22.2.15

Bangsamoro and the myth of historical baggage

my Trade Tripper column in 06 February 2015 issue of BusinessWorld:

It probably indicates the state of national discourse here in the Philippines that I apologetically need to start with caveats (albeit sincerely given): Yes, I am very much a believer that every Filipino should have access to all the rights afforded by our political system and to every opportunity provided by a just society. Inequality, poverty and injustice are never to be tolerated. Finally, I believe that all the people in this country, whether Muslim or Christian or of other beliefs, should be allowed to live in peace, harmony and prosperity.

Having said that, we really have to deconstruct the confused drivel being heaped by the media (traditional or social) regarding the events in Mamasapano. Among such is that those in the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) only have themselves to blame for their colleagues’ deaths due to “lack of coordination” and planning. The PNP already splendidly rebutted these absurdities, so no need to discuss them here. Besides, what coordination is needed when Mamasapano is Philippine territory for which the PNP has jurisdiction?

On the other hand, a truly irritating notion (and one specially favored by the Left) is that of “historical baggage”: that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) actions were in a way justified by decades of iniquities or hurts imposed by an “imperial Manila.” This is actually used to buttress the argument that the Mamasapano massacre should not derail the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. After all, the best way to honor the SAF 44 dead is to give their killers what they want.

Nevertheless, historical baggage is referred numerously in the Comprehensive Agreement: “social, economic and political inequalities”; “historical injustice”; “cultural inequities.” Expectedly, the Philippine government unquestioningly accepted these Bangsamoro charges of “legitimate grievances.”

But as to this “historical baggage” allegation, why stop with the hurt of the Muslims? After all, there are also the hurts of the indigenous peoples. The latter could justly argue as having an even more urgent (and older) claim to government attention, considering that they comprise 17% of the national population (compared to the Muslims’ 5%) and a property stake equivalent to 20% of the Philippine land area.

But why stop there? Let’s include the hurts committed by the Spanish on the peoples of Luzon and the Visayas. The wrongs by the Americans, Japanese, Chinese. But why stop there? Let’s include the offenses done to our overseas workers by Arabs or by Singaporeans.

But ultimately we know it’s pointless.

The charge of “imperial Manila” itself is so old the people who coined it are all dead. Furthermore, in this country and specially after the enactment of the Local Government Code, all regions have always been governed by local officials not appointed by Manila, but elected by the very people in those areas.

Thus, MindaNews on June 2 last year reported: of the 234 elected representatives to the House of Representatives, Mindanaoans themselves chose 59. Add to this the nine Mindanaoan party-list representatives who were voted nationally. Notably, as further reported by MindaNews, of the 68 Mindanao members of Congress, “one is a billionaire, 66 are millionaires and only one has a net worth of under a million pesos.”

Remember that Manny Pacquiao is a congressman from the South. And, as if it needs mentioning, Mindanao has had its fair share of senators, Supreme Court justices, Cabinet members. And Muslims have the privilege of exclusive recourse to Shariah law.

And while Mindanao provinces are indeed among the poorest in the country, it has to be also considered that this poverty is suffered not by Muslims alone (who comprise 20% of the population in Mindanao) but by Christians too (at 70%). And despite those regions being rich in fish, marine resources and minerals, nevertheless, it depends substantially from that despised national government for its operating income (for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, or ARMM, that amounts to 98%, which in 2014 reportedly amounts to P24 billion).

But then Masbate, Samar, Ifugao, Bukidnon, Bicol and Negros Oriental are also among the poorest regions in the country. As far as I know, nobody has yet filed for a Bangsa-Bicol. The Philippines itself is the third poorest in ASEAN (after Laos and Cambodia).

As to the claim that poverty in the South is due to violence, that may be; but Muslims are a generally peaceful people, tolerant of those with other beliefs. In reality, much of the violence has more to do with inter-family or inter-tribal conflicts, private property disputes, or killings between warring political families (see the first Maguindanao massacre as example) but not inter-religious.

Finally, we must stop equating the Bangsamoro Basic Law with peace. It is just one proposal among other mechanisms that may lead to it (others could be the better implementation of ARMM, or re-invigorating the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area or BIMP-EAGA, etc.).

So there’s no reason we need to rush and not have a closer look at the entire situation. And examine other options to finally achieve what we all want: lasting and just peace.