From RAG to ARMM to Bangsamoro: Salamat Hashim would have approved of Bangsamoro’s proposed territory

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/10 October)– The proposed territory of the Bangsamoro, the political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) by 2016 would have merited the approval of Salamat Hashim, the founding chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who died from an illness on July 13, 2003 and who, as early as  the 1975-1976 peace negotiations,  had wanted to cover  “only the territories/areas where the Bangsamoro people were still a majority.”

The Bangsamoro territory in the 2012 Framework Agreement, is smaller than what was envisioned in the 1976 and 1996 peace agreements with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the botched Memorandum of Agreement of Ancestral Domain with the MILF in 2008.

The Proposed Bangsamoro Core Territory . Click Map to download larger version. Mindanews Graphics by Keith BacongcoBased on page 6 of the Framework Agreement, the core territory of the proposed Bangsamoro would consist of
* the five ARMM provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan;
* the six towns of Lanao del Norte that voted for inclusion in the ARMM in the 2001 plebiscite – Baloi, Munai,Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal;
* barangays in the municipalities of Aleosan, Carmen, Kabacan, Midsayap, Pigcawayan and Pikit in North Cotabato that also vote dfor inclusion in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite
*  the cities of Cotabato and Isabela in Basilan; and
* all other contiguous areas where there is a resolution of the local government unit or a petition of at least 10 percent of the qualified voters in the area asking for inclusion at least two months prior to the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

(Prof. Rudy Rodil, historian and former government peace panel member in the negotiations with the MNLF and MILF, counted 39 of  208 barangays in the six towns of North Cotabato  that voted for inclusion in the ARMM in 2001, from Commission on Elections records on the “Plebiscite to Ratify the Amendments to RA 6734, Consolidated ARMM Referendum Results, 14 August 2001.”)

The course of history could have changed had the 1976 proposal of Hashim, then vice chair of the MNLF, been considered. But he was outvoted and MNLF chair Nur Misuari’s idea of  an “area of autonomy” prevailed because “majority of those who were around in Tripoli were his friends, Hashim recalled in an interview with this reporter on April 15, 2000 in his office in Camp Abubakar, while the Estrada administration’s “all-out war” was raging in neighboring Lanao del Sur.

If his suggestion had been followed in 1976, Hashim believed,  24 years later, that  “something could have been achieved.”

As vice chair to Misuari, Hashim was in the MNLF peace panel that negotiated the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. In fact, he said, he was “the first to negotiate with government representatives in 1975 in Jeddah.”

“In the negotiations, we were together but when the negotiations were about to conclude in Libya, that was the reason why we had some sort of differences with Misuari. On my part, I did not like the idea of negotiating within the framework of Constitution. I said once we agree, we
can’t move anymore because whatever we say, government will just say it’s against the Constitution. Another thing was I did not like the idea of the Tripoli Agreement (because) if we look at the territory covered by the Tripoli Agreement, it was not practical because it covers areas now no longer dominated by the native inhabitants/Bangsamoro so I believed it was not practical. It covered Davao. Davao was no longer dominated by the Bangsamoro,” said Hashim, who eventually broke away from the MNLF to set up the MILF in the late 1970s.

Hashim  explained he wanted to cover “only the territories/areas where the Bangsamoro people were still a majority.”


He said it was “not necessary to cover areas where settlers of Luzon and Visayas are merged because to me I wanted to be practical so there will be no reason why Philippine government would not agree, no reason why our people from Luzon and Visayas would not agree. We didn’t want to cover them unless they chose to join us. If they’re going to join us, that’s another thing. But we didn’t want to cover them not because we did not want them to be part of us but because we want them to be free, we want them to join us if they want to, if they don’t want them to join us, let them. This is my idea.”

He was referring to settlers from Luzon and Visayas who had made Mindanao their home.

