The Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) joins the Filipino people, especially the Bangsamoros in Mindanao, in welcoming, although guardedly, the historic signing today of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
While the peace deal by itself will not automatically and fully end the “Moro problem,” as admitted by MILF chair Murad Ebrahim himself, it is already a momentous step forward in achieving a lasting peace and justice in Mindanao. After nearly 16 years of arduous and protracted negotiations, the GPH-MILF pact promises a much brighter hope to end the relentless armed conflict in southern Philippines that has killed over 120,000 people since the 1970s and has further pushed that region into the quagmire of injustice, poverty and underdevelopment.
In fact, the struggles for self-determination of the Moros and other indigenous peoples, like the lumads, in the place we now call Mindanao, started in the 15th century with the advent of Spanish colonialism. Centuries of foreign occupation of the entire country, including bloody attempts to subdue the indomitable Moros, went on with the American imperialism and the Japanese interlude. But the political and social changes that ensued have failed to address the Moro self-rule aspirations as well as to equitably distribute the riches of the area’s vast natural resources to the majority, especially the Moro masses. Transnational corporations and national and local elites have lorded over the impoverished peoples of Mindanao until now.
While lauding this peace initiative, the APL views it with cautious optimism as today’s ceremonies in Malacañang is only one of the series of steps to reach a final peace accord, which the Aquino administration is reportedly hoping to get done by 2016, when Aquino’s six-year term ends. After the signing, Aquino will issue an Executive Order establishing a 15-member Transition Commission (TC) – eight chosen by the MILF; seven selected by the GPH – which will draft the “Bangsamoro Basic Law.” The draft will be sent to Congress for approval and followed by its signing by Aquino. A plebiscite and later an election for the Bangsamoro officials will then be held in the proposed Bangsamoro territory. This new entity will subsequently replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Indeed, this peace roadmap has a long and complex process and filled with uncertainties – but still worth trying.
We could only hope for the best considering the lessons gained from “peace pacts” forged in Mindanao in the past 40 years – the 1976 Tripoli Agreement between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Marcos dictatorship; the Jeddah Accord of 1987 between the MNLF and the Cory Aquino government, which spawned the ARMM; the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the MNLF and the Ramos administration; and even the botched Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the MILF and the Arroyo regime in 2008.
The APL wishes to reiterate that for the peace talk to be effective and sustainable, it must be transparent and democratic, especially by holding comprehensive – not selective and sham – consultations with all the stakeholders. Hence, while recognizing the MILF’s leading role in this initiative, other non-MILF elements – MNLF factions, non-MILF Muslims, the Lumads or ethnic communities, the Christian inhabitants, as well as the region’s organized ranks or the civil society, which includes the trade unions – must be provided active roles in the peace process and the rebuilding of the Bangsamoro into a zone of justice, peace and progress.