'Campaigns for Mindanao's independence already settled'

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
'Campaigns for Mindanao's independence already settled'
Supporters of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, now called the Bangsamoro Organic Law, call for its passage in a rally in Cotabato City.
File photo

MANILA, Philippines — House lawmakers on Tuesday bucked the recent calls by former President Rodrigo Duterte to secede Mindanao from the country, saying that the lengthy peace processes undertaken by Mindanaoans through the years have “already settled” the matter of the region’s autonomy.

In a press briefing, Rep. Zia Alonto Adiong (Lanao del Sur, 1st District) and three other lawmakers cautioned against “using the word secession lightly” due to the legal implications of calling to separate Mindanao from the country, especially with its implied threat to national security.

This comes after Duterte and former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez sounded a rallying cry for the secession of Mindanao, saying that the region has been traditionally neglected in the national agenda of leaders. 

Duterte’s proclamation for Mindanao’s full independence came after he accused President Marcos of being a “drug addict.”

Saying that he is part of the “second generation” of Muslim minorities who witnessed the region’s decades-long campaign for autonomy, Adiong said: “If you ask us, that issue is already settled.”

“There is no clamor to pursue independence. We abandoned the call for independence and we settled for genuine autonomy. There is no other way forward but to embrace the national politic, not just for Philippine society but also for ourselves,” Adiong added.

The lawmaker said that when revolutionary movements in Mindanao were at their most active, there was “no progress,” prompting Mindanao leaders to pursue other ways of advocating for the region’s autonomy. 

“This is why … our elders decided that it’s not fair to inherit or pass on the problem to the next generation,” Adiong said.

“I am part of the second generation of Muslim minority who have seen the brunt of war. I know the smell of a decomposing body. I know the sound of a gun. Kami ang unang magsasabi tapos na yan (We will be the first to say that is finished) and we are moving forward,” the lawmaker added.

Rep. Francisco Paolo Ortega (La Union, 1st District) added that Duterte’s secession remarks appear to be merely “reactionary.”

“Matagal nang nandyan ang polirical actors na nagpupush. So bakit di nasama sa pagaaral dati at di natutukan? (The political actors pushing this have long been there. So why was this not included in their focus?)” Ortega added.

The lawmakers also warned that the calls for secession pose a threat to the sovereignty of the country, which Adiong said is best illustrated by the response of the president that he would not “surrender an inch” of the country.

Last week, the Department of National Defense also similarly rebuffed the former president’s remarks.

“The mandate of the Department of National Defense is to secure the sovereignty of the state and integrity of the national territory as enshrined in the constitution. We will strictly enforce this mandate whether externally or internally,” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said in a statement. 

The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) has been a place of conflict between the Philippine government and Moro secessionists for almost 50 years. In 2019, it was renamed to BARMM from ARMM after the ratification of its basic law, known as the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). The creation of the region was approved by residents through a two-part plebiscite held in January and February of that same year.

 The BOL aimed to address the historical grievances and aspirations of the Bangsamoro people for self-determination and address the root causes of the conflict. While the creation of BARMM has been hailed as a significant step towards peace, the transition period is still ongoing and is set to wrap up June 30, 2025.

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