The area of coverage of the Bangsamoro region sparked major differences between him and Misuari.  “As a matter of fact, the idea of Misuari was to embrace the entire island of Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Palawan but I think it’s impractical. If you want to include the entire island Mindanao Sulu and Palawan, you have to launch a massive campaign in order to get the sympathy of other people there. Like for example the settlers from Luzon or Visayas who are not Moro. We have to campaign to get their sympathy to cover the entire area. Without getting their sympathy, we will have so many troubles,” he said.

And troubles did hound the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination.

The Tripoli Agreement of 1976 listed 13 provinces and nine cities as “areas of autonomy” –the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Davao Del Sur, South Cotabato and Palawan and “all the cities and villages” therein.

At that time,  there were nine cities within the autonomy areas: Zamboanga, Dipolog, Dapitan, Pagadian, Cotabato, Iligan, Marawi, General Santos in Mindanao and Puerto Princesa in Palawan.

By 1976,  only five of the 13 provinces and one of nine cities  were Moro-dominated.

Exercising his martial law powers (he declared martial law in 1972), then President Ferdinand Marcos issued Proclamation 1628 on March 25, 1977 creating two Regional Autonomous Goverments (RAGs) and setting the plebiscite on April 17 that year in the 13 provinces and nine cities of Mindanao and Palawan that the Tripoli Agreement identified as “areas of the autonomy.”

In the 1977 plebiscite, the cities of General Santos and Puerto Princesa and the provinces of Palawan, South Cotabato and Davao del Sur rejected inclusion in the two RAGs.

The MNLF protested Marcos’ creation of two autonomous regions instead of  just one.

But it wasn’t just Marcos’ unilateral move that doomed the 1976 peace pact.

Territory was a major issue. As predicted by Hashim, the “areas of autonomy” met resistance from precisely the groups he had identified would need “massive campaign” to get their “sympathy.”

A cycle of plebiscites

Since 1977, residents in the provinces and cities listed under  “areas of autonomy” in the Tripoli Agreement have had to vote thrice, for or against inclusion in the autonomous region, in what had become a 12-year cycle of plebiscites: 1977, 1989 and 2001.

Twelve years after the plebiscite in 1977, another plebiscite over the same “areas of the autonomy” was held in 1989, this time under RA 6734, the Organic Act of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

In the post-Marcos restoration of democracy, the Constitutional Commission appointed by then President Corazon Aquino, the mother of incumbent President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, included a provision in the 1987 Constitution on the autonomous regions in the new Constitution, for “Muslim Mindanao” and for the Cordilleras.

RA 6734 was based on the mandate of the 1987 Constitution but the insitutionalization of the autonomous region through the 1987 Constitution was viewed differently by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which campaigned against its ratification. The MNLF at that time maintained that the 1976 Tripoli Agreement must be implemented “in letter and spirit.”

The MILF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) boycotted the ratification of the 1987 Constitution.

In the November 1989 plebiscite following RA 6734, only four of the 13 provinces and none of the nine cities voted for inclusion in what would become the following year,  the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM): Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur.

After the signing of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the MNLF, these “areas of autonomy” – by then already expanded from 13 to 14 provinces because Sarangani province was carved out of South Cotabato – were made part of the Ramos administration’s Special Zone for Peace and Development (Szopad), which along with the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development, were supposed to be the transitional implementing mechanisms for a future “expanded” ARMM.

Mass protests, however, greeted the proposal for an SPCPD and Szopad, again as predicted by Hashim 20 years earlier, from the areas that were no longer Moro-dominated.  Then President Fidel Ramos was even pelted with tomatoes in one of his visits in Mindanao then and the Philippine flag was flown at half mast.

In the 2001 plebiscite, by then already under RA 9054, the “areas of autonomy” listed in 1976 had expanded to 15 provinces with the creation of Zamboanga Sibugay from Zamboanga del Sur; and the nine cities had expanded to 14 with the conversion of  the towns of Digos, Isabela, Kidapawan, Koronadal and Tacurong into cities.

Of 15 provinces, only one more joined the four ARMM provinces: Basilan, while only one city out of 14, voted for inclusion in the “expanded” ARMM: the Islamic City of Marawi.

