Kusog Mindanaw, BARMM and federalism
Last of 2 parts
LITO MONICO C. LORENZANA For comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Manila Times
FOR the past three decades, Kusog Mindanaw (Kusog) was the premier platform for its various stakeholders to air their concerns, gripes and aspirations. The strategy was to achieve whatever consensus is to be arrived at in view of the diversity of cultures within one nation whose collective personality has been forged by the ascendency of two Western civilizations — Spanish and American — blended into a mongrelized pastiche, embodied in the centralized government lodged in Manila, the symbolic imperial seat. The task therefore was an ambitious undertaking encapsulated in a catch-all phrase encompassing our hopes — peace and development and unity in diversity through federalism. Kusog has provided modest but critical contributions to the conception of both the defunct ARMM and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanaw (BARMM). Quite a few of their leadership were once active in these conferences. The adversaries MNLF and MILF met unofficially with the GOP (Government of the Philippines) peace panelists, seeking advantage by deducing each other’s negotiating postures. The genesis of ARMM/BARMM may be traced to these political conversations shaped further in the fringes of intermittent internecine clashes against central authority. From the second half of this century, this wretched land touted by the good people in Luzon as the land of promise indeed fulfilled its potential not for what our political patriarchs envisaged but by bloodletting. Starting with fierce fighting, land evictions and issues of who owns what were reduced to the question of redress of ancient grievances and the rectification of old injustices. But for whom and by whom has blurred and gone beyond semantics (see The Manila Times, Nov. 16, 2022, “Kusog Mindanaw” Part 1). All sides were right, and all sides were wrong. Guns and violence substituted for civilized behavior, senseless arbiters of disputes. Cognizant of the diverse faiths of the protagonists, the BishopsUlama Conference (BUC) religious leaders provided spiritual guidance. The GOP side: the Confederation of Mindanao Governors, City Mayors, and Municipal Mayors and the Mindanao Legislators Association composed of congressmen and senators from Mindanao offered tutorials in governance. The Mindanaw business councils and local entrepreneurs propounded trade and markets. But the bulk, whose aspirations were to be served were the NGOs and POs, the academe, the cooperatives, the Mindanaw women and the Mindanaw media; and the mostly disenfranchised Lumads. They are the Kusog BARMM a panacea? The Mindanao Muslims’ yearning for a “bangsa” of their own was the impetus for the BARMM, becoming a reality only as the culmination of intermittent countless wars, peace talks, peace failures and attempts at reconstructions and restructuring. But the sine qua non was that the BARMM was to exist within the ambit of the Filipino nation. Thus, the concept of local autonomy and federalism copied from various countries around the world with different histories and values was put in place. The BARMM was indeed a truly local concept adapted after both sides — the Bangsamoro and the Philippine government — had exacted so much blood and had no other recourse. Thus, an experiment on selfgovernance ensued stating in no uncertain terms its mission and vision: “The Bangsamoro that is united, enlightened, self-governing, peaceful, just, morally upright, and progressive. Guided by moral governance and in pursuit of genuine and meaningful autonomy, the Bangsamoro Government ensures the necessary conditions for enduring peace and sustained socioeconomic development suitable to the systems of life, needs, and aspirations of its people by providing services to communities, ensuring multi-stakeholder participation, and facilitating appropriate partnerships.” Beautiful words but one critical concept of this preamble is the final negation of what was once a primordial cry — independence and a separate nation. It is supplanted by a more logical genuine autonomy — planting the seeds of federalism. This too is Kusog’s raison d’etre. Kusog and BARMM In the Kusog conference in November this year, the flavor of the dissertations and the discourse had changed. There were no longer clashes of ideas — thesis versus antithesis producing synthesis. Participants had become ambivalent. But having proudly contributed to the creation of the BARMM, Kusog must now move on to expand the concepts embodied by BARMM and agitate for other “bangsa in Mindanaw” for similar “pursuit of genuine and meaningful autonomy!” Kusog needs to reinvent itself from solely a three-decade venue for discourse and debate to a more active participant in the development of BARMM as therein lies in its initial success, the fundamental restructuring of a unitary system of government. BARMM’s uniqueness as a parliamentary government existing within a unitary Philippines could be the template for the next phase — the proliferation of BARMM clones — this time in the other Christian dominated regions in Mindanao and eventually the whole country. Let Mindanaw be first to move towards a truly Federal State. What’s good for Bangsa Moro is good for Bangsa Bisaya, Bangsa Ilokano, Bangsa Tagalog, Bangsa Bikolano and the other Bangsa making a total of 8 to 13 Bangsa of the Federal Republic of the Philippines. A new cry BARMM today! Pederal Mindanaw tomorrow! and Pederal Philippines beyond! We Mindanaw-nons (this writer included) are under no illusion that many in the center of political power in the Philippine government would rather hold on to the monopoly of central authority and would not mind BARMM failing. But its failure or success depends to a large extent on how it governs itself. Dark cloud looming Two events happened just recently that may have a negative impact on BARMM’s governance. Earlier this month reports filtered out that the 101st Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army clashed with Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (MILF-BIAF) in the town of Ungkaya Pukan in Basilan province. Basilan is now part of BARMM, and a decommissioning process of its armed forces is in the closing phase. Questions begin to surface: Was there a decommissioning of forces in the BARMM per agreements in the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro (CAB)? Reports also came out that these were young men presumably recruited after the BARMM came into existence. Was the demobilization, unvalidated by both sides, a “moro-moro”? This was by no means isolated as earlier on Sept. 15, 2022, three government soldiers were ambushed in the MILF stronghold of Al-Barka town, in Lamitan. The second event was even more ominous. During the 22nd annual general assembly of the MILF’s committee on da’wah and masajid affairs. BARMM Chief Minister Ahod B. Ebrahim stated unequivocally in that meeting with the theme, “Islam is a religion and state,” “…that revolutionaries and mujahideen worked hand in hand to strengthen Islamization fighting for the right to self-determination … fixing the system, but the mujahideen will further work on injecting Islamic principles in the system.” Many in the central government interpret this statement as the inevitable Islamization of the area, with all the irrational fears, imagined or real, contrary to the principles agreed to in the formation of BARMM. Birthing pains From many Mindanaw-nons opting for real peace and development for Mindanaw and a template for eventual federalization — these are birth pains that can be alleviated. All births are preceded by blood. We Mindanaw-nons hope it is the blood of a successful birth not that of a stillborn.