#Journeyto30 An elusive peace
Epi Fabonan III (The Philippine Star) - February 6, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine STAR began this month with a banner story on the death of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (“Palace accepts BBL’s doom,” Feb. 1, 2016), the primary legislative instrument that, if passed, would have created the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region which would replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Many see the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, through the BBL, as a solution that would bring long-term peace in Mindanao after the decades-old conflict that has divided Christians and Muslims there.

This was the same optimism that many Filipinos expressed when the Ramos administration and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Nur Misuari signed the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, which was an implementation of the earlier 1976 Tripoli Agreement between the Philippine government and the secessionist armed group.

Hopeful witnesses, including MNLF stalwarts, members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, representatives from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, members of Congress and other dignitaries applauded as President Fidel Ramos and Misuari embraced each other after signing the accord, as shown in The STAR’s Sept. 3, 1996 issue.

The agreement established a Special Zone of Peace and Development in 14 provinces and nine cities in the ARMM to be governed by Misuari’s Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD), which basically allowed him to run unopposed as governor of the region.

“It is important that we succeed, for that is the only genuine guarantee of peace. If we fail, then God forbid, we may not have another opportunity to talk peace, for we and our children might be condemned to live in an atmosphere of perpetual war,” Misuari said after signing the pact.

Misuari was probably reminding himself by saying these words, because in five years’ time, during his term as both ARMM governor and SPCPD leader, his position in power would corrupt him. His SPCPD was virtually powerless after it was rendered toothless during negotiations for the 1996 agreement. Instead, he spent his time traveling abroad – paid for by the national government – encouraging foreign investment and humanitarian aid in the region – but to no avail. He had, after all, very little experience in governance, as he was a professor and a rebel leader before becoming governor.

He never seemed to shed being a rebel leader, and was thus very demanding of his subordinates’ loyalty. In 2000, several disgruntled MNLF commanders, led by his former Foreign Affairs chief Parouk Hussin and Cotabato City mayor Muslimin Sema, ousted him as the group’s leader.

With his waning support base and his gubernatorial term about to end, Misuari feared what was about to come. He knew he had done little to change the lives of his people and yet, he wasn’t the type who would accept the blame. Instead, he lashed out at the national government once again, lamenting how it did not accomplish its part of the agreement.

In November 2001, just as the ARMM general elections were about to take place, several of his loyal commanders staged an uprising in Sulu and Zamboanga City. Among the commanders who led the revolt was his nephew, Hadji Julhambri Misuari, who took hostage around a hundred people in Cabatangan Complex in Zamboanga City. The AFP quickly quashed the rebellion and Misuari went into hiding once more, rushing to Malaysia where he was eventually arrested in 2007 following rebellion charges.

The 2001 rebellion was Misuari’s undoing. Yet, he believes his charm is still as strong as ever. Following his acquittal in 2009, he ran as Sulu governor in 2010 as well as ARMM governor in 2013, losing both times.

With his political career now virtually over, and his former cadres on the verge of implementing their own peace agreement with the national government, he used violence once more to express his disgruntlement. In September 2013, he had his loyal commander, Ustadz Habier Malik, launch an attack on Zamboanga City which left more than 200 people dead.

Perhaps it is leaders like Misuari that caused chronic absenteeism among members of the House of Representatives during deliberations for the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Perhaps it’s the possibility of more Misuaris emerging that has made many Filipinos – both Moros and non-Moros – weary of another, but even more powerful, autonomous region and provisional government in Mindanao. Such possibility calls for a more reasonable and more accountable approach to peace.

With the death of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the prospect of lasting peace in Mindanao remains elusive, just like Misuari.









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