A Quarter of a Century
OF ILLUSORY AND FRUITLESS PURSUIT OF AUTONOMY: -- The MNLF's Urgent Call For A Realistic and Pragmatic Tactical & Strategic Approach
[Speech of MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari, Moro National Liberation Front, during the Preparatory Meeting of the Senior Officials, 27th Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers Islamic Conference Organization, 27-30 May 2000 Al-Salam Hotel, Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia]
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies:
Assalamu Alaikum W'Rahmatullahi W'Barakatuh!
Thank you for availing us of this opportunity to present our humble views before this Preparatory Meeting of the Senior Officials of the 27th Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers, due in Kuala Lumpur next month.
Actually, we've thoroughly scrutinized the draft resolution of the OIC General Secretariat on our subject. But while we were delighted to find some wonderful passages, yet we also found in it some provisions that are not necessary. Others are a little weak, a little faulty; while some are too passive and hidebound to make a real dent on the growing complexity of the Bangsamoro problem. It is wanting of that creativity and decisiveness. And we doubt highly whether it can create an atmosphere for a real breakthrough. Should you push through with it without drastic changes, not only that this lofty house will fly in the face of the prevailing situation in the Bangsamoro Homeland, but that you will play us into the hands of the Philippine government again.
For instance, paragraph 11 will again give absolute prerogative to the Philippine Government to decide on the fate of the Peace Agreement. Therefore, it should be deleted from the text.
And paragraph 13 will put everything in shambles, as it will undermine our status as the sole legitimate representative of the Bangsamoro people. Therefore, unless you can improve the text, surely we're bound to repeat the past and hopelessly oscillate in our predicament.
To make a breakthrough you ought to be more forward-looking, creative and decisive. The past should serve as a lesson to us. Don't forget that since the last 3 decades, this problem has been in the yearly agenda of the OIC, either in the level of the ICFM or the Summit of Muslim Heads of State.
Sadly enough, it is now over a quarter of a century since the issue of Autonomy has become a part of the yearly pre-occupation of this Conference and, too, the Summit of Muslim Heads of State. Already since the passage of that fateful Resolution in Kuala Lumpur, exactly 26 years ago today, the MNLF has signed 3 Peace Agreements with the Philippine Government with the participation of the OIC Ministerial Committee of the Six and the Secretary General of the Islamic Conference Organization.
Nowhere in the world could one find such absurdity. But then this only clearly shows that by that 1974 Kuala Lumpur Resolution, we've been placed in a trap - with our people's struggle kept as it were in the storage.
For all its good virtues, that Kuala Lumpur Resolution has derailed us from the correct path of self-determination and independence and decolonisation. For many centuries, the Bangsamoro people were a free, sovereign and independent nation. That resolution has indeed robbed our people of their soul, of the quintessence of their existence. The early 15th century no less than the reigning Emperor of China had written with his own hand an epitaph on the Mausoleum of one of our Kings, saying: "That he was a brave King and he was the Master of the East!"
But owing to the centuries of war and turmoil wrought by endless waves of foreign conspiracy and aggressions, we've lost our freedom. Consequently, our sovereignty is being exercised by people other than the Bangsamoro people themselves. Indeed, by the 4th of July 1046, the Bangsamoro Homeland was annexed and gobbled up by the newly formed and newly independent Republic of the Philippines. Since then and in vindication of our people's right to self-determination and independence, we've been embroiled in a war of national liberation. The word secession is a misnomer and cannot be applied at all to our people's struggle. Ours is a just and legitimate struggle for the decolonisation of our National Homeland based on the fundamental principle of self-determination and independence of non-governing peoples or nations of the world.
Exactly the same as the struggle of the heroic peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Since the signing of the Tripoli Agreement in 1976, exactly 24 years ago today, the MNLF once unified and monolithic, has been subjected to division and disunity. The Tripoli Agreement has in fact, spawned 3 armed movements, namely: the MILF, the so-called Abu Sayyaf and the ICC. Since the MNLF has already opted for Autonomy, in compliance with the1974 Kuala Lumpur ICFM Resolution, so all these three organizations have decided to continue where we left off. That is to say, to continue the MNLF-led struggle for self-determination and independence and decolonisation of the Bangsamoro people and their National Homeland of Mindanao and its islands, including the island of Palawan.
