However, Local Government Units (LGUs) that are outside the core territory but contiguous to it, will be able to participate in the plebiscite if they can submit a petition signed by 10 percent of registered voters. Then, if a majority of voters give approval through the plebiscite the LGU will be incorporated into the Bangasmoro Autonmous Region.

Further to this, Article XV (15) section 4 (page 100) of the BBL allows for “periodic plebiscites” to be held every five years over a period of 25 years. By this means, LGUs that were not able to join the BAR previously, will have an opportunity to join subsequently.

Surely this raises the prospect of perpetual territorial expansion. Surely this is a recipe for intense Islamic pressure and even ethnic-religious cleansing.

 “A STATE IN ALL BUT NAME”

Writing for MindaNews (19 Aug), Antonio G. M. La ViƱa comments: “As envisioned, the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity is not merely an expanded version of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the status of its relationship with the national government being fundamentally different from that of the ARMM. Indeed, BJE is a state in all but name as it meets the criteria of a state laid down in the Montevideo Convention, namely, a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and a capacity to enter into relations with other states.”

POTENTIALLY UNCONSTITUTIONAL

At this point in time the BBL is still just a proposal. Congress will struggle to produce a final product that is both constitutional and acceptable to the MILF. If the BBL is challenged in the Supreme Court and found to be unconstitutional – as happened in 2008 with the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) on Ancestral Domain – then conflict may well resume, just as it did in 2008. And if conflict does resume, then the MILF may even re-think its relationship with ISIS.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

PHILIPPINES: Moros take the battle to Zamboanga

Clashes broke out on Mindanao in the early hours of Monday 9 Sept, between rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) intent on marching into Zamboanga city to raise their flag over the city hall and declare independence, and Philippine Army troops blocking their path.
Rebel elements occupied Lustre, Santa Catalina and neighbouring barangays (villages), seizing an estimated 170 residents to use as human shields. 

That evening, Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco said in a statement, that the MNLF rebels were holding at least 87 people hostage in Kasanyangan, 20 at the Santa Catalina mosque, 20 at the Talon-talon mosque, 10 in Camacop Santa  Barbara, and an undetermined number of people at the SDK building and the Fernandez store in Lustre.

Abdul Sahrin, secretary-general of the Moro National Liberation Front, blamed the faction of former MNLF leader Nur Misuari, a Moro nationalist, for carrying out the attack which led to over 2000 people being immediately displaced.

But Monday 9 Sept was just the beginning.

By 13 September, the crisis had displaced 5,600 families or 24,880 people. By 14 Sept, the death toll had reached 52 (43 MNLF rebels) and the number of displaced / "evacuees" had risen to 39,260.

By 15 Sept, the total number of "evacuees" had reach 61,838; by 16 Sept it was 72,159; and by 17 Sept it was 82,106. By 18 Sept the number of evacuees had risen to 110,000, and by this time 1,114 homes had been burned, several car bombs had been detonated and the number the hostages had risen to 149.

By 20 Sept, the tide was turning with only around 50 fighters remaining in Zamboanga city.

By 22 Sept, a sense of "normalcy" was starting to return, however numerous infectious diseases had broken out amongst the children holed up in Zamboanga's evacuation centres, including measles, upper respiratory tract infections, diarrhoea, and various skin diseases.

That evening Philippine media reported that 99 MNLF fighters had been killed and 117 had either been captured or had surrendered. By 6pm on Thursday 25 Sept, that figure had risen to 125 MNLF fighters dead. "There were also 136 who have surrendered excluding the 36 who have surrendered earlier."

See TIMELINE: Crisis in Zamboanga City
By Andrei Medina, GMA News (updated regularly)

GMA news reported on Monday 23 Sept, 15 days into the crisis, that government troops had found drug paraphernalia in buildings occupied by the rebels. Philippine Army 7th Civil Relations Group commander Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said a captured rebel had tested positive methamphetamine hydrochloride. "They are using Shabu to make them more ferocious and pitiless," he said.

On Wed 25 Sept, it was believed that around 20 hostages were still being held captive by MNLF fighters.  By this time some 10,160 homes had been burned.

On the evening of Thursday 26 Sept, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, spokesman for the military, said 162 MNLF forces had been captured and 138 had been killed since the start of the crisis on 9 Sept.  It was also reported that a total of 188 hostages had been rescued, including six rescued that day. 

Today, Friday 27 Sept, 19 days into the crisis, the fighting has not yet finished; however the rebels are splintered, hungry and running out of ammunition. When the fighting does end, "Phase 2" of the operation will commence. That will involve clearing the area of bodies, booby traps and bombs.

Julie S. Alipala reports for Inquirer Mindanao (Friday 27 Sept 2013): "Death is in the air in the villages of Santa Catalina, Santa Barbara and Rio Hondo here, with the bodies of slain Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels rotting on the battlefield.

"Col. Ignacio Obligacion, commander of Task Force Igsoon, said on Thursday he had been requesting the Crisis Management Committee, through the village officials, to send something to cover the stench.

"'The stench has been there for days. I’m worried about an outbreak of disease,' Obligacion said.

"One task force officer, who asked not to be named, said his unit had to end the fighting as quickly as possible because the stench had become unbearable."

Journalist Carolyn O. Arguillas describes the situation, saying Zamboanga City is "down on its knees with a humanitarian crisis of a scale never before experienced."