Lamitan town in Basilan became the second city of the ARMM when it was converted into a city in 2007.

Territory of  2008 MOA-AD

If the GPH-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) of 2008 had been signed on August 5 that year, it would have been the first time in the Philippines’ post-colonial history that the Philippine government finally recognized the Bangsamoro as a distinct people with a homeland where they can govern themselves, have jurisdiction and control of their resources and realize their aspirations for freedom, self-determination, self-governance.

But that was not to be.

The MOA-AD, already initialed by the peace panels a week earlier, on July 27,  was not formally signed on August 5 because of a temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court afternoon of August 4.

If it had been signed, two plebiscites would have been held in 2009 and 2034 – the former for residents of 735 mostly predominantly Moro villages contiguous to the present ARMM and another plebiscite to be conducted “not earlier than 25 years” after the signing of the comprehensive compact or beyond 2034, for residents in some 1,459 villages identified as “special intervention areas.”

In the plebiscites, voters in these areas were to be asked if they want or do not want to be part of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).

The MOA-AD listing included areas the Moro people claimed to be part of their ancestral domain, classified under the agreement into Categories A, B and C.

Under the agreement, the ARMM provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi,  Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan and six towns in Lanao del Norte that voted yes in the plebiscite of 2001 for the “expanded ARMM” would form the core of the proposed area of governance that both parties referred to in the agreement as BJE.

The Lanao del Norte towns are Balo-i, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangcal.

Categories A and B

Along with these areas, also under Category A, were 735 villages that are predominantly Moro and contiguous to the ARMM, which would be subjected to a plebiscite “within 12 months following the signing of the MOA-AD” or on or before August 2009.

The 735 villages were from the provinces of Lanao del Norte, Bukidnon North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Palawan and the cities of Isabela, Cotabato and portions of Iligan and Zamboanga.

Category B or the” Special Intervention Areas,” refered to the 1,459 areas outside the BJE “which shall be the subject of special socio-economic and cultural affirmative action implemented by the Central Government pending the conduct of a plebiscite not earlier than twenty-five (25) years from the signing of the Comprehensive Compact to determine the question of their accession to the BJE.”

The 1,459 villages listed for the 2034 plebiscite were from 12 provinces – North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato, Sarangani, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley, Zamboanga del  Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay and Palawan — and the cities of Zamboanga and Pagadian.

Under Category C, the territorial waters of the BJE shall stretch “beyond the BJE internal waters up to the Republic of the Philippines (RP) baselines south east and south west of mainland Mindanao” but final demarcation “shall be determined by a joint technical body composed of duly-designated representatives of both Parties, in coordination with the appropriate Central Government agency in accordance with the above guidelines.”

The predominantly non-Moro areas, quickly objected to inclusion, even if their inclusion or exclusion would have depended on the results of the plebiscite.

“Why risk again non-acceptance?”

Apparently learning lessons from the ill-fated Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) of 2008,  the Philippine government (GPH)  and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels during the Aquino administration conducted several multisectoral consultations in 2011.

The MILF panel met with Mindanao’s Catholic bishops on March 30, 2011 to discuss the draft peace agreement they proposed to the government peace panel and  to clarify issues on history, territory, the Moro National Liberation Front, and the practice of religion, among others, within their proposed “Bangsamoro sub-state”

Cotabato Arcbishop Orlando Quevedo asked the panel: “You and I know that Christians vehemently objected to that portion which was beyond Category A (of the botched MOA-AD) and especially people from Zamboanga, Davao and North Cotabato were vehement in their objections and yet I still find those very disputable contentious things in the draft. For historical reasons I can understand the MILF position but for the feasible and viable acceptance of this, for those who were vehemently opposed to this especially people from Manila, Zambonaga, Davao and North Cotabao, why should it still be there? For practical purposes, why should it still be there and risk again non-acceptance?”
Quevedo also noted that the late MILF chair Salamat Hashim “was realistic enough in his vision for a Bangsamoro, realistic in the sense that he would be able to say, ‘yes we cannot change the demographic and political status of Mindanao now but we wish to have some form of self-determination in a certain territory so that it’s no longer the whole of Mindanao but a certain very limited territory..’”


