Zamboanga siege: No piecemeal peace processBy Edwin Espejo Sep 17, 2013 3:55PM UTC
There is no telling how the standoff in Zamboanga City will end up. What is certain is that daily lives have again been disrupted and the scars of violent a past re-opened.
A peaceful future in Mindanao is becoming even more elusive despite four decades of on-and-off peace negotiations to end the internecine war on the island. The current siege and hostilities in Zamboanga are escalating despite the promise of a new peace agreement.
Ironically, past peace accords have only begotten more armed violence in the troubled Moro land in Mindanao.
It happened in 1976 when the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) signed the Tripoli Agreement with the late Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos only to see the rise of a dissatisfied faction that eventually evolved into the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
MNLF chairman Nur Misuari may have not seen it coming but he fell into a ruse by agreeing to a peace deal with the Marcos dictatorship. He would resume his war of secession but lost the moral high ground to the MILF, which repudiated the Tripoli Agreement which Misuari signed in Libya.
In 1996, Misuari signed yet another peace accord with the Ramos government. Many saw his capitulation go full circle. From a revolutionary, Misuari tried to become a bureaucrat and dipped his hands in local governance. He miserably failed and was effectively out of his political fiefdom and graces even before his term as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) could end.
Meanwhile, the MILF continued to wave the banner of secession until the 2003 death of its founding chair Salamat Hashim.
The MILF would later abandon its secessionist stance when it agreed to enter into peace talks with the Philippine government. But a botched attempt to forge a peace deal with the Philippine government in 2008 only sparked another bloody war as two renegade commanders of the MILF launched coordinated attacks on civilian and military targets in August that year.
History was later also repeated in the MILF as Umbra Kato, a former senior commander, broke away from the mainstream Moro rebel group to form the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). The BIFF has since vowed to carry on the quest for an independent Moro homeland.
Misuari, meanwhile, has been reduced to muscling his way into the Bangsamoro conversation.
The current military standoff in Zamboanga is the second serious armed uprising by Misuari and whatever is left of his faction in the MNLF.
In 2001, Misuari’s group also simultaneously laid siege to Cabatangan in Zamboanga and the island of Jolo. He tried to flee to Malaysia via the back door when they were subdued but he was promptly apprehended upon reaching Sabah and deported back to the Philippines.
He was jailed until his release in 2008. In the same year, Misuari was further humiliated when his own MNLF central committee ousted him as its chair. Although he has since regained some measure of control of the decimated MNLF, Misuari’s stature as a Moro leader was greatly eroded. He again ran for the post of governor in the ARMM in May this year but lost to Mujib Hataman.
Misuari may have made a laughing stock out of himself by launching an attack on Zamboanga City where his men were to declare independence. But his is a serious case of failed diplomacy and flawed Mindanao peace process.
All peace processes in Mindanao, including the one now in progress, have always been anchored on the campaign for pacification and exploiting the factionalism and disunity of Moro rebels who have taken up arms against the government.
In return, disenchantment from Moro rebels only grows every time a peace process fails, so it only gives rise to more militant and violent armed resistance. One needs not be reminded of the Abu Sayyaf Group.
Unless and until the mindsets of negotiators from both panels – the Philippine government and Moro rebel groups – are locked within the framework of negotiated political settlement, peace in Mindanao will never be achieved.
It will take more than a president, maybe even a generation, to understand and comprehend the culture and socio-politics of Mindanao and the history of the struggles of the Moro people.
There can be no piecemeal peace process.