COMMENT: Curious! Just Curious (2)

II. Standoff Not Necessary 

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 13 Oct) — To end Part I of this series, we restated the AFP’s recapitulation of the three-week Zamboanga City standoff (Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 1, 2013) as already over. And we asked three questions: (1) Was the standoff necessary? (2) Could it have been avoided? (3) What does it reveal of the state of the Moro or Mindanao problem?

The three-week standoff was a three-week drama serialized in Philippine media. With the sensation over, Zamboanga City has dropped out of the front pages of the national newspapers and prime time television programs. The latest report was on the rebellion charge against MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) founding chairman Nur Misuari, the MNLF rebels captured, and other unnamed MNLF leaders.

Like the all-war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front waged and won by President Joseph Estrada in 2000, the Zamboanga City standoff is destined to be just a paragraph or two – not even a chapter – in the history of the Mindanao Moro problem. However, the three questions will probe into the Moro quest for their Bangsamoro identity, the recovery of their ancestral domain and the realization of their right to self-determination. These will put the Zamboanga City standoff in its proper perspective.

Was the standoff necessary?

Immediate Motive

Captured rebels told media they came to Zamboanga City to participate in a peaceful rally; they did not expect a war – an eyebrow-raising testimony since they came fully armed. MNLF spokesmen confirmed this and explained that the war happened after the Zamboanga City mayor had refused to grant a permit for the peaceful rally. (The city mayor told media she had not received an application for a permit.)

The spokesmen revealed the MNLF rally objective: March peacefully to the city hall – commercial area in another report – raise the flag of the Bangsamoro Republik which Misuari proclaimed last August and air the grievances of the Misuari MNLF against the Philippine government for its perceived insincerity in resolving the MNLF complaint that the 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement has yet to be fully implemented. They glossed over the fact that raising the Bangsamoro Republik flag would have been a declaration of independence.

The Misuari MNLF was forcing the issue. Chairman Nur Misuari’s followers came to Zamboanga City, apparently, with two alternative plans – Plan A, the peaceful rally and flag-raising; and, Plan B, should Plan A fail, armed confrontation. Losing – if not having lost it already – his star position in the settlement of the Mindanao Problem, Misuari wanted to regain that position through peace (if Plan A was not a pretext) or war.

To restate: Get the attention of the President as well as that of the world, particularly his patrons in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, that he is still the Moro leader to reckon with. Getting this, he would press his demand for the Philippine government to resolve according to his desire the issues on the full implementation of the 1996 FPA under review since 2007. That was evidently the immediate motive.

The Misuari Problem

Misuari, as the chosen Moro leader, is the heart of the problem. In 1973, thereabout, the OIC (then Organization of Islamic Conference) declared the MNLF as the sole representative of the Muslims in Southern Philippines and conferred on it the observer status in the OIC International Conference of Foreign Ministers. With that, Misuari, as the founding chairman of the MNLF, became anointed representative of the Muslims with a seat in the OIC-ICFM and the privilege to address the body of Islamic leaders.

Since 1973, much water has passed under the MNLF bridge. In 1977 it splintered into three. After 1996, the MNLF Misuari wing splintered further leaving to Misuari a smaller group. As a political leader, Misuari proved his incompetence as ARMM governor from 1996 to 2001. In 2007 and 2010 he ran for governor of Sulu; in 2013, for ARMM governor. In all these, he lost overwhelmingly. But the OIC, keeping him as the sole representative of the Muslims in Southern Philippines, has sustained his pride and standing among his loyal followers.

The Tripoli Agreement of 1976 that Misuari signed with the Philippine government on December 23, 1976 was part of the problem. TA 1976 was an agreement in principle, its substantive provisions to be “completed later” but never completed despite several meetings, the last between the OIC ministers and the Philippine cabinet secretaries. However, President Ferdinand E. Marcos created two Muslim autonomous regions to implement TA 1976; the 1987 Constitution essentially adopted TA 1976 as the basis in the creation of the ARMM in 1989.

Misuari, the MNLF and the OIC did not recognize the two Muslim autonomous regions under Marcos and the ARMM under President Corazon C. Aquino. Besides being done unilaterally by the Philippine government, they were deemed not according to TA 1976. The demand for two decades after 1976 was the full implementation of the Tripoli Agreement.