“If  he was realistic enough to do that, I wonder if that kind of a principle of realism that would complement the vision of the Bangsamoro, could extend to the idea of  territory B. Why? Because the question of legitimacy is correct there but even Hashim Salamat himself said ‘let this idea of legitimacy give way to realism.’ I would think the government would point to that as a contentious issue that will not be accepted by people who are already there  in Zamboanga, Davao, North Cotabato — I mean that’s part of Category B (where) 25 years after, there will be a referendum. Why risk unacceptability by insisting on this one?” Quevedo asked.
Before the panel could answer, Quevedo said, “I suggest you be more flexible. I do not want to debate that. I just want to say the whole package could be thrown out because of one could be negotiable thing.”


The question on territory, considered  as among two of the most contentious issues that had to be resolved in the September 2012 peace talks, was actually resolved through shuttling of the Malaysian facilitator, Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, between the GPH in Manila and the MILF in Maguindanao.
By the time the panels arrived in Kuala Lumpur for the talks that would start October 2, the issue had been settled.
A question of justice

In the March 30, 2011 dialogue with Mindanao’s Catholic bishops, MILF peace panel member Datu Michael Mastura said Quevedo’s question was a “welcome question because it addresses the very core issue in the negotiating table which has never been understood by negotiating panels of the government. What is that? It’s a question of legitimacy and legitimacy can be divided into acceptance which (Quevedo) mentioned, and justice, the issue of justice – the issue of justice is very well stated in (Quevedo’s) own paper and stand on the MOA-AD.”

“The question of acceptance is something we have to grapple with and that questions precisely the status quo. So that answers the question why should it risk again non-acceptance? Because it is a justice issue. … Look at the justness of the original position between the Bangsamoro people and the Filipino people in general. Why should they object? Of course, it is reality that they are occupying some of our lands. Nobody for example thinks in terms of how we lost. We have been on the losing side.”
He cited historical events that led to the diminution of the Moro territory.


“Until and unless this nation realizes what it has done to us and continues to deny us,  the narrative is the history – but as you know, I will repeat – legitimacy is the question. Salamat Hashim, the founder of the MILF, used to say ‘illegal and immoral incorporation of the Bangsamoro people and their territory into what is now known as the Philippine state,’” Mastura said.

“All we are asking now is very practical… that we do an asymmetrical relationship,” he said.

On October 7, 2012, the Philippine government finally, officially recognized the Bangsamoro.

After 15 years of peace negotiations,  two of that under the Aquino administration, the Philippine government and the MILF reached a Framework Agreement that would give birth to a new autonomous political entity whose name, President Aquino said,  “symbolizes and honors the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao” and “celebrates the history and character of that part of our nation.”

“That name will be Bangsamoro,”  Aquino said in a 10-minute address to the nation from Malacanang, in the presence of Vice President Jejomar Binay and his Cabinet and representatives from Congress.

Aquino said the agreement “paves the way for a final, enduring peace in Mindanao. It brings all former secessionist groups into the fold; no longer does the Moro Islamic Liberation Front aspire for a separate state. This means that hands that once held rifles will be put to use tilling land, selling produce, manning work stations, and opening doorways of opportunity for other citizens.”

“National government will continue to exercise exclusive powers of defense and security, foreign policy, monetary policy and coinage, citizenship, and naturalization. The Constitution and lawful processes shall govern the transition to the Bangsamoro, and this agreement will ensure that the Philippines remains one nation and one people, with all of our diverse cultures and narratives seeking the common goal. The Filipinos of Bangsamoro, on the other hand, will be assured a fair and equitable share of taxation, revenues, and the fruits of national patrimony. They will enjoy equal protection of laws and access to impartial justice,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)