Understanding war, separatism and Islam in Mindanao, PART II
Given the centuries-long history of massacre, land appropriation, displacement, and political-economic subjection of Muslims in the Philippines, it is imprudent to identify any single event that provoked Muslim separatism in Mindanao; although, one event can be seen as catalytic.
The Jabidah Massacre
In 1968, President Marcos recruited a group of young Muslims from Mindanao. When it was revealed that the purpose of the group was to invade Sabah, the neighbouring Malaysian island, the recruits refused to follow orders. The AFP’s response was violent. As a result of government schemes to manipulate the evidence, reports of human costs have been reported that range between 30 and 200 murdered. In any case, the 1968 Jabidah Massacre provoked the articulation of Moro separatism by a number of groups.
History of organizations
A multiplicity of armed groups have engaged in conflict not only with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), but with each other. One of the earliest organizations for example, was the Muslim Independence Movement (MIM), which was established in 1968 by Datu Udtug Matalam. The Bangsamoro Liberation Organization (BMLO) – established in 1971 by Raschid Lucman – is another example. Both Matalam and Lucman belong to a class of traditional Muslim elites, aligning them with the political call for the establishment of an Islamic state in Mindanao. Furthermore, as members of the traditional Muslim elite, they have had an interest in maintaining the incumbent class structure, through which channels of privilege and patronage could be maintained.
The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) exemplifies a group in contrast to the MIM and BMLO both in terms of class underpinning and political demands. Nur Misuari, then a teacher at the University of the Philippines, established the MNLF in 1969 as a response to the Jabidah Massacre. The MNLF’s organizational platform has fluctuated between independence and autonomy, but one thing that has remained constant: its secular-nationalist character. The MNLF did not demand an Islamic state, but for an independent homeland for Muslims in the Philippines.
Violence and displacement as products of land resettlement and appropriation
The reproduction of violence in Mindanao stems proximately from the complete reconfiguration of land relations beginning in 1903. Life in Mindanao has since then been wrought with violence and displacement. After the outbreak of sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians in the late 1950s, a series of brutal massacres occurred, not including the abovementioned at Jabidah in 1968.
On June 19, 1971 in the small town of Manili, a group that included members of the AFP and the Christian Ilaga militia group called a town meeting at the local mosque. When over a hundred people were gathered at the mosque, AFP and Ilaga soldiers bolted the doors and massacred all that were inside. More violence against civilians occurred between 1971 until the present moment at Tacub, Malisbong, Pata, and Tadiwan.
Framework Agreement as a sign of peace?
As rosy as the situation has portrayed by the demagoguery of President Aquino, who is himself a member of the politician-landowning-elite class, the political rhetoric and the 2012 Framework Agreement itself exhibit obvious contradictions. Although the Framework Agreement includes the official declaration of ceasefire and an end to the separatist ambitions of the MILF, more than 2 million displaced from their homes1. As a concurrent development, poverty incidence in Mindanao has reached up to 88%. This magnitude of destitution, violence, and internal displacement has not been seen anywhere else in the Philippines. The volume of internally displaced peoples has interrupted progress substantially, as families are divorced completely from their livelihoods.
Ultimately, the ceasefire is not guaranteed to last. The MILF was the only group included in the peace negotiations when many other separatist groups exist and are important political forces. In the end, the continuance of violence in Mindanao and the attempted invasion of Sabah earlier this year demonstrate that the 2012 Framework Agreement is no different than past peace agreements, which have been nothing but broken promises made to temporarily appease the population. Unless the root causes of these dynamics are fundamentally changed, the violence will continue.