The Philip­pines’ Mus­lim mi­nor­ity may fi­nally get the self-rule they have longed for

Un­der the lead­er­ship of Al Haj Mu­rad Ebrahim, the once-re­viled Moro Is­lamic Lib­er­a­tion Front’s al­liance with the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment has added mo­men­tum to the strug­gle for self-rule among the na­tion’s Mus­lim mi­nor­ity

Southeast Asia Globe - - Contents -


The chair­man of the se­ces­sion­ist Moro Is­lamic Lib­er­a­tion Front (MILF), Al Haj Mu­rad Ebrahim’s in­volve­ment with the strug­gle for an au­ton­o­mous Mus­lim state in the south­ern Philip­pines be­gan af­ter he dropped out of univer­sity just one se­mes­ter be­fore grad­u­a­tion to join the then-dom­i­nant Moro Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front (MNLF). Shortly af­ter de­fect­ing to the MILF as the MNLF splin­tered, Ebrahim took com­mand of the new fac­tion’s mil­i­tary wing and earned a rep­u­ta­tion as a stern leader with a bril­liant tac­ti­cal mind. De­spite his mil­i­tary pedi­gree, Ebrahim has been a key player in the frac­tious peace process with the gov­ern­ment.


As the Philip­pine army strug­gles to stamp out rad­i­cal Is­lamist mil­i­tants in the three-month bat­tle for Marawi City in Min­danao, Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte has reached out to the gov­ern­ment’s erst­while foes to form a united front against the IS-aligned Maute group. With the MILF send­ing res­cue teams into the war­zone to re­cover civil­ians, Duterte an­nounced his re­newed sup­port for the pas­sage of the Bangsamoro Ba­sic Law, a pro­posal that would grant Bangsamoro – lit­er­ally mean­ing ‘Mus­lim na­tion’ – its long­fought-for au­ton­omy and self-rule.


For a start, the cul­mi­na­tion of al­most half a cen­tury of bloody fight­ing for the right of the Mus­lim Moro peo­ple to form an in­de­pen­dent state. It would ef­fec­tively abol­ish the Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion in Mus­lim Min­danao and es­tab­lish a new Bangsamoro po­lit­i­cal en­tity un­der a par­lia­men­tary form of gov­ern­ment af­ter a short pe­riod led by a pro­posed tran­si­tion au­thor­ity. Duterte has pledged that the pro­posal, which MILF vice-chair­man Ghaz­ali Jaa­far de­scribed as “the best an­ti­dote to vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism”, will be passed this year.


Miriam Coronel-Fer­rer, chair of the peace panel in the ne­go­ti­a­tions with the MILF, told South­east Asia Globe that the or­gan­i­sa­tion had fought hard to win the trust of gov­ern­ment forces. “I think the MILF has been very pru­dent,” she said. “It has not given the ad­min­is­tra­tion any rea­son to wage war against the MILF – in fact, it has given it all the in­cen­tives to sup­port the po­lit­i­cal process with the MILF. Its hu­man­i­tar­ian cor­ri­dor in Marawi, its ob­ser­vance of the cease­fire and co­op­er­a­tion against drugs in the area – these are all pos­i­tive in­di­ca­tors ap­pre­ci­ated by the mil­i­tary.”


Min­danao-born Duterte has spo­ken of his sup­port for the Bangsamoro Ba­sic Law since his time as mayor of Davao City. With peace ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Duterte’s gov­ern­ment and Min­danao’s com­mu­nist al­liance fal­ter­ing, Fer­rer said that the pres­i­dent could ill-af­ford to let talks with the MILF fall apart. “The gov­ern­ment could be hard-pressed to face war on many fronts,” she said.

“If the whole of Maguin­danao and Cota­bato goes up in flames in a war with the MILF, you’ll have mil­lions of peo­ple dis­placed.”

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