The 1996 FPA, signed in Manila on September 2, 1996, is now the main problem. As agreed it “is the full implementation of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement (FPA: Paragraph 153).” It put to rest the demand for the full implementation of the 1976 TA; but, paradoxically, its own full implementation has been the demand since 2001. What happened?

To fully implement the 1996 FPA, the existing ARMM Organic Act, R.A. 6734 had to be amended or repealed by the Congress. The bill to amend or repeal “shall included [1] the pertinent provisions of the Final Peace Agreement and [2] the expansion of the present ARMM area of autonomy (FPA: Paragraph 2a).” R.A. 9054, the amendatory act, came out in February 2001; Misuari and the other MNLF leaders were dissatisfied with [1]; in the plebiscite, only Basilan and Marawi City opted to expand the ARMM.

Why has the 1996 FPA not been fully implemented? To Misuari and the other MNLF leaders, its “pertinent provisions” were not fully included in R.A. 9054; and, ARMM was not fully expanded. They blamed the first on the Congress for not consulting them during the legislative process; the second, on the Arroyo government for denying their request to defer the plebiscite to 2003.

Why did they not form a panel to monitor and shepherd the use of the FPA to amend R.A. 6734? For defaulting, they should not blame the lawmakers for enacting R.A. 9054 according to their reading of the FPA and their legislative discretion; they created their own problem.

The GRP-MILF peace negotiation aggravated the problem. Within the month after the signing of the 1996 FPA, the President Fidel V. Ramos had convinced the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) to negotiate peace. Misuari and the other MNLF leaders did not mind. Only after having been disappointed with R.A. 9054 did they feel betrayed; the feeling heightened after they had completely lost political power during the ARMM 2005 election. Only one MNLF won – Hatimil Hassan as representative of Basilan.

Why did they not object at the outset? The complication was very clear. The GRP-MILF (GPH-MILF under Aquino III) would be settling the same Bangsamoro Problem the just signed FPA had purportedly settled already. Any autonomous government for MILF would be the same ARMM already given the MNLF. With the signing of the FAB in October last year, the creation of Bangsamoro to replace the ARMM, and the hazy state of the review of the 1996 FPA, Misuari and the MNLF felt left aside.

Resolving the Problem

Even if Government then insisted — so is the present government insisting – that the 1996 FPA had been fully implemented, in 2007, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo agreed to have a joint OIC-GRP-MNLF review of the 1996 FPA to satisfy the MNLF demand for its full implementation. Chaired by the OIC-PCSP (Peace Committee of Southern Philippines), the tripartite review has been going on — its latest meeting set for last September 16 postponed on the request of the MNLF before the outbreak of the Zamboanga City war.

Obviously, the leaders of the other MNLF wings have deferred to Misuari’s leadership in the review. The OIC and the Philippine government must have recognized him as the overall head of the MNLF review panel. According to OPAPP Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, the submission to the Congress of a bill proposing amendments to R.A. 9054 had been vetoed by Misuari pending the resolution of his three new demands.

At the behest of the OIC, the Philippine Government and the MILF have agreed to incorporate the 1996 FPA into the BBL draft but the MNLF rejected the government offer of a seat in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that will draft the BBL. The MILF has also promised to carry on the gains that the MNLF had made in the ARMM. In their statements, particularly MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF has acknowledged what the MNLF had done in advancing the Bangsamoro cause.


To reiterate: Was the Zamboanga City standoff necessary for Misuari and his MNLF to achieve their demand for the full implementation of the 1996 FPA and for it not to be set aside to give way to the GPH-MILF FAB? With the tripartite review still ongoing and with the government and MILF not ignoring the OIC exhortation to consolidate the FAB and the FPA, it was not necessary. There is much room for dialogues although there should be honest-to-goodness compromises.

However, it should be asked: Was Misuari in the mood to compromise? Apparently, not! With that mood necessariness is premised on “What Misuari demands, Misuari gets” no matter the cost.  The Zamboanga City three-week disastrous standoff was the grim testimony.

[“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You may e-mail your comments to]

(Next: Could it – the Zamboanga City standoff with its disastrous consequences – have been avoided?)