For background and an explanation of why MNLF has renewed its war with the Government of the Republic of Philippines, see:

PHILIPPINES: Religious Liberty in Bangsamoro
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 180
By Elizabeth Kendal, 10 Oct 2012

For more on the MNLF claim, see:
Moros take the battle to Sabah.
Having already lost their liberty, Sabah's Christians now face losing their peace.
By Elizabeth Kendal, 15 March 2013

See also: Philippines struggles with Muslim rebels
By Richard Heydarian, Asia Times online, 24 Sept 2013

In 2008, the Government of the Republic of Philippines, led then by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, brokered a peace deal with the MILF that essentially created an Islamic sub-state within the state in violation of the constitution. The Supreme Court had to intervene on the eve of the signing to issue a restraining order. The MILF responded by unleashing terror across North Cotabato.
See Philippines: Update on Gov-MILF peace deal.
By Elizabeth Kendal, 14 Aug 2008

And now history repeats itself. For by brokering a peace deal with the MILF that violates its peace deal with the MNLF, short-sighted politicians more interested in securing a legacy for themselves than doing the right thing have, yet again, unleashed disaster upon the long-suffering peoples of the southern Philippines.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Moros take the battle to Sabah. Having already lost their liberty, Sabah's Christians now face losing their peace.


By Elizabeth Kendal

Between 9th and 12th February 2013, as many as 235 ethnic Tausug from the Southern Philippines landed on the coast of eastern Sabah at Masjid Lama, near Lahad Datu, many armed with assault rifles and grenade launchers. Led by Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram, the brother of the Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram III, the militants claimed to be members of the Royal Sulu Army.

Initially the Malaysian government tread softly, asking the "intruders" to put down their arms and leave peacefully. The Tausug militants defiantly declined and a stand-off ensued. Eventually, after a fire-fight left at least six Malaysian policemen dead -- some reportedly beheaded -- Malaysia responded with force, deploying fighter jets in a full-blown air assault that killed at least 56 of the Filipino "terrorists".

Across the Moro-dominated southern Philippines, the Malaysian response has been branded an "atrocity". The fact that the Philippine's government has supported the Malaysian "atrocity" has further inflamed Moro hostility towards Manila.

Stratfor Global Intelligence (26 Feb) elaborates: "One of myriad ethnic groups spread across Southeast Asia, the Tausug are centered in Jolo in the Sulu Archipelago but stretch from Malaysia and Indonesia on Borneo to Mindanao in the southern Philippines. The territory comprises what was once the Sultanate of Sulu, and the group has claimed it does not need to leave Malaysian territory because it is still part of the Sultanate.

"[The Tausugs] are traditionally maritime people who claim Islam came to the area by the 1300s and that the first Islamic sultanate of Sulu was established in the mid-1400s by a member of the Hashemite family and a direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammed. In the 1870s, the sultanate leased its territory in Sabah on Borneo to the British, and the British passed the territory on to Malaya. Malaysia still pays a nominal 'rent' to the Sulu Sultanate -- currently less than $2,000 per year -- and this is being shown as proof by the current Sulu Sultan that even Malaysia recognized Sulu sovereignty over Sabah."

Whether Malaysia's annual payment to the Sultan is for rental or purchase of Sabah remains a hotly contested issue.  Consequently, impoverished and marginalised oil-rich Sabah is contested territory!


SABAH AND THE MNLF

In 1967, plotters within the Philippine military associated with President Ferdinand Marcos conspired to establish a force of commandos that would invade and destabilise Sabah giving the Philippine government grounds to intervene in Sabah on the pretext of protecting Filipinos living there. To this end some 200 Tausug and Sama Filipino Muslims from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi were recruited, armed and trained -- wooed with promises of an allowance and eventual accession into the Philippine Armed Forces. The commando unit was named Jabidah. Initial training was conducted in the island-town of Simunul in Tawi-Tawi. Then, on 30 Dec 1967, the recruits were sent to the island of Corregidor in Luzon for "specialised training."

A few months later everything unravelled when the Tausug and Sama Muslims learned they would have to fight and kill fellow Muslims in Sabah, possibly even their own Tausug and Sama relatives.  When the Muslims mutinied, the Philippine soldiers decided to eliminate them. The exact number of how many Muslim recruits were executed in Corregidor is unknown. The Moro struggle was born!
    
See: "THE CORREGIDOR MASSACRE - 1968"
By Paul F. Whitman

Founded by Nur Misuari in 1969, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) waged jihad against the Philippine government for independence of the Bangsamoro people in Southern Philippines. Headquartered in Sabah through the 1970s, the MNLF received backing from Malaysia.

In 1976 the MNLF and Manila agreed to a provisional peace accord -- the sides have been negotiating ever since.

Included in those negotiations has been the Philippine claim over Sabah. While Manila seems keen to drop the issue the MNLF is not. The Moros (Filipino Muslims) have strong ethnic ties to Sabah. And as part of the historic Sultanate of Sulu, Sabah has always been included in MNLF's territorial demands.

Manila has never renounced its claim to Sabah but has used the claim as leverage to win Malaysian support in brokering peace with the more hardline Islamist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which split from the MNLF in 1978 to continue the jihad. Meanwhile Malaysia has used role as mediator in the MILF conflict for domestic political gain, promoting itself as the defender of the rights of Philippine Muslims.

Every Philippine government wants to go down in history as the government that brokered peace in the south. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's hasty 2008 deal collapsed under the weight of its own flaws and President Benigno S. Aquino III's hasty and flawed Oct 2012 Framework Agreement was always going to lead to conflict. For by brokering an agreement with the MILF that totally undermined the agreement already held with the MNLF the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) made conflict inevitable.

