COMMENT: BBL: Test of Moro Unity

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, October 22, 2014 – Will Moro leaders and their followers unite in Bangsamoro? The plebiscite to ratify the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be the ultimate test.

Is the question relevant? Unity has bugged the Moro struggles against Spanish and American colonialism and for self-determination under the Third Philippine Republic notably since the emergence of the Moro liberation movement in early 1970s. History will tell the story.

Since 1976

In the 1960’s, events converged to unite the Moro youth and political leaders in the Moro liberation movement. Moro young professionals and students in Manila and in Mindanao and Sulu Archipelago took the radical path; the national political leaders conciliated and advocated reforms with Manila but sounded belligerent when rallying their constituents. According to some sources, they used their close ties with leaders of Muslim countries to secure support for the independence movement.

After the declaration of the martial law, Moro unity and reality met head on. The Moro National Liberation Front led by the Moro young professionals and students in Manila, the provinces and Cairo, Egypt waged the rebellion. The leading Moro national political leaders were sidelined. Those who did not join the martial law regime just faded away. The traditional Moro political leaders who joined President Marcos’ Kilusang Bagong Lipunan helped Marcos and the military disunite the MNLF.

In 1977, following the signing of the Tripoli Agreement, the MNLF started to break up. First, expelled by Founding Chairman Nur Misuari for allegedly agitating to take over the MNLF leadership, Vice Chairman Salamat Hashim and his loyal followers mostly field commanders in the Cotabato area formed the New MNLF. Not long after, Dimas Pundato and his MNLF Reformed Group mostly from the Lanao area severed ties with Misuari.

All three factions continued singing the same song when asked about their condition in negotiating peace with Manila: “Full implementation of the Tripoli Agreement in letter and spirit.” After the re-naming of New MNLF to MILF, the Salamat faction did not change its tune. The real cause of the break-up could not have been Salamat’s objection to Misuari’s abandonment of independence as alleged. The veneer of unity must have been too fragile to dissemble the Tausug-Maguindanao-Maranaw leadership rivalry.

Marcos used the Moro disunity to disunite more the rebel movement. Seeing that even the Organization of Islamic Conference (now, “Cooperation”) could not reunite them, he insisted in MNLF-MILF reunification before resuming any negotiation to implement the Tripoli Agreement.

The 1992 Final Peace Agreement did not make unity whole. On the contrary, the more the MNLF splintered. With top members of the Central Committee having organized the MNLF Council of the 15 to “retire” Misuari, it is believed his faction is much smaller. There are other smaller MNLF splinter groups including the terrorist Abu Sayyaf.

Besides the MNLF and its motley groups, the MILF and its splinter BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters), there are traditional politicians strongly tied with political powers in Manila or local traditional leaders with their own loyal followers – all pursuing their own group or individual interests.

These are the Moros that the MILF and the government of President Aquino III want the BBL to unite in Bangsamoro. Will they be united or more splintered by the BBL?

Moro Unity

Moro unity is a diversity of Moro ethnic groups living as one people or nation under one political entity. The political entity presently envisioned is Bangsamoro. The BBL is the basic law that will bind together the Moros and the non-Moro groups in Bangsamoro – the settlers and the Indigenous People.

Surely, it’s not by design. Yet, the reality stands. Bangsamoro has evolved from Muslim Autonomy in existence for almost 40 years. MILF’s Salamat was keen, pragmatic and flexible in his ideas; through 17 years of patient negotiation, MILF nurtured Bangsamoro, the vision, on the way to reality.

Originally, in the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, the Autonomy for the Muslims in Southern Philippines was proposed to unite the Moros and as a minority rule by mandate the 13-province predominantly Christian political entity. By constitutional process and through PD No. 1618, President Ferdinand E. Marcos reduced the territory to ten provinces in two five-province Regional Autonomous Governments IX and XII. The Moro minority rule by mandate stayed – in reality, a return to the failed Moro-Christian political relations.

In 1989, by another constitutional process and through R.A. 6734, President Corazon C. Aquino revived the 13-province autonomy named Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Only four Moro provinces without a city elected to compose the ARMM. Basilan Province and Marawi City, both more than 90 percent Moro, opted out. The vote, setting aside mutual biases and prejudices, was for the Moros to govern the ARMM without the interference of the Christians.

