MILF Has No Right To Claim Mindanao

By Joe Espiritu, Bohol Sunday Post

Our Boholano expats in southwestern Mindanao may be in for trouble. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front is on the warpath. The claim on their so-called ancestral domain was rejected by the residents of the area and they are moving to enforce it. Somehow, they do not have any right to claim what is not theirs but they intend to legitimize their claim by force.

What started it all was when Muslims of the southernmost part of the Philippines calling themselves Moro National Liberation Front wanted to break away from the Republic. At least that was their original aim. They must have seen how Pakistan broke away from India. Indian Muslims wanted a separate state from a predominantly Hindu India. Under Mohammad Ali Jinna, they claimed a western portion of the Indian subcontinent to be a Muslim Republic. A mass migration took place and Pakistan, the Land of the Pure was established.

 However, the Philippine Republic is not to be dismembered. The MNLF numbers are too few and their resources too small to become an independent nation. They were offered autonomy within the Republic thus the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao was created. But the majority of ARMM officials were made up Tausogs, who do not always see eye to eye with the Magindanaos and their kindred Maranaos. The latter two formed the Muslim Islamic Liberation Front or MILF. They wanted to set up a wider ARMM and call it a Bangsa Moro region.

 The MILF established fonts and strong points and extracted tribute from people within their reach. The Joseph Estrada administration could not allow a hostile force within the Republic so their forts, and strong points notably the Fort Abubakar were dismantled and chased the MILF to the hills. The Arroyo administration tried to bring the MILF to the negotiating table and was able to succeed.

 On the negotiating table the MILF presented impossible demands one of them is their so called ancestral domain. They claimed the Cotabato provinces, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and some barangays of Christian dominated southern provinces. Naturally those who are residing in the area objected.

 In the Philippine history books, there are only two sultanates, that of Sulu for the Tausogs and Samals and Lanao and for the Maranaos. There was no mention of a sultanate for the Maguindanaos of Cotabato. They were virtually independent kingdoms before and during the Spanish times. The Spaniards hardly conquered Sulu. They were able to Christianize a sultan named Alimudin but he was overthrown by his brother Bantilan.

 It took American forces to pacify the Muslims and integrate their sultanates to the Philippine Commonwealth, which later became the Philippine Republic. Hereditary sultans of Sulu and