ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: Kalinaw Mindanaw: The Story of the GRP-MNLF Peace Process, 1975-1996 (16)

16th of 18 parts

Part XVI

Chapter 7. It is Time for New Relationships

To complete the story of the formal peace process, it would have been fitting to also provide an account of the progress of implementation of the Peace Agreement. But until the plebiscite on the revised Organic Act of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanaw is duly held and the results officially proclaimed, the process is not deemed complete and any account will be hanging and inconclusive. Our option is to merely give an overview of the status of implementation and proceed to the discussion of the other important dimensions of the peace process as a whole.

Status of Implementation

As of this writing, House Bill No. 7883 has been passed (in July 1999) in the House of Representatives and has been filed in turn in the Senate. It has undergone first reading and is presently being processed by the Committee on Local Government. While we cannot tell when the new legislation will be enacted by Congress and signed into law by the President, we are assured that all this will be accomplished before the local elections of May 2001.

The integration of the 7,500 MNLF mujahideen into the AFP and the PNP is, as of March 2000, 91% completed. A total of 5,250 MNLF members have been integrated into the Armed Forces. By the end of year 2000, the full integration of the MNLF elements shall have been attained. A total of 1,250 former MNLF elements have been integrated with the Philippine National Police (PNP). The remaining 250 took their oath last March 2000.[1]

The Office of the President issued E.O. 371 proclaiming a Special Zone Of Peace And Development (SZOPAD) in   the southern Philippines, and creating the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) and the Consultative Assembly (CA). The performance of the SPCPD and the CA has been full of controversy. The government claims that it has fulfilled its part to the letter; the MNLF counters that the government has never provided sufficient funds and guidelines to enable it to succeed. This matter constitutes an entirely new subject for research. We are attaching here a copy of the Joint Monitoring Committee Report. (Appendix F). Let us now move on to other important dimensions of the peace process.

Where Stand the Lumad in the GRP-MNLF Peace Process?

A quick look at the population figures of the 14 provinces covered in the territory of the autonomous region will indicate that there are at least 12 Lumad ethno-linguistic groups which constitute 5.37 percent of the total population. They are the Subanen in the Zamboanga peninsula; the Higaunon in Iligan City; the Teduray in Maguindanao, the B’laan in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato and Davao del Sur; the Bagobo of Davao del Sur; the Tagakaolo of Davao del Sur; the T’boli of South Cotabato; the Manobo of Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao; the Batak, Tagbanua and Tau’t Bato in Palawan. If we include the non-Muslim segments of the Palawani in Palawan and the Kalagan in Davao del Sur, the total is twelve. The Muslims are only 26.89 percent and the Christian settlers make up the balance of nearly 70 percent.[2]

The MNLF-led Bangsamoro struggle have always touched the Lumad communities in similar ways that the Moro sultanates did. In the time of the sultanates, many of them were subjects and tributaries of the sultanates. Now, in the implementation of the GRP-MNLF Peace Agreement, they are also bound to be affected. While it is true that the autonomous region is designed purposely “for the Muslims of Southern Philippines,”[3] from whose ranks emerged the MNLF that fought the war of liberation,” it cannot be denied that both GRP and MNLF must also acknowledge and make room for 75% of the population, the Lumad and the Christian settlers, respectively, in the life and governance of the autonomy.

As citizens of the region, they are enjoined by law to take part in the plebiscite on the revised organic act. Whether or not they will become part of the autonomous region, the Lumad will continue to coexist with the Muslims. The same goes for the Christian settlers.

The Oil Connection; Government Response to Energy Crisis

At the height of the AFP-MNLF war in October 1973, which we have already discussed in Chapter 1, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) imposed an oil embargo on all countries supportive of Israel. The realization that the Philippines is almost wholly dependent on two Arab countries for its oil requirements compelled President Marcos to launch an ambitious energy development program designed to harness the country’s natural energy resources, specifically hydro and geothermal power. The search for oil was also done in earnest. The strategic end in view was obviously to increase our domestic energy capability and reduce our dependence on imported oil. But these moves would hit the indigenous peoples where it hurts most. These meant further displacement of the latter in their own lands.