Both MNLF and MILF rejected the ARMM as they had done with RAG IX and RAG XII. In negotiating with President Fidel V. Ramos (1993-1996) Misuari insisted on the Tripoli Agreement in letter and spirit. In the 2001 plebiscite, only Basilan and Marawi City voted to expand the ARMM. Negotiating with four Presidents starting with Ramos, MILF settled only for the ARMM and contiguous Moro communities as the territory of the Moro political entity and for a government different from that of the ARMM.

Bangsamoro in BBL

Section 2 of Article III of Draft BBL includes in the core territory” of Bangsamoro, besides the present ARMM, six municipalities in Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays of six municipalities in North Cotabato “that voted for inclusion in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite”, Cotabato City in Maguindanao and Isabela City in Basilan.

Also considered as “core territory” are “all other contiguous areas where there is resolution of the local government unit or a petition of at least ten percent (10%) of the registered voters in the area asking for their inclusion at least two months prior to the conduct of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the process of delimitation of the Bangsamoro”.

As provided, only the above will participate in the plebiscite to determine the final territorial composition of Bangsamoro: “In order to ensure the widest acceptability of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in the core areas above-mentioned, a popular ratification shall be conducted among all the Bangsamoro within the areas for their adoption.” (Also: Section 1(1) of Article XV)

Section 3 (a) to (e) of Article XV provides that only the provinces, cities, municipalities, barangays and geographical areas specified in Section 2 of Article III – “if the majority of [their] registered voters …vote in favor of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL)” – will finally compose Bangsamoro as its “constituent units (Article III, Section 6)”. This is in recognition of the collective rights of the constituents of the Bangsamoro (Article III, Section 7)”.

Different from RA 9054

By Article III, Section 7 and Article XV, Sections (a) to (e), Bangsamoro can be smaller than its present specified “core territory”. Some ARMM provinces, municipalities and barangays can opt out; Cotabato City and Isabela City may vote to stay out; the six Lanao Norte municipalities and the 39 barangays in North Cotabato may change their votes. No contiguous geographical area may petition for inclusion. This significant difference of BBL from RA 9054 is the ultimate test of Moro unity.

It was agreed in Part I, 2.b of the 1996 FPA that: “The new area of the autonomy shall be determined by the provinces and cities that will vote/choose to join said autonomy (1998) [year of the plebiscite as agreed]….” This must have been interpreted by the Congress that ARMM will be expanded but not diminished.

RA 9054, Article II has separate questions for the four” ARMM provinces and the “ten” other provinces (Sarangani added to the original 13 provinces of the area of autonomy) and 13 cities (four new cities added to the original nine). The “four” were only asked to ratify RA 9054; the “ten” and “13 cities”, to join or not to join ARMM.

BBL (Article XV, Section 6) has only one plebiscite question for all: “Do you approve of the Bangsamoro Basic Law?”

Test of Unity

Will the Moros renounce their ethnic, factional, clan and other traditional differences and unite under Bangsamoro? This is as crucial as the Government-MILF negotiation talking point, “How to solve the Bangsamoro Probem”.

Bangsamoro is identified as MILF baby. While the Draft BBL adopted 19 significant provisions of RA 9054 and RA 6734, will MNLF and traditional Moro politicians find this a sufficient cause to support Bangsamoro?

From Luwaran reports, the GPH-MILF agreements have been well received in the Lanao, Maguindanao, Sarangani and other areas of the once Empire Province of Cotabato after a year or more of extensive and intensive information campaigns. But no such campaigns were reported in Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan.

How will the BBL that the Congress will enact compare with the agreements that the Moros in the MILF-predominated areas have reportedly accepted vehemently?

How will the traditional Moro political leaders compare the parliamentary-ministerial and asymmetric form of government to the unitary in terms of patronage from Manila?

There are more considerations that can affect “collective rights” during the plebiscite.


[1] Should the six municipalities of Lanao del Norte, or any of the six, vote for exclusion, it is understood they will stay with their mother province; the same can be said of the 39 barangays or any of them in the six municipalities of North Cotabato.

[2] Should Cotabato City and Isabela City still decide to vote “NO”, will they stay with their respective Regions – XII and IX? They are oddly situated politically. While they are included cities and part of congressional districts of provinces in Bangsamoro, they belong jurisdictionally to other Regions they are not contiguous with.

[3] If any of the five ARMM provinces opt out, what will happen? There is no provision in the Draft BBL where they will be jurisdictionally. They cannot stay in the ARMM for this will be abolished. The same can be said of any municipality or municipalities in the five ARMM provinces or any barangay or barangays in the municipalities of the ARMM.

We suggest, the Draft BBL should be amended to specifically provide for the above. [“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]