Indeed, the crisis in Sabah has its roots in the ill-fated "Framework Agreement" struck last October between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

FRAMEWORK AGREEMENT, PLUS A BIT ON THE SIDE

Noel Tarrazona reports for Asia Times on line of a "Quiet quid pro quo".

"In an apparent non-disclosed component of the MILF peace deal, Manila agreed to drop its historical claim to territories in Sabah in exchange for the establishment of a Philippine consulate in Sabah, according to a source familiar with the provision. Revelations of the concession to Malaysia reportedly infuriated Kiram [the sultan] and the MNLF leadership, according to the same source. Manila has cooperated with Kuala Lumpur throughout the crisis and pressured Kiram to recall his followers.

"Kiram, who resides in Manila and reportedly suffers from diabetes, has so far defied those official demands while his family members have issued new threats. After Malaysia's assault on his rag tag royal militia, Princess Celia Fatima Kiram warned of a 'long civil war' in Sabah. Kiram's apparent strong links to the MNLF, once the country's largest rebel group with 15,000 under arms and increasingly disenchanted with Manila, give weight to that threat.

"MNLF leaders have spoken out forcefully in the wake of the assaults. MNLF Islamic Council Committee Chairman Habib Hashim Mudjahab said on Tuesday [5 March] that he could no longer hold back his people from traveling to Sabah to defend their ethnic brethren from Malaysian forces. 'We are hurt and many of our people, even non-combatants are going to Sabah to sympathize with the Sultanate,' Mudjahab said.

"MNLF political chief officer Gapul Hajirul warned that the signs of a civil war are already apparent in Sabah, referring apparently to the militant ambush on police forces in Semporna. The attack indicated to some observers that an underground Tausug movement is already organized and undertaking insurgent operations in Sabah. 'I am afraid there will be civil war in Sabah because thousands of Bangsamoro (Filipino Muslims) are residing in Sabah,' Hajirul said without elaborating.

"MNLF leader Nur Misuari told reporters on Tuesday that if Malaysia targets Filipinos based in Sabah his group would consider it 'tantamount to a declaration of war.' He also warned Philippine President Benigno Aquino that any attempt to arrest Kiram would plunge the country into chaos. . ."

SEE: Threats of a wider war in Sabah
By Noel Tarrazona, Asia Times on line, 7 March 2013

Ida Lim (The Malaysian Insider, 2 March 2013) similarly warns of the danger of escalation.

"The Lahad Datu standoff could widen into a civil war engulfing Sabah, a Philippine separatist leader has warned as a Muslim rebel army moved to entrench itself in the Borneo state. . ."

She too quoted Hajirul: "I am afraid there will be a civil war in Sabah because thousands of Bangsamoro are residing in Sabah. It's only MNLF chairman Nur (Misuari) who could decide on the matter. Whatever his decision, we will follow. Our Tausug brothers and sisters of Sulu and the Samals in Tawi-Tawi were saddened and are hurting by the turn of the events."

Lim notes that the news portal the Philippine Star estimates that more than 8,500 Filipinos, mostly Tausugs or Suluk tribesmen, are residing in Sabah and are potential supporters of the Sultanate of Sulu.

Observers largely agree that the ultimate purpose of the invasion of "a few boatloads of bandits, cannot conceivably be to claim Sabah by force". On the contrary, it is widely believed that the Sultan and MNFL have merely manufactured a crisis at a strategic moment -- virtually on the eve on Malaysia's federal elections (due by June) -- so as to leverage themselves into the on-going GRP - MILF negotiations. 

Malaysian commentators have lambasted the Malaysian government: "This Umno-led effort [mediating peace between the GRP and MILF] is clearly making a grand show of Muslim solidarity, in a desperate attempt to secure Malay-Muslim votes in the peninsula, as well as Muslim Filipino and Indonesian migrants' votes in Sabah.

"Umno's botched attempt at brokering a peace deal in the southern Philippines has cost us heavily: hundreds of Sabahan villagers along the east coast have been made refugees, eight (or more) policemen have lost their lives, and Sabah has been drawn ever deeper into the conflict in the southern Philippines. . . "

Meanwhile, Philippine president Benigno Aquino III is also paying a heavy price in Philippine media for appearing to sanction the foreign use of deadly force against Philippine rebels seen to be making a legitimate claim to what they regard as their historic homeland.

MALAYSIA'S BETRAYAL OF SABAH YIELDING BITTER FRUIT

When Sabah joined Sarawak, Malaya and Singapore to form independent Malaysia in 1963, it was on the conditions of a 20-point agreement that included the following: There should be no state religion and the provisions relating to Islam in Federal Constitution should not apply; and, English should be the official language for all purposes without limitation of time.

Donald Stephens, a Kadazan-Dusun Christian who played an important role in bringing Sabah into Malaysia, became the first Chief Minister.

According to the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) Malaysia, "before 1963, Sabah and Sarawak were guided by their native customs and by British laws. The influence of Islam was marginal."

At that time Sabah was a multi-ethnic, plural state, with the predominantly Christian Kadazan-Dusun being the largest ethnic group, comprising around 32 percent. (Today they comprise about 17.8 percent.)

However, from 1967, under the chief ministership of Mustapha Datu Harun, policies were enacted  to unify the peoples of Sabah through the imposition of one language, Bahasa Malaysia, and one religion, Islam. The United Sabah Islamic Association, funded by the government, was established with the specific task of conversion. Mass conversion particularly in the rural areas became the norm. Rumours had it that the government applied pressure and resorted to bribery to obtain converts to Islam. Mustapha used his emergency powers to expel all expatriate Christian missionaries on the grounds that they perpetuated an imperialist mentality.