Indeed, at the present moment only the MNLF remains faithful and steadfast in upholding the OIC Resolutions and the GRP-OIC-MNLF Peace Agreements. Even the Philippine Government does not seem to exude any sign of sincerity and seriousness in complying with the Peace Agreements in letter and spirit. Otherwise why the prolonged delay. For that matter, even the Christian community in Northern Mindanao, under the banner of Mindanao Independence Movement (MIM) is fighting for independence of Mindanao. So, too, the 6 million indigenous Highlander Tribal Community.
In the meeting of the Supreme Council of their 42Royal Houses, they strongly re-affirmed their Bangsamoro identity and their support behind the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination and independence and the wholesale decolonisation of the Bangsamoro Homeland. Text of their resolution was brought to us to Burkina Faso last year. But we didn't find the opportunity to formally submit it to the OIC General Secretariat. Insha-Allah, this document will be forwarded in Kuala Lumpur next month. In the meeting of the MNLF Leadership recently, everyone expressed doubt as to the viability of such autonomy. A quarter of a century of dilly dallying on the part of the Philippine Government, from Marcos down to Mrs. Aquino and Ramos and the present one, should be enough eye-opener to us - that perhaps autonomy is much more difficult to achieve than independence.
While the cause of self-determination and independence tends to unite all of us under one single banner as happened in the beginning of our struggle. Autonomy, on the other hand, creates dissension and division and disunity and weakness among our people.
We've given more than enough chances to the Philippine Government to demonstrate its sincerity, but every time we got nothing but alibis and downright lies. From day one of the latest Peace Agreement, the MNLF Leadership has been under ceaseless and bitter criticism by the Philippine media and certain officials of the Philippine Government, particularly from both Houses of Philippine Congress. It is our feeling that, as our forebears warned us in the famous1935 Dansalan Manifesto: "We (Bangsamoro people) cannot really be under one roof with the Filipino people and government."
It will be recalled that in 1974, the MNLF leadership went to the 5thICFM in Kuala Lumpur appealing for the recognition and support behind our people's fundamental birthright to self-determination and independence. But they were disappointed. Instead, they were presented with that fateful resolution which derailed our people's cause and struggle and placed their fate and destiny as it were in a suspended animation.
And shortly before the MNLF delegation left for this Conference, the enlarged Central Committee of the MNLF met in Zamboanga City to draw up a new strategic program of action. Among others, they believe that demanding for a mere extension of the implementation of the Peace Agreement in the face of the present war in Mindanao and the overwhelming demand for independence, will surely run counter to our paramount interest. They noted that even the so-called "Abu Sayyaf bandits" is demanding for self-determination and independence. Few are still interested to continue with the pursuit of autonomy that has eluded us for over a quarter of a century now. A distinguished leader of the Christian Independence Movement, the Hon. Homobono Adaza, told his audience at the Philippine National Defense College that at most only the MNLF is still working for autonomy. Everyone in Mindanao, he observed, is aspiring for independence.
It will be recalled that it was this 1974 ICFM Conference in Kuala Lumpur, on the occasion of the 5th ICFM, that conceived of this idea of Autonomy. While we finally agreed to such decision after so much prodding, yet it came to us as a fait accompli solution. We were never consulted beforehand. We agreed to it only to avoid the Bangsamoro people from isolation from the OIC and the Islamic Ummah it represents. And even the acceptance of the Peace Agreement by the MNLF is conditioned upon the establishment of a genuine political autonomy, at once just, comprehensive, and permanent. But since the Philippine Government has been running away from its binding international commitment and obligation, as witnessed by its dilatory tactics for over a quarter of a century now, so the Bangsamoro people under the MNLF Leadership are not bound by it at all. In other words, we cannot give away our people's fundamental right to self-determination and independence for nothing.
We have no right to do that. Autonomy was committed to our people some 26 years ago today. Now, we are returning back to Kuala Lumpur and in Kuala Lumpur you're going to reside over the fate of our people and our children once more! Can we now expect therefore some rectification in the tactical and strategic approach to the problem?
Yes, in Kuala Lumpur, some 26 years ago today, we went there to plead for the case of our people's fundamental right to self-determination and independence. For we believe that we can stand on our feet. Mindanao and its islands are a beautiful piece of land, 130,000 square kilometers wide, endowed with vast seas and resources, namely, the Sulu Sea, and our part of the Celebes Sea, the South China Sea, the Mindanao Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It is indeed very strategic, straddling across the arteries of the maritime commerce of East and West. Given its freedom, it can easily catapult into one of the fastest economies of the world, because of its great economic potentials.
