Where have all the young men and women gone, 44 years after the Jabidah Massacre? (1)

 1st of two parts

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 March) — Where have all the young men and women gone, 44 years after the Jabidah Massacre sparked a revolution to liberate the Bangsamoro Homeland?

A number of them are dead, some joined government and left disgruntled, some joined government and performed as badly as the leaders they criticized, others remained a revolutionary and many of them, now in their 60s and 70s, continue to fight for what they fought for 44 years ago, among others, to be recognized as having a distinct Moro identity and to govern themselves under a system crafted by the Bangsamoro themselves.

In their youth, they proclaimed “Victory or to the Graveyard,” victory to mean independence. But a resolution of the  Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)  in 1974 would not support their independence bid, forcing them to opt for autonomy instead.

Nur Misuari, chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), later referred to that OIC resolution as a “bitter pill for us to swallow” but one they had to swallow or risk isolation from the Ummah (Islamic community).

Misuari was 29 years old and a professor at the University of the Philippines in Diliman when the Jabidah Massacre of March 18, 1968 happened. He led Moro youth in a picket in front of Malacanang days after the lone survivor, Jibin Arula, reported what happened on Corregidor Island that day. Arula was among Moro trainees trained by the Philippine military to claim Sabah from Malaysia. Arula passed away in late 2009, his death in a vehicular accident gone unnoticed, made known only in February 2011.

Misuari co-founded the MNLF after the Jabidah Massacre, reckoning its birth to March 18, 1968 although the exact date of its founding remains unclear.

In 1973, months after President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, Misuari went on exile and gathered international support for the MNLF, principally from the OIC where it was later granted an observer status.

The Marcos government negotiated peace with the assistance of the OIC. Misuari signed the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 which provided for an “area of autonomy” over 13 provinces (12 in Mindanao and Palawan) and nine cities (eight in Mindanao and Puerto Princesa City).

Instead of one autonomous region, Marcos set up two Regional Autonomous Governments (RAGs), the area reduced through a plebiscite held in 1977. The MNLF protested the creation of two autonomous regions. The RAGs turned out to be autonomous in name only, their leaders beholden to Marcos.

When Corazon Aquino was swept to power by People Power in 1986, she met with Misuari in September that same year to talk peace. The Constitutional Commission she set up included a provision in the 1987 Constitution to provide for autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras. The MNLF boycotted the ratification of the Constitution. The Aquino government negotiated with the MNLF but no agreement was forged.

Following the ratification of the Constitution, Aquino created a Regional Consultative Commission that would draft the Organic Act for what would become the ARMM. Congress passed RA 6734 creating the ARMM and in the plebiscite of 1989, the  “area of autonomy” inn the Tripoli pact of 1976 was reduced  further. Only four Moro-dominated provinces voted for inclusion in the ARMM: Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur.

The Ramos administration talked peace with the MNLF from 1992 to 1996. Misuari signed yet another peace agreement – supposedly the Final Peace Agreement to implement the 1976 peace pact – on September 2, 1996, where both parties agreed to a transitional implementing mechanism called Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD)  involving the RAG areas, with the aim of expanding the ARMM. But in the 2001 plebiscite, only Marawi City and Basilan province, except for Isabela, voted for inclusion. Lamitan town later became part of the ARMM when it was converted into a city in 2007.

As  the towns progressed into cities and new provinces were created, the “area of autonomy” referred to in 1976 now covers 15 provinces and 14 cities. Mindanao at present has 26 provinces and 33 cities.

In the 22-year old history of the ARMM,  Malacanang’s anointed won in the six elections held. The ARMM’s first governor was Zacaria Candao, former Maguindanao governor, a member of the MNLF peace panel as legal counsel when Misuari signed the 1976 peace agreement and who later became legal counsel of the MILF under Salamat Hashim, Misuari’s vice chair who was also part of the MNLF peace panel;  Liningding Pangandaman, a former ambassador, was Ramos’ anointed, along with Misuari in 1996. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo anointed her ally, Zaldy Ampatuan in 2005. Ampatuan was reelectedin 2008.

Misuari became the longest-serving ARMM governor in history – from September 30, 1996 until his arrest off Sabah in late November 2001, his stay on holdover capacity extended several times because Congress failed to pass, as agreed upon in the 1996 peace pact, the law that would amend RA 6734 to “expand” the ARMM.

Misuari was fetched from his detention center in Malaysia in early January 2002 and detained until April 2008 on charges of rebellion.

But even before Misuari could begin governing the ARMM in 1996,  government had already started negotiating peace with the MILF under Salamat Hashim. Ramos’ Executive Secretary Ruben Torres, Misuari’s classmate at the University of the Philippines and the man who convinced him to run for ARMM Governor, met with  MILF vice chair Ghazali Jaafar on August 2, 1996 in Cagayan de Oro to start the process. Torres would tell this reporter in 2000 that since the government was about to sign a peace agreement with the MNLF the next month in 1996, he met with the MILF thinking it would agree to be part of that agreement. The MILF said the ARMM  which government offered to Misuari, was not the answer.

It did not help that Misuari’s performance in the ARMM was dismal. He was an absentee governor, spending more time outside the ARMM than in. He claimed they did not have enough funds and that he had to follow up the release of funds in Manila or, when abroad, that he was sourcing funds from international donors.

Hashim, unlike Misuari, did not chair its peace panel. A ceasefire agreement was eventually signed in July 1997 and from there the peace talks had been interrupted by war thrice – President Joseph Estrada’s “all out war” in 2000, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Buliok war in 2003 and the war after the 2008 aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.

Hashim was stricken ill and died on July 13, 2003, his death announced 22 days later, along with the appointment of a new chair: Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, vice chair for military affairs and at that time, the MILF peace panel chair.

When President Benigno Simeon Aquino took over on June 30, 2010, it inherited an unresolved peace negotiation with the MILF, a pending tripartite review (government-MNLF-OIC) on the 1996 peace agreement and an ARMM under acting Governor Ansaruddin Alonto Adiong. Zaldy Ampatuan, the ARMM Governor elected in 2008 who would have served until September 30, 2011, was in jail for his alleged involvement in the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media, in Ampatuan, Maguindanao. Adiong, like Ampatuan, was reelected in 2008. He assumed the post of governor in mid-December 2009.

The Aquino administration vowed to negotiate for a lasting solution,  that it would not, as past administrations did, pass on these problems to the next administration. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

[Tomorrow: The young Moro leaders after Jabidah]