By 1973, Islam had been made the official religion of the state and Bahasa Malaysia had been adopted as the state's sole official language.

When UMNO entered state politics in Sabah in the1990s, it opened the floodgates for mass immigration and naturalisation of Muslims from Indonesia and Southern Philippines, essentially "to weaken the indigenous Kadazan-Dusun Christians and to enhance UMNO powerbase" (NECF). This systematic granting of citizenship to immigrants was known as Project IC (for Identity Card) or Project M (for Mahathir Mohamad). (See: Project IC's Chickens coming home to roost, Malaysiakini, 3 March.)

Today local Sabahans are a minority in Sabah. Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani wrote of this July 2010, quoting MP Lim Kit Siang: "After 47 years, Sabahans are now concerned that they have become the minority and strangers in their own land. How can Sabah's population of 400,000 during the formation of Malaysia in 1963 be now multiplied to over three million today?" [That figure includes up to 1.7 million migrants (Nov 2007): NECF.]

Furthermore, religious liberty is now illusory. David Fung writes: "In Sabah, since 1978 it has been an offence for anyone to propagate any religious doctrine or belief without the permission of the Sabah Majlis Ugama Islam among Muslims, and the offence shall be tried before the magistrate's court and punishable with imprisonment of up to one year or a fine up to RM3,000 or both.

"Attempted apostasy out of the religion of Islam is apparently also an offence for the Muslim who has shown by word or conduct that he or she intentionally claims to cease to profess Islam or declares himself or herself to be a non-Muslim.

"The syariah court has the power to order that the apostate (murtad) be detained in the Islamic Rehabilitation Centre for a maximum period of 36 months on the pretext of rehabilitating the person so that the person could repent of the attempted apostasy."

For more on the Islamisation of Sabah, see:

The broken oath and Sabah’s ‘curse’
In Sabah pressure to convert to Islam 'was particularly great on those in politics'.
By David Fung (a Sabah based advocate and solicitor), 3 January 2012.

Sabah: A report by the national Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) Malaysia.

"BLOWBACK" / "KARMA"

Over the decades the Malaysian government has been so focused on winning Muslim votes and importing Muslim vote-cattle that they failed to consider the long-term consequences.

Rowan Callick, Asia-Pacific Editor for The Australian (9 March), describes the Sabah conflict the latest battleground of "blowback" - "where people who are trained for covert action return to bite the hand of the people who have fed and armed them."

Ramon Tulfo, Philippine Daily Inquirer (20 Feb), describes "the whole saga [as] a case of 'karma' on Malaysia".

Tolfu writes: "Malaysia is in a no-win situation as a result of the standoff in Sabah.

"If it uses deadly force on a small group of armed Filipino Muslims now holed up in the village of Tanduo in Lahad Datu town in Sabah, members of the fiercest of Philippine Moro tribe, the Tausogs of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, will retaliate.  . . .

"There is no record of the number of Filipinos, mostly Tausogs, in Sabah. But a friend of mine who used to be in the Philippine military intelligence estimates that one-third of the population in the Malaysian state is Tausog.

"Many of the people in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi have relatives in Sabah, which is just one hour by speedboat from Simunul in Tawi-Tawi.

"If the Tausogs in Sabah rise up in revolt against the Malaysian government, their relatives in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi will go to Sabah and fight with them.

"To the Tausogs, the claim of the group purporting to represent the Sultanate of Sulu that Sabah belongs to the sultanate is legitimate."

Doubtless presenting a Western perception, The Economist (23 Feb), reports: "The sultan, Jamalul Kiram III . . . is now a merely symbolic figure. His claim to Sabah is a romantic fantasy, yet one that grips the imagination of those hoping for another golden [Islamic] era."

In contrast, Tulfo (a Filipino journalist) maintains: "The Sulu Sultanate, long dormant and somewhat forgotten because of the war waged by the Tausog-led MNLF against the government, is still revered by Moros in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

"Tausogs respect the Sultan of Sulu in much the same way Malaysians pay homage to their royal family.

"If harm is done to Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram, who ordered the Mudah Agbimuddin to enter Sabah, his fellow Tausogs in Sabah and in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi will take up arms against the Malaysian government. . .

"My source in Sulu said that even before the landing of 200 men in Lahad Datu last week [early-mid Feb], the Sultanate had already sent armed men in small groups to Sabah to escape notice from authorities. The armed groups are being coddled by Tausogs in the Malaysian state. . ."

Tulfo concludes: "When the (Philippines) government was fighting the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) in the 1970s through the 1980s, Malaysia was secretly supporting the rebellion in the South.

"Weapons coming from Libya and other Middle East countries passed through Malaysia on their way to the MNLF.

"Now, it seems the shoe is on the other foot.

"The law of karma is being played out."

Kuala Lumpur-based political analyst Nile Bowie writes for Asia Times on line (12 March): "The Philippine government under President Benigno Aquino has sided with Malaysia and reiterated its call to Kiram's followers to surrender to prevent further bloodshed. Aquino has spoken of punishing the sultan and his men for masterminding the armed rebellion in Sabah, prompting a domestic backlash that threatens fragile peace deals with separatist militant groups sympathetic to Kiram's cause. . .

"Nur Misuari, leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), warned the Aquino government of chaos if Kiram is arrested or his men apprehended. . .

"At a recent press conference, Misuari stated, '. . . [If] there is an attempt even to arrest the sultan, I understand. Let them do that. The country will be in total chaos if they do, I promise you'."

