ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: Kalinaw Mindanaw: The Story of the GRP-MNLF Peace Process, 1975-1996 (5)

5th of 18 parts 

(This is a revised version of the book “KALINAW MINDANAW: The Story of the GRP-MNLF Peace Process, 1975-1996” published in 2000.)

Implication on OIC Resolution No. 18

Just to reiterate for emphasis, the fourth item of OIC Resolution No. 18 clearly states the stand of the Fifth Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers of 1974. It calls upon the Philippine  Government to find a political and peaceful solution through negotiation with Muslim leaders, particularly with the representative of the Moro National Liberation Front within the framework of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines. Strangely, the resolution did not state in black and white that the government should negotiate with the MNLF; it says “Muslim leaders, particularly with the representative” of the MNLF.

The Majul-Cuyugan Memorandum correctly observed that  the MNLF panel was using the negotiation and OIC Res. No. 18 to their full advantage. They said that by taking the position that the MNLF did Misuari tried to utilize the Islamic Conference for his political ends. He succeeded in becoming the representative of said “Muslim leaders.”

Pre-conditions in April Meeting

On February 20, 1975 six weeks prior to the April 7 meeting, Nur Misuari sent a letter to OIC Secretary General categorically stating, in three pre-conditions, that the MNLF would no longer participate in further talks with the government unless the latter issues a statement of its acceptance of the MNLF demand for an autonomous state under a separate government with the Bangsamoro Army as its armed forces. The three pre-conditions set by the MNLF for proceeding with the talks were just as hardline in letter and spirit as their four demands. As expected, the Philippine government refused to entertain them. The pre-conditions are, as follows.

  1. That the Philippine Government make a prior public declaration that it is agreeable and willing to meet their (the MNLF) demand for political autonomy through the creation of an autonomous Bangsamoro Government embracing the whole of Mindanaw, Basilan, Sulu and Palawan;
  2. That the Philippine panel must be authorized or mandated to discuss solely their demand with all its mechanics and details; and
  3. That the Philippine panel must be empowered to make formal commitment which shall be binding upon the Philippine Government.

No less than President Marcos ultimately issued three reasons, also unequivocal, why the Philippine government could not accept all the MNLF demands:

  1. First, to accept would be to surrender the sovereignty of the Republic, for the autonomy that the Moro National Liberation Front has in mind is one in which the Philippine Government would have nothing to do with them (the MNLF), except in national defense or to repel an external aggression, and in the conduct of foreign affairs;
  2. Second, is the undeniable fact that the Moro National Liberation Front cannot lay claim being the sole and legitimate representative of all Filipino Muslims in the region; and
  3. Third, the demand completely disregards present realities. The region over which autonomy is demanded by the Chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front contains people who are Muslims as well as non-Muslims — Christians, Yakans, Blaans, Tedurays, T’bolis and many other ethno-linguistic groups — who collectively constitute the great majority.

The President received support from no less than the Indonesian Prime Minister Adam Malik three months later when the latter said rather pointedly in his speech at the 6th ICFM in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on July 12-15, 1975:

Indonesia had hoped that the talks in Jeddah in January this year … would bring progress toward the overall solution to the problem… As we see it, the failure was partly attributed to the complexity of the question, but  certainly also due to the disproportionate demand put forward by the rebel faction headed by Mr. Nur Misuari. To insist on a prior public declaration agreeing to the creation of an autonomous region, with a separate government and army, as a condition for the success of these talks, we believe, cannot be accepted by any government worthy of its name.

What was Accomplished by the Talks?

After the oil embargo experienced by the Philippines three months earlier, and in light of Resolution No. 18 of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers of 1974, the government had no choice except to undertake the talks with the participation of the OIC. The same Resolution also works to the advantage of the government because it specifies that the problem be resolved “within the framework of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines.” No doubt the same Resolution was a major factor in getting the MNLF to abandon their independence position in favor of autonomy and come to the negotiating table.

In the eyes of the Islamic world, the Philippine Government, by acceding to the talks at Jeddah, firmly demonstrated its willingness to comply with the Resolution of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers, and to manifest its interest in peace and sensitiveness to world opinion, especially those of the Islamic nations.