In 1948, two years after the imposition of Philippine colonial rule and the annexation of our people and Homeland as part of present Philippines, over 85% of the nearly 3millionpopulation were identified officially as Muslims. Now the population ranges from20 to 22million strong according to the latest estimate, after over half a century of uninterrupted demographic growth. According to our rough estimate, the Bangsamoro people (i.e. native or indigenous Muslims and Highlanders alike) is roughly 15 million strong. This includes all our Muslim population, including those who have left the Bangsamoro Homeland for greener pastures elsewhere. And this also includes over half a million of our refugees in Sabah.
Meanwhile, as a reflection of the fast-changing political mood in the Philippines, a bill was expected to be jointly introduced in the Philippine Senate, calling for the amendment of the Philippine Constitution and the introduction of a Federal System of government.
According to the chief proponent, the Hon. Senator Aquilino Pimentel, who is the Chairman of the powerful Blue Ribbon Committee and the author of the Philippine Autonomy Law, unless the Philippine Constitution is drastically changed or amended, it is impossible to grant genuine autonomy to the Bangsamoro people. Therefore, he is championing the cause of Federalism as a way out.
Incidentally, Senator Pimentel was the man who negotiated and signed with us and the OIC Secretary General the long-forgotten "Jeddah Accord" of 1987. That was during the height of the euphoria over Mrs. Corazon Aquino's rise to power after the overthrow of the Marcos Dictatorship the year before. Besides, another powerful Senator, the Hon. John Osmena from Cebu, is also reportedly preparing a bill in the Philippine Senate calling for the creation of a Commonwealth of Muslim States in Mindanao. While the Bangsamoro youths and professionals in several educational and other institutions in the Philippines, including some of the most prestigious ones, are openly espousing self-determination and independence for the Bangsamoro people and their Homeland.
Considering all these facts of life, the question of Autonomy is being fast overtaken by events. Only the MNLF remains faithful and tenacious in pursuing the rainbow of Autonomy. On several occasions, in my address before the Islamic foreign Ministers' Conference and the Summits of Muslim Heads of State, I submitted my humble opinion that it is much easier to gain independence than Autonomy! We strongly believe that such is the case.
Therefore, given the enormous disadvantages we've reaped from 26 years of fruitless search for Autonomy, we would now like to ask for one simple thing: Please help us recover from such great damages inflicted on our people and organization. To do this, there is only one thing we need, and everything will insha-Allah go right. Accept us as full member of this Organization and you'll see the disgruntled elements among the Bangsamoro people thronging in droves in support of our leadership again.
Insha-Allah, once the Bangsamoro people become full member, through MNLF representation, in its capacity as the "sole legitimate representative of the15-millionBangsamoro people," then not only that we can regain the respect of our entire society but also we can surely compel the Philippine Government to abide by its binding international commitment and obligations to deliver genuine political autonomy to our people.
But as a starter, and having proven both the 3-year and the 1-yeartransitional mechanism a dismal failure, the MNLF Leadership would now like to demand for the immediate establishment of the Provisional Government contained in the Tripoli Agreement of December23, 1976, to be followed in its wake by the downright creation of a genuine political autonomy. Unless the MNLF will get this genuine Autonomy, according to the letter and spirit of the Tripoli Agreement, then we may have little option left save to fall back on the Bangsamoro people's fundamental and inalienable right to self-determination and independence -through the wholesale decolonisation of the Bangsamoro Homeland of Mindanao and its islands, including Palawan, Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Basilan and Camiguin.
For this purpose, we intend to follow the peaceful method taken by the East Timorese Movement in pursuit of their independence or that same pattern taken by the Independence Movement of Quebec.
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies:
All these thoughts are summed up in the MNLF Draft Resolution now in circulation in the Hall as an amendment to the Draft Resolution prepared by the OIC General Secretariat.
We are humbly submitting that Draft for your perusal and your brotherly support. Anticipating your fraternal understanding and support in the spirit of our Islamic brotherhood and solidarity; and Wa Billahi Tawfik W'al Hidayah, Wassalamu AlaikumW'RahmatullahiW'Barakatuh!
(Sgd.) Prof. Nur Misuari
Moro National Liberation Front