Bowie concludes: "As many Filipinos categorize the actions taken by Malaysia as 'atrocities', a credible threat exists in the prospect of a wider war if MNLF soldiers establish a foothold in Sabah. While [Malaysian Prime Minister] Najib's position will likely remain firm, the risks are rising of a wider crisis as security forces engage militants and reports from the front stir nationalistic passions."

Underneath all this is Sabah's longsuffering Christian community. Having already lost their liberty, Sabah's Christians must be wondering if they are about to lose their peace. 

-----------------------------------------

Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah SPeaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

PHILIPPINES: UPDATE ON GOV-MILF PEACE DEAL

Date: Thursday 14 August 2008
Subj: Philippines: Update on Gov-MILF peace deal.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


PHILIPPINES: UPDATE ON GOV-MILF PEACE DEAL

- Supreme Court issues temporary restraining order.
- Public hearing slated for Friday 15 August.
- MILF unconcerned; says pact is a "done deal".
- Heavy fighting displaces some 160,000 in North Cotabato.

On Sunday 27 July representatives from the Government of the Republic of Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) finalised a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) on Ancestral Domain, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Tuesday 5 August was slated as the date for a formal signing ceremony.

Provincial leaders in the Southern Philippines provinces of North Cotabato and Zamboanga subsequently issued petitions to the Supreme Court, protesting the secrecy of the MoA and requesting the court issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the government signing the deal before its contents could be made public and consultations held.

For background see --
Philippines: Government to sign deal with MILF.
WEA Religious Liberty News & Analysis.
By Elizabeth Kendal, 31 July 2008

UPDATE

The Manila Bulletin online reports: "In a unanimous vote of 15 justices, the Supreme Court (SC) yesterday [4 Aug] stopped the government from proceeding today with the signing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, of a memorandum of agreement (MoA) on the ancestral domain in the expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

"After a special full court session led by Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, the SC scheduled an oral argument on the two petitions filed against the MoA starting at 9 am on Aug. 15.

"The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) was ordered to furnish the SC and all the parties in the two petitions with official copies of the MoA not later than Aug. 8." (Link 1)

According to the Manila Bulletin: "Lawyer Jose Midas Marquez, chief of the SC public information office and assistant court administrator, explained that the temporary restraining order (TRO) is not a resolution of the issue on its merits. He said the SC decided to conduct an oral argument (public hearing) on the case so that the justices would be enlightened on the issues involved in the MoA."

TRIBAL CHIEFS, MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS PROTEST MoA

Analyst Amando Doronila comments: "The central and transcendental issue raised by the petition is the sovereignty of the Republic over the proposed Bangsamoro homeland. The heart of the sovereignty issue is the dispute over territorial cession without the consent of the inhabitants of ceded territories. This issue has resonance to the Filipino public. It is the source of the widespread public backlash of opinion against the MOA." (Link 2)

The Inquirer reports: "Leaders of various ethnic groups in Mindanao have called on the government to refrain from including their territories in the proposed expanded Moro homeland, saying they, too, have the right to self-rule.

"In a 'state of indigenous people's address' released Thursday, the chieftains of 12 tribes in the southern Philippines said government's agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to include their areas in the Bangsamoro Juridical Entities 'lacked recognition of our legitimate rights to our ancestral domains'.

"The chiefs of the Manobo, Talaandig, Pulangiyon, Mamanwa, Bla'an, Dibabawon, Mandaya, T'boli, Tagabawa-Bagobo, Erumanen-Menuvu, Higa-onon, and Subanon tribes said they, too, have the right to self-rule. 'The Moro people cannot claim the whole of Mindanao as their ancestral domain, because we also have our own territories, we have the right to self-determination.'" (Link 3)

The chiefs also reject the government's claim that poverty in Mindanao is due to the conflict. The chiefs maintain that the poverty is due to poor governance and the absence of policies that will allow the people of Mindanao to benefit from the utilisation of the region's vast resources.

Christians and Muslims alike are outraged that the government would cede their lands to MILF without any consultation. The Inquirer reports: "Muslims and Christians in the Southern Philippines have assailed the 'landmark deal' between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that seeks to expand Moro autonomy in Mindanao.

"None other than Sultan Esmail Kiram, the heir of Sultanate of Sulu, expressed disgust over what he called government's insensitive action of offering the areas which have been part of the ancestral domain of Sultanate of Sulu, to the MILF without prior consultation." (Link 4)

MILF NOT CONCERNED

MILF remains unconcerned by the TRO, which it regards as the government's problem. They claim the MoA is a "done deal" because it was initialled before credible third party witnesses.

MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the signing ceremony is only a matter of formality, and that even without the ceremony, the document is already legally binding on the parties. Asked what would be the impact of the aborted signing to the MILF, he said: "Nothing! This is not even a setback to the MILF. We are on the upper hand especially in the battle for moral ascendancy." (Link 5)

CONFLICT ERUPTS


The Philippine military is presently fighting to drive MILF out of some 13 villages that it has occupied in North Cotabato. On 11 August the Office of Civil Defense has reported that 18,633 families or some 130,000 people had been displaced from 42 villages in North Cotabato province as a result of the fighting. (Link 6)

The Catholic "Asia News" reports: "More than 800 guerrillas are ensconced in 15 majority Christian villages in North Cotabato. The violence has created an enormous humanitarian crisis, and the Red Cross is preparing to send food and water. Part of the Filipino Church is in favour of the agreement on regional autonomy in Mindanao." (Link 7)

By Wednesday 13 August the army had driven the Muslim rebels out the 15 villages they had occupied. However, more than 160,000 displaced civilians -- mostly Catholic farmers -- cannot return home until landmines and booby traps have been removed. (Link 8)

----------

While some advocates (including some within the Church, as Asia News notes) believe the MoA will bring peace, many analysts believe that history proves otherwise. Ramon J Farolan, in his opinion piece in the Inquirer notes that 12 years ago the Philippine government signed a peace deal with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and established the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Five years later MNLF declared war on the government. In 1981 MILF, rejecting autonomy, split from MNLF to fight for an independent Islamic state.

