SIDEBAR: March in the history of the Bangsamoro

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/12 March) — Will the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) this month and the submission of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law by March 31 (see other story) mark the beginning of a March marked with celebrations for the Bangsamoro?

March in the history of the Bangsamoro is a month marked with tragedies.

Between March 5 and 7, 1906, some 600 men, women and children (other reports say 900) were massacred by American soldiers on Bud Dajo  in Jolo, Sulu.

The New Orleans Times-Democrat  called it “a frightful atrocity.” Reacting to the newspaper headline,  “Women slain in Moro slaughter,” Mark Twain wrote, “’Slaughter’ is a good word. Certainly there is not a better one in the Unabridged Dictionary for this occasion.” The Boston Post screamed, “if this is imperial expansion, heaven save us from any more!”

On March 18, 1935, Hadji Abdulhamid Bongabong of Unayan and 189 Maranaos sent a letter of Appeal to the US Congress in what is now referred to as the “Dansalan Declaration of 1935.” A portion of the appeal reads: “Should the American People grant Philippine independence, the Islands of Mindanao and Sulu should not be included in such independence. Our public land should not be given to other people other than the Moro. We should be given time to acquire them, because most of us have no lands. Our people do not yet realize the value of acquiring those lands by the process of law. Where shall we obtain the support of our family if our lands are taken from us? It will be safe to us that a law should be created restricting (the acquisition) of our land by other people.”

Thirty three years later, the Jabidah Massacre of March 18, 1968, where at least 23 Moro trainees bound for a mission to reclaim Sabah in Malaysia were killed in Corregidor, triggered protest actions from the Moro population, leading to the formation of what would be the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

It is not clear exactly when the MNLF was established but it reckons its foundation day to March 18, 1968, the day of the massacre.

Nur Misuari of Sulu an instructor at the University of the Philippines, and Salamat Hashim of Maguindanao, then a student in Cairo, Egypt, were among the founders of the MNLF. During the negotiations for what would be the Tripoli Agreement of 1976, Misuari, MNLF chair and Hashim, his vice chair, sat beside each other in the MNLF peace panel.

Hashim in an interview in April 2000 said that during the negotiations for that agreement, he was pushing for autonomy only for the remaining Moro-dominated provinces in Mindanao, but was outvoted by Misuari and his group, who demanded autonomy for 12 of what were then 22 provinces and eight of what were then 16 cities in Mindanao, and Palawan and its Puerto Princesa City.

The Tripoli Agreement was signed 23 December 1976.  But invoking his martial law powers, then President Ferdinand Marcos made moves to set up not one but two regional autonomous regions.

On March 25, 1977, Marcos issued Proclamation 1628   declaring autonomy in the Provinces of Lanao de Sur, Lanao del Norte, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, North Cotabato, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Davao del Sur and South Cotabato in Mindanao and Palawan province and the cities therein: Marawi, Iligan, Cotabato, Pagadian, Zamboanga, Dipolog, Dapitan and General Santos City and the city of Puerto Princesa in Palawan.

In the plebiscite of April 17, 1977 held under the Marcos-controlled Commission on Elections, the cities of General Santos and Puerto Princesa and the provinces of Palawan, South Cotabato and Davao del Sur voted against inclusion, leaving only 10 provinces and seven cities as members of what would be two regional autonomous governments.

On March 23, 1979, the Marcos-controlled Batas Pambansa Blg. 20 was enacted providing for the organization of the regional legislative assemblies in two regional governments – Regions 9 and 12 – based in Zamboanga and Cotabato cities.

The MNLF, which had expected to lead the provisional government that would prepare for what was supposed to be a single autonomous region, protested what it said was a unilateral move on the part of government.

Salamat Hashim would later break away from Misuari and form the “new MNLF” that was later renamed into “Moro Islamic Liberation Front.”

The government and the MILF began formal peace negotiations with the Philippine government in 1997 with the general ceasefire declaration signed on July 18. But it would be interrupted by at least three major wars – 2000, 2003 and 2008 – and several deadlocks.

On March 21, 2000, in the midst of peace negotiations, then President Joseph Estrada declared an “all-out war” against the MILF. At least a million residents were displaced in this war.

Hashim succumbed to an illness in July 2003 in Butig, Lanao del Sur, after he was forced to leave his camp in Buliok, Maguindanao due to yet another war, this time under the Arroyo administration, displacing almost half a million residents.  Another war would break out in August 2008, after the botched signing of the GPH-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.

Misuari served as governor of ARMM from September 30, 1996 until his arrest for illegal entry off Sabah, Malaysia on November 2001, days after he was accused of mounting a rebellion in Sulu and in Cabatangan, Zamboanga City.  He was brought back to the Philippines in January 2001, detained in the bungalow intended for ousted President Joseph Estrada, later at St. Luke’s Hospital and much later in a government-rented white house in New Manila (near the hospital) and freed on bail on April 25, 2008 and later acquitted. The governor who was elected to succeed him was Dr. Parouk Hussein, who was head of the MNLF’s Foreign Affairs. He served until September 30, 2005.

In the 24-year history of the ARMM, the MNLF governed for nine years from 1996 to 2005. Misuari served the longest, at a little over five years, longer than the reelected governor Zaldy Ampatuan, who served from September 30, 2005 until his arrest on December 5, 2009 for his alleged involvement in the massacre of 58 persons, including 32 media workers, on November 23, 2009 in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.

In September last year, Misuari figured in the  three-week standoff between MNLF forces loyal to him and government forces in Zamboanga City. But the usually media-savvy Misuari was neither seen nor heard from,  either in a public gathering or in a media interview, during that standoff, and beyond.

He turned 75 on March 3, a man wanted again for rebellion and also for violation of several provisions of the newly-enacted Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)