In the Cordillera, the government launched, apparently without the benefit of extensive consultation with the people on the Chico River Dam project, and drew probably the biggest opposition ever to a government development project. In Mindanaw, the government implemented a series of power generation projects in quick succession. The massive hydroelectric plants Agus I to VII along the length of Agus river from Marawi City to Iligan City was probably the biggest with their combined capacity of 944 megawatts. The six dams along the Pulangi (river) which flows from Bukidnon to Cotabato City generate a total of 1,003 megawatts and service irrigation systems came next. Other smaller projects followed with their combined capacity of 714 megawatts. The 22 sites, excluding the geothermal plants, in Mindanaw are expected to generate a total of 3,006 Megawatts. The biggest sources of geothermal energy is Mt. Apo, calculated to sustain 170 wells that will provide steam to four power plants and turn out 220 megawatts of electricity.[4] The latter attracted enormous opposition from the Lumad inhabitants around the mountain which in their belief and tradition is as sacred as a cathedral is to Catholics. Today, as a result of these successful tapping of hydro, geothermal and other local energy resources, we are told that the country’s dependence on foreign oil has been reduced by at least 43 percent.[5] If properly substantiated, the most recent discovery of additional gas reserves as well as oil in commercial quantities at the Camago-Malampaya deep-water gas field off Palawan could provide, President Estrada said, another 15 percent of the country’s oil needs.[6]

Requirements of Development

Industrialization is inevitable and strategic for the development of Mindanaw. It is possible only with a continuous flow of electrical energy. From the sources of energy to the distribution of electricity, we can feel a very intimate interconnection between the peace process and the economic development.

Water, the source of power that turns the giant generators are dependent on the integrity of the watersheds. Keeping watersheds alive require the nurturing care of people, people who share a common desire to keep the water flowing for the common welfare.

The most strategic watersheds are located in the lands of the Moro inhabitants and the Lumad communities. This is accentuated by the current reality that our primary forest cover is down to 18.3 percent, far below the minimum required for a sound and sustainable ecology. This brings into sharp focus the fundamental necessity of reforestation. Maintaining the watersheds and undertaking forest regeneration activities will mean not only preserving the water resources in all lakes and major river systems, it will also provide a sustained supply of water for agriculture, another strategic component of Mindanaw economic development. The best illustrations of the latter are the cases of the Agusan and Cotabato river basins. Sustained effort from a diverse population will only be possible if they are unified by a common dream.

What this all boils down to is that peace in Moroland is as vital a component as a requirement for the restoration and preservation of the watershed areas that will, in turn, assure us of the continuous flow of electricity. This for its part will fuel the industries. The cycle can continue ad infinitum.

The interests of Moro and Lumad communities that are mostly occupying watershed areas, too, where they have been driven to by population movements from the lowlands in the last 100 years, cannot be detached from the interests of lowland rice farmers who are dependent on irrigation systems, which are in turn dependent on water flowing from these watershed areas.

The cycle we have presented here may not be complete but the concept suggests that we view Mindanaw peace and development as an organic whole, not in separate little pieces.

This brings us to the Tri-people approach.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. A peace specialist, Rudy Buhay Rodil is an active Mindanao historian and peace advocate)

TOMORROW: The Tri-People Approach: Citizens’ Participation in Creating a Culture of Peace 

[1]Status Of Implementation Of The 1996 GRP-MNLF Peace Agreement (as of March 2000). Office Of The Presidential Adviser On The Peace Process. p. 1.

[2] Taken from Table 10. Household Population by Mother tongue, Sex and City/Municipality, 1990 Census of Population and Housing, Republic of the Philippines, National Statistics Office, Manila, June 1992.

[3] Tripoli Agreement, Second paragraph.

[4] Struggle Against Development Aggression, A Tabak Publication (Quezon City: 1990), pp. 39-43.

[5] Manila Bulletin, 10 March 2000.

[6] Philippine Daily Inquirer, 6 May 2000