Farolan explains: "The MILF was originally part of the MNLF. In 1981, under the leadership of Hashim Salamat, a learned Islamic scholar heavily influenced by Muslim teachings in Egypt and Pakistan, as well as the thoughts of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, the MILF broke away from the MNLF and called for the establishment of an Islamic government in a Bangsamoro homeland. For Hashim Salamat, who passed away five years ago, what was negotiable was the territorial configuration for the Bangsamoro state. What was non-negotiable was the setting up of an Islamic government in Mindanao deeply rooted in Islamic principles and values, and in pursuit of this goal, the MILF refused the government offer of autonomy."

Farolan asks, "Let us assume that the BJE [Bangsamoro Judicial Entity] after much debate and consultations is accepted in terms of a constitutional amendment and plebiscite. Do we really believe that the Moros will be satisfied with a juridical entity just as they see their dream of a truly independent Bangsamoro homeland well within their grasp? From the MNLF with its ARMM to the MILF with its BJE, the next step could only be full, unconditional independence with recognition from the community of nations. Make no mistake, a younger generation operating under a different acronym will move in this direction supported by the vast resources that would be made available under the BJE.

"Choosing the path of least resistance, the path of appeasement, even the path of pandering to the wishes of friends who may have their own agenda on the matter, can only lead to greater bloodshed and the possible dismemberment of our country." (Link 9)

Of course peace is not the only issue of relevance here. Even if this land-for-peace deal did result in long-term peace, the price would have been immoral: a land-for-peace deal such as this involves more than land -- it involves people, many people. The religious liberty of hundreds of thousands of Philippine citizens -- who would have gone to sleep under the Philippine constitution only to wake up under an Islamic one -- must not be traded. Such a deal could only be a covenant with death. (Isaiah 28:15)

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) SC stops signing of MILF accord
By REY G. PANALIGAN 5 Aug 2008
Manila Bulletin online (link removed)
See also
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryID=127242

2) Analysis: Self-inflicted dismemberment
By Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer. 8 Aug 2008
http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/columns/view/20080808-153334/Self-inflicted-dismemberment

3) Mindanao tribal chiefs hit RP's homeland deal with MILF
By Abigail Kwok. 31 July 2008
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/nation/view/20080731-151884/Mindanao-tribal-chiefs-hit-RPs-homeland-deal-with-MILF

4) Muslims, Christians to stage protests vs gov't-MILF deal
Mindanao Bureau. 3 August 2008
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/regions/view/20080803-152402/Muslims-Christians-to-stage-protests-vs-govt-MILF-deal

5) MILF: Ancestral domain pact done deal (official MILF site)
http://www.luwaran.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=813

6) MILF resistance ‘heavy;’ soldier, 2 rebels dead
Over 100,000 residents displaced--OCD
By Joel Guinto. INQUIRER.net 11 Aug 2008
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/regions/view/20080811-153908/Soldier-2-MILF-rebels-dead-as-fighting-rages-in-N-Cotabato
130,000 people flee fighting in southern Philippines: govt
http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5gkNv2RJS8igRCIDRh3pKP_AnE_6g

7) Philippines: fighting between army and Islamic rebels, more than 20 dead and 130,000 displaced. 11 Aug 2008
http://www.asianews.it/index.php?l=en&art=12979&size=A

8) Philippines retakes farmlands from Muslim rebels
13 Aug 2008 http://africa.reuters.com/wire/news/usnSP261219.html

9) Reveille : Done deal or no deal, still a rotten deal
By Ramon J. Farolan, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 11 Aug 2008
http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/columns/view/20080811-153837/Done-deal-or-no-deal-still-a-rotten-deal

Thursday, July 31, 2008

PHILIPPINES: GOVERNMENT TO SIGN DEAL WITH MILF

Date: Thursday 31 July 2008
Subj: Philippines: Government to sign deal with MILF.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

The provincial government of North Cotabato, a predominantly Christian province of Mindanao, Southern Philippines, has petitioned the Supreme Court to issue a Temporary Restraining Order to stop the Philippine government signing a secret deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on 5 August that would expand the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and give the Muslim entity all the elements of a state. MILF rejects accusations that the deal is secret, saying that the details will be released as soon as the deal is signed.

The expanded Muslim area -- which will be called the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity -- will not be under the jurisdiction of the Philippine government and is set to incorporate some 712 villages (subject to plebiscite) across swaths of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay and Palawan as well as the cities of Cotabato and Isabela, the capital of Basilan island.

North Cotabato Governor Jesus Sacdalan and Vice Governor Emmanuel Pinol want the court to compel government negotiators, particularly presidential peace adviser Hermogenes Esperon, to release details of the agreement for consultation before it is signed. (Link 1)

----------------------------------

On Thursday 24 July, representatives from the Government of the Republic of Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) met in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to finalise a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) on Ancestral Domain and set a date for its official signing.

Despite the breakthrough that had been made on 16 July, the negotiations broke down and MILF walked out. But the government negotiators drew the rebels back to the table and at 8:15pm on Sunday 27 July GPR chief negotiator Rodolfo Garcia and his MILF counterpart, Mohagher Iqbal, signed a joint communique settling the issue of ancestral domain. Ancestral domain -- the final and most contentious aspect of the Tripoli Agreement of 2001 -- has been in the agenda of GRP-MILF Peace Talks since December 2004.

