COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 18 January) – President Rodrigo Duterte made a final push Friday for a “yes” vote to ratify RA 11054 (Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) which he described as ‘the centerpiece legislation of my administration” and a “landmark law” that will not only address the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro “but also plot the course towards a brighter and more promising future for Mindanao.”
The “yes” vote in the January 21 and February 6 plebiscite, he said, ends the 50-year armed struggle waged by the Moro liberation fronts and marks the beginning of a “new chapter in our history” where every person is “treated with respect regardless of one’s ethnicity, gender, religion, or ideological leanings.”
Duterte reckoned 50 years from the establishment of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) following the Jabidah Massacre in 1968. The MNLF later split into three factions — MNLF under Nur Misuari, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) under Salamat Hashim and the MNLF Reformist Group under Dimas Pundato — after then President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., using his martial law powers, set up two autonomous regions – in Central and Western Mindanao – instead of one as agreed upon in the 1976 Tripoli pact.
The leader of the reformist group, joined the Cory Aquino administration after the 1986 People Power revolt that led to the ouster of Marcos while the MILF and the MNLF continued with the struggle, the MNLF signing in 1996 the Final Peace Agreement with the Ramos administration and the MILF, which signed a ceasefire agreement with the Ramos administration in 1997, signing the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2014.
“This landmark law was not built entirely from scratch. It echoes the aspirations and principles embodied in the past peace agreements with different Moro fronts. Indeed, it is a product of the blood, sweat, and tears of many great men who came before us,” Duterte said in a 35-minute speech at the Peace Assembly for the Ratification of Republic Act No. 11054 at the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex within the compound of the seat of the 28-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) .
RA 11054 paves the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), the new autonomous political entity that will, upon ratification of the law, replace the ARMM.
Accompanied by seven Cabinet secretaries – Peace, Defense, National Security, Local Governments, Social Welfare and Development, the Cabinet secretary and Presidential spokesperson – Senator Juan MIguel Zubiri and the Armed Forces Chief of Staff and Philippine National Police Director-General, Duterte opened his speech by saying “God must be good to us” because “we have reached this point after so many years of negotiation and interruptions.”
“We are here. Insha’Allah. God is great. Allahu Akbar,” Duterte, the country’s 16th President and first Mindanawon to lead the nation, declared as he raised his clenched fist.
Ending half a century of armed struggle
Duterte explained that ratification of the law “will not only serve as an expression of your desire to end more than half a century of armed struggle in the region. It will also serve as a testament to your determination to bring genuine peace and development in Muslim Mindanao through an autonomous government that truly represents and understands the needs of the people.”
MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told MindaNews after the assembly that Duterte’s coming over to personally campaign for the “yes” vote “talaga boosted very much yung chance natin dito sa BOL (Bangsamoro Organic Law). “
For Muslimin Sema of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), RA 11054 is “not a perfect law but it is the best now we have in our common interest for peace unity and progress for our people.”
“It has been no less than five decades of unpeace and uncertainty. It is our chance now to put a dot to all those fears and rage in ourselves,” he said at the assembly.
Hadja Bainon G. Karon, chair of the MNLF Bangsamoro Women, the lone woman speaker among a list of 18, said they are voting yes for peace and yes for the Bangsamoro Organic Law. “Tatayo kami bilang mga babae, nanay at kapatid para sa kapayapaan at ang aming boto ng YES ay ang magandang ipapamana namin sa susunod na henerasyon” (We will stand up as women, mothers, sisters for peace and our Yes vote is our beautiful legacy to the next generation).
Like his previous speeches in Bangsamoro events, Duterte mentioned MNLF founding chair Nur Misuari, “my good friend whom I respect very much also.”
The MNLF factions were asked by government to nominate representatives to the 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted what was then known as the Bangsamoro Basic Law. The MNLF then under Sema has three representatives in the BTC but Misuari sent no nomination.