Moreover, by meeting with  the leaders of the MNLF for the first time, the government gained deeper insight into their personalities and frame of mind, and assess better their motivations and their fighting goals. It was also able to appreciate the obstacles that stand in the way of peace, especially the forces that lie behind the MNLF. This first contact in itself represents a milestone in the government’s search for a solution to the problem in the Southern Philippines.

Although never intended, the talks also bolstered the personal prestige of Nur Misuari and the leadership of the MNLF, and elevated their position in the international world of Islam, and among the Muslims in the Philippines. It also internationalized the MNLF-led Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination.

RP Gains at the Diplomatic Front

It should be recalled that at the time of the  3rd ICFM in 1972, the Philippines had diplomatic relations with only seven Islamic countries of the 30 OIC member states that attended, namely, Afghanistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Only Indonesia was openly supporting  the Philippine position as it would consistently do later. When the Quadripartite Ministerial Committee (QMC) was constituted in the 4th ICFM in 1973, Saudi Arabia was the only QMC member with diplomatic ties with the Philippines.

During their side trips to Tripoli [January 19] and to Egypt [January 19-20], facilitated by the C-130 plane which Secretary Melchor had provided, they made incalculable gains for the Philippine government.  In Tripoli Melchor met with Libyan Prime Minister Abdel Sallam Jalloud. Although Melchor had to listen to an uninterrupted ten-minute lecture from the Libyan official on religion at the latter’s office, he was able to return the favor with his own talk on religion in a secular state. He also got the chance to ask him how Libya got involved  in the Philippines. The answer he got was a revelation in itself and deserves to be quoted here.

Jalloud replied that their leader, Col. Khaddafy, was listening to BBC radio broadcast and heard about the massacre of Muslim people inside a mosque in Cotabato at the hands of the “Ilagas.”  He related how Gaddafi then called his aide and asked  where Cotabato was and also asked who were the “Ilagas?”  After listening to his aide’s brief explanation, Col. Khaddafy immediately  decided to launch his own personal “crusade” against helpless Muslims in Mindanaw. Jalloud further elaborated that Gaddafi spent over U.K. 30 million pounds to arm and train Filipino Muslims to fight against the government in Mindanaw.

The Philippine panel chairman also concluded from his conversation with Jalloud that Libyan plan was to attempt to get Misuari to speak before the United Nations, something they already succeeded in doing for Yasser Arafat of the Palestinians.

In Cairo, Secretary Melchor met personally with President Sadat and had a pleasant and productive exchange of ideas with him.  He also had separate meetings at the  Arruba Palace with various Filipino students then going to school at Al-Ahzar University. He found the students, he said, very reasonable and very courteous towards him. [In Jeddah, he also got to talk with Salamat Hashim and found it comfortable just talking to him.] He also visited the headquarters  of the Supreme Islamic Council.

In the evening of January 29 the meeting was supposed to be at Al-Tohamy’s office, but then the latter received an urgent telephone call from his brother in Cairo informing him that both their parents had suddenly advised Al-Tohamy to fly home to Cairo immediately. At the same time, Nur Misuari had sent word that he had come down with bronchitis and would not  be able to attend the scheduled meeting. On the suggestion of Melchor, Al-Tohamy and Nur Misuari readily agreed to call a recess in the meeting.

Personal Touch; A Fitting Conclusion

Melchor wrote a formal letter to the Saudi Foreign Minister, who was his official host, of the decision to recess the meetings and to thank him for the courtesies extended by his government to the Philippine panel. He also sent a handwritten note to Nur Misuari that he would be happy to bring any pasalubong that Nur may have for his family. Nur Misuari was apparently touched by this simple gesture, Melchor observed. He immediately replied and said he would send a letter to his wife, Desdemona, but stated that he did not have a chance to buy anything for his children. Melchor then also immediately replied that if it would not offend Nur, he would like to be the one to buy some “pasalubong” (presents) for his children.

The Philippine Government Panel and the representatives of the MNLF parted in Jeddah with no bitterness. Upon his return to Manila, Melchor made no press statement on the outcome of this first meeting in Jeddah with Nur Misuari and  Salamat Hashim out of respect for their sensitivity and frustration in not being able to achieve their goal of seeking international recognition for a status of belligerency. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. A peace specialist, Rudy Buhay Rodil is an active Mindanao historian and peace advocate)

Tomorrow: Long Rugged Road to Tripoli

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