Failing a Supreme Court intervention, the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) on Ancestral Domain will be formally signed in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday 5 August. Theoretically this should pave the way for a Comprehensive Compact Agreement (CCA) between the GRP and MILF. However the path between the MoA and a future CCA is fraught with obstacles that could themselves be triggers for conflict.

In January 2008 the Philippines' Department of Justice (DOJ) warned that some provisions of the draft MoA were unconstitutional and threatened the sovereignty of the Philippines. (Link 2)

Emmanuel Pinol, the vice governor of North Cotabato province, recently warned that if the MoA is signed, "There will be chaos and it will be bloody." (Link 3)

"BREAKTHROUGH" ON ANCESTRAL DOMAIN

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was first established in 1990 pursuant to a constitutional mandate to provide for an autonomous area in Muslim Mindanao Southern Philippines. In a 1989 plebiscite held in thirteen provinces and nine cities of Southern Philippines, only four provinces -- Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi -- elected to be part of the new province of ARMM. Cotabato City was designated the capital.

In 2001 a law was passed to enable the expansion of the ARMM subject once again to plebiscite. Only Marawi City and Basilan -- but not its capital, Isabela City -- elected to be integrated with the ARMM. Understandably, Christian dominated provinces have repeatedly rejected incorporation into the ARMM.

MILF has long demanded that some 1,000 barangays (villages) in Central Mindanao be added to the ARMM and that this not be subject to plebiscite. The breakthrough in negotiations came on 16 July when the government agreed to adding 712 barangays, subject to plebiscite, to the Muslim entity in exchange for MILF dropping the word "freedom" from the draft MoA, supposedly to indicate a rejection of separatism.

MILF agreed to stay silent on "freedom" after talking with Datuk Othman Abd. Razak, Adviser to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, who reminded them that all the previous documents, including the General Framework of Intent signed on 27 August 1998 and the Tripoli Agreement of 2001, contained the word "freedom".

As the Philippine Daily Inquirer notes: "The insistence by the MILF Panel on the inclusion of the phrase 'non derogation of prior agreements' more than makes up for the silence on 'freedom' because this binds both parties to all previous agreements in which freedom is cited as a major principle." (Link 4)

The GRP's insistence that all prospective new territory be subject to plebiscite has also long been a sticking point for MILF. Past plebiscites have not worked in MILF's favour. Initially the GRP had insisted that a comprehensive peace deal be signed before the plebiscites were held. The compromise agreement dictates that plebiscites will be held in the 712 villages within 12 months of the signing of the MoA.

Another sticking point has been the GRP's insistence that it work within the "constitutional process". This has been such an obstacle that MILF demanded the government implement the MoA first and deal with the legal and political hurdles later. Amazingly, government negotiators appear to be agreeing to do just that. Hermogenes Esperon, a peace adviser to President Arroyo told reporters after the 16 July "breakthrough" in negotiations, "The final political solution will still be negotiated, and, if needed, we will amend the constitution to reflect what was agreed upon with the rebels." (Link 5)

"BALKANISING" THE PHILIPPINES?

In January 2008 the Philippines' Department of Justice issued a five-page memorandum to the government peace panel warning that a draft MoA on ancestral domain would result in a separate government for the separatists. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez warned that not only do some provisions in the draft agreement violate the 1987 Constitution, they threaten to dismember the nation. (Link 2)

The MoA recognises the Bangsamoro people as the natives of Mindanao "distinct from the rest of the national communities". Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez warned that this provision "suggests that the Bangsamoro people are not Filipinos."

The MoA also grants the Bangsamoro people their own "distinct territory" (Bangsamoro Territory) and "government" (the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity) along with international recognition. The Bangsamoro Territory will "not form part of the public domain" -- that is, it is "not within the jurisdiction of the Philippine government". As Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez pointed out in January, this is "tantamount to the surrender of a part of the territory and sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines".

Justice Secretary Gonzalez, highlighting the necessity of "constitutional process", also warned that this entity cannot be given juridical personality in the absence of an enabling law passed by Congress. However, according to a 30 July 2008 article entitled "Transition gov't seen for Muslims" in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, MILF political affairs chief Ghadzali Jaafar says that the Comprehensive Compact Agreement (CCA) will contain details of how the BJE would be governed, i.e. "who will run it". According to Jaafar, once the CCA is signed "a transition government will immediately take effect". (Link 6)

TRIGGERS FOR CONFLICT

The Department of Justice is not the only place where anxiety is simmering. There is also considerable anxiety in Christian communities in the Southern Philippines. They fear that the MoA may actually trigger unrest and even the displacement, dispossession and persecution of Christians.

North Cotabato vice governor Emmanuel Pinol told the South China Morning Post (21 July, link 3) that some Muslims in his province who had simply abandoned their lands or sold them during the Mindanao conflict in the 1970s were now returning and demanding their land back. He anticipates bloodshed and chaos will follow the signing of the MoA.

Furthermore, analysts such Fr. Eliseo Mercado, a former Chairman of the government's peace panel that negotiates with MILF, and Camilo Montesa, a lawyer and policy adviser of the Cotabato-based think-tank the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), have warned that the MoA threatens to open the door to a MILF declaration of independence.

According to ABS-CBN news, Fr Mercado said that if the Arroyo government fails to implement the ancestral domain accord [i.e. by failing to secure a congressional mandate to amend the constitution] then MILF can claim the moral high ground and declare independence while accusing the government of negotiating in bad faith. "This is the first time that I've seen a document as such", said Fr Mercado. "You have all the elements of a state. That entitles the Bangsamoro to a self-declaration [of independence]. Because it's all there: you've been recognised, you have territory, you have self-determination, your ancestral domain is your birthright, it's not part of the public domain." (Link 7)

There is also the likelihood that the MoA will lead to division along ethnic and religious lines in mixed areas.

In January, Mayor Celso Lobregat of Zamboanga City reiterated to a peace advocacy forum his position that Zamboanga City (which is around 75 percent Christian, mostly Catholic) be excluded from the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) or any proposed Bangsamoro homeland. According to one report, "His stand was directly opposed to the popular clamour of the Bangsamoro residents of Zamboanga City which the Bangsamoro participants during the peace advocacy forum have openly advocated. They presented to the MILF Peace Panel members a position paper/petition for the inclusion of the Bangsamoro dominated Barangays before the end of the forum."

Hadji Abdulla U Camlian spoke to the forum of the historical role played by the Bangsamoro people of Zamboanga City in the history of the Mindanao region and the role they have to play in the current peace talks. According to the report: "He recalled the historical fact that Zamboanga is home to the Sama-Bangingi Bangsamoros and other Islamised Moros since time immemorial. The arrival of migrant-settlers from the Visayas and Luzon has altered the demography of the City. He therefore urged his fellow Sama to unite in order to restore the Bangsamoro hegemony in the City." (Link 8)

Furthermore, a prospective plebiscite on status can of itself be incentive for violent intimidation and even ethnic cleansing.

-------------------------------

It remains to be seen whether a land-for-peace deal can bring peace and prosperity to the Southern Philippines. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo seems to believe it will. But why should creating a de facto Muslim state -- the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) -- bring peace and prosperity to the Southern Philippines when after 18 years the establishment of the ARMM has brought neither?

Will the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity eventually employ Sharia Law? Or maybe a Malaysia-style system where Islamic courts decide all matters pertaining to Islam? This would be a profoundly regressive move, one the BJE's excited prospective Muslim citizens may profoundly regret, especially as radicalisation and its consequential Talibanisation spread unhindered, challenging rights long taken for granted -- rights guaranteed in the Philippine Constitution.

Recently on Basilan Island, where 96,000 Catholics form 30 percent of the population, Christians were issued with threatening letters from "mujahidins". They contained the classic Islamic ultimatum to convert to Islam, submit and pay Islamic jizya (protection money) or face violence. (Further details: see link 9)

Concerning this, the Catholic Explorer reports that in Manila on 21 July, Hamid Barra, the Muslim convener of the Bishops-Ulama Conference and an expert on Islamic law, explained that non-Muslims who are protected by an Islamic government are required to pay jizya, which, he says, the state uses to support the poor and the needy. (Actually jizya is little more than protection money to secure protection from Islamic jihad, and to compensate for the fact that non-Muslims cannot serve in a Muslim Army.) Barra added that in a non-Islamic country like the Philippines, "there is no such payment required of non-Muslims". (Link 10)

By his own testimony, Hamid Barra would have to agree that extracting jizya from Christians in a de facto Muslim state such as the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity would be quite legitimate.

It is difficult to know whether the MoA will lead to the Balkanisation of the Philippines (a tearing apart along ethnic-religious lines), or to the headache of yet another Muslim FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area, as in the "tribal bad lands" of north western Pakistan's FATA).

Looks to me more like "covenant with death" (Isaiah 28:15).

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) North Cotabato execs ask SC to stop GRP-MILF peace signing
By Leila Salaverria, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 30 July 2008
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/regions/view/20080730-151503/North-Cotabato-execs-ask-SC-to-stop-GRP-MILF-peace-signing

2) Ancestral Domain Claims violate 1987 Constitution -- DOJ
By Jomar Canlas, 18 January 2008
http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2008/jan/18/yehey/top_stories/20080118top4.html
See also:
What is the GRP-MILF agreement on ancestral domain?
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryID=126194

3) Christians fear Muslim land grab after deal with Manila, leaders says.
Raissa Robles in Manila, 21 July 2008
South China Morning Post (subscription)

4) AFP sees peace, clergy get threats
By Kristine L. Alave, Alcuin Papa
Philippine Daily Inquirer 20 July 2008
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view_article.php?article_id=149521

5) Philippines Muslim area to expand. 17 July 2008
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7512401.stm

6) Transition gov't seen for Muslims
By Charlie Senase, Edwin Fernandez, Nash Maulana, Jeoffrey Maitem
Mindanao Bureau, 30 July 2008
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/regions/view/20080730-151502/Transition-govt-seen-for-Muslims

7) Ancestral domain accord opens door to MILF declaration of independence: analysts
By Isagani de Castro Jr. 24 July 2008
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=126218

8) Peace Advocacy Forum held in Zamboanga City. 9 January 2008
http://moroland.net/2008/01/09/peace-advocacy-forum-held-in-zamboanga-city%20/

9) Southern Philippines: Terror on Basilan Island
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | No. 488 | Wed 23 July 2008
http://www.worldevangelicals.org/news/view.htm?id=1971
ALSO
Basilan Catholics get threats to convert. 19 July 2008
http://www.gmanews.tv/story/107980/Basilan-Catholics-get-threats-to-convert

10) Philippine bishop reports receiving threat to convert to Islam
By Catholic News Service. 22 July 2008
http://www.catholicexplorer.com/explore4325/nationworld/philippine-bishop-reports-receiving-threat-to-conv.shtml