“Though he’s not here but still he is a critical factor in the overall process of — not only Mindanao but the Philippines. I hope to talk to him in the coming days as we agreed,” Duterte said, adding he told Misuari they would resume talking “after the Bangsamoro.” Apparently he meant after the ratification of the Bangsamoro law.
“I would call out to him, extend my hand and friendship and peace and I hope that we can strike an agreement that will also promote the interest of the MNLF and the rest of the Moro of Mindanao,” the President said.
“And I hope — addressed to my beloved friend Nur Misuari that we can also talk and come up with something that could come to the barest minimum para lang makuha natin ‘yung — a peaceful Mindanao,” he said.
The “ordinary Moro” first
He spoke briefly of the history of the Bangsamoro struggle, blaming th conflict that marginalized and minoritized the Bangsamoro on the colonial powers Spain and America.
“Pero alam natin na hindi talaga natin ito kasalanan. But you know, dumating tayo sa ating generation ganito na. ‘Cause we’re trying really hard to figure out, craft and law or whatever, amend the Constitution that can provide a fair and just governance for all. Nobody would like to take over lands that is not theirs, his. And we understand that. And we would like you to have the control of your territories before the Spaniards came and before the Americans came,” he said, adding if these colonial powers had not come to the Philippines, “wala naman talaga tayon problema (we have no problem). And yet we are force to kill now needlessly because you want something.”
“I guarantee you that there will be the least disturbance or interference kung meron na diyang workable governance ninyo. Lands are distributed fairly, justly. Resources divided by the Moro who are there in possession of the land. Walang iistorbo sa’yo at wala naman talaga. The legendary (Ligawasan) Marsh, they say it will provide so many things in life. O ‘di inyo. Wala naman — no one ever attempted really to intrude into that territory,” he said. The audience applauded.
He urged the Bangsamoro leaders to give priority to the “ordinary Moro” who don’t know politicians, policemen, military or other leaders.
“Sila ang dapat na mauna eh (They should be the first priority) because they are the helpless sector of society. And I hope that the BOL would focus also on that. That a man, whatever his religion may be, he is entitled to his place under the sun,” he added.
Outside the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex, thousands of “ordinary Moro” wearing “Yes to BOL” shirts or carrying tarpaulins bearing similar messages including “Peace in Mindanao” gathered in front of huge LCD screens to watch the proceedings inside.
Duterte expressed confidence in an improved governance in the Bangsamoro “where you’re allowed also to enter into agreements as long as it does not cause a disturbance sa ating financial — we will allow the local governments to invite investments and get loans, to help your people.”
Charting the future is “now solely in your hands”
Petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court raising questions on the constitutionality of RA 11054 but the high court has not issued an order stopping the plebiscite.
The President said he is “proud to say that the BOL has undergone comprehensive analysis and thorough review to ensure that once implemented, it will lead to better governance, inclusive political empowerment, and enhanced systems (for) transparency and accountability.”
He reminded “my dear Bangsamoro brothers and sisters” that the power to chart the course of their future “is now solely in your hands.”
“Exercise this right with utmost care because the future of succeeding generations depends on it,” Duterte said as he called on them to “use the plebiscite as a peaceful means to finally correct the historical injustices committed against the Moro.”
“Let us forget the bitterness of the past and look forward to the future … which means, ladies and gentlemen, mga mahal kong mga Moro brother or sister, magboto kayo ng ‘yes’ (you vote yes),” Duterte said.
In jest, he added, “Kay ‘pag hindi, ‘di na ako magpunta dito kailanman” (Because if you don’t, I will never come back here).”
He called on everyone to take this opportunity to “begin the process of healing, reconciliation so that one day, we can embrace each other as really brother and sister Filipino.”
“So we must stand together. May mga diperensya-diperensya sa — ayusin natin (if we have differences, let us address these) but we must stand together against violence, against ISIS because they do not know anything except to kill,” the President said.
“We are all for peace … nobody but nobody should steal your resources and allow you to remain poor forever. That cannot happen. It will not happen at least under me,” said Duterte. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)