MILF still brings fear, terror in hearts of Mindanaoans
COTABATO CITY – Villagers in southern Philippines remain fearful and terrified by Moro Islamic Liberation Front following a recent attack in North Cotabato province that left at least 6 people dead. M I L F members swooped down on a village in Tulunan town and attacked civilians in the area in what police said was an offshoot of a long standing land conflict. Officials said three villagers and three of the attackers were killed in the fighting. There was no immediate statement from the former rebel group which signed a peace deal with Manila in 2014, but the latest attack is likely to add to the insistence of the MILF for an expanded autonomy in at least five Muslim provinces. The MILF is pursuing a wider rule over the Muslim autonomous region, but lawmakers rejected the demand and said the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law ( BBL) that will govern the areas is flawed and unconstitutional. The BBL is still pending in Congress with many lawmakers making sure that it would not pass legislation unless some of its controversial items are removed. But the MILF, which still maintains its huge armaments and recruited far more members during the long peace talks, said it will not revisit the BBL and insisted on the original draft it submitted to President Benigno Aquino.
No to BBL
However, many politicians and residents in the proposed Bangsamoro areas also rejected the BBL and wanted out of the deal, citing various reasons and the failure of the Aquino government and peace negotiators from both sides to include re c o m m e n d a t i o n s submitted by the provinces in the autonomous region. The BBL was drafted by the 15- member Bangsamoro Transition Commission appointed by the MILF and the Aquino government. Last year, villagers in the town of Wao in Lanao del Sur, one of five provinces under the Muslim region, vowed to reject the BBL, saying they do not want to be included in the new Bangsamoro territory. Villagers said shortly after the peace deal was signed, several Muslim groups have emerged and started claiming farmlands owned by Christians as theirs and invoking their ancestral rights in Lanao del Sur.
Now, many residents have started arming themselves for protection fearing that once the new Bangsamoro autonomous government is installed, Muslims will take away their lands which they inherited from their clan. Majority of the town’s 40,000 inhabitants is Christians. Some villagers said several groups of Maranao, one of several Muslim tribes in Mindanao, have started putting up markers and began claiming farmlands as their ancestral domain. The markers had been destroyed by landowners. In Sultan Kudarat province, villagers in the town of President Quirino were also facing the same dilemma, but many also have purchased illegal weapons to protect their families and lands from unjustified takeover by Muslims who warned them that they should leave the town immediately once the Bangsamoro autonomous region is installed because they would take over their farms.
Exclude Us Leaders of Zamboanga City and Isabela City in Basilan, also a province under the Muslim autonomous region, also vowed to fight for their inclusion in the new Bangsamoro homeland, although many of the residents there are Muslims and supportive of the peace deal. The creation of new Bangsamoro region would have to be decided on a referendum in the autonomous region and in areas where there are large Muslim communities. The new Bangsamoro region will replace the current Muslim autonomous region that has suffered from decades of poverty, corruption, and conflict. The mineral- rich region of Mindanao, once under the powerful rule of the sultans, is now home to minority Muslims – about 4 million from the region’s 18 million mostly Christian inhabitants. The Philippine Statistics Authority describes Mindanao as an underdeveloped region with problems on peace and order to racism. “From Spanish era up to the present, it remains underdeveloped compared to Luzon. Problem on peace and order due to political conflict and racism issue had been seen as the main factors of the sluggish development of the island in view of the fact that beliefs and cultural diversities between native inhabitants and migrants exist within it,” it said.
The MILF – a breakaway faction of the Moro National Liberation Front which signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996 – had fought fiercely for decades for selfdetermination and had been accused of terrorism in the past and coddled Malaysian and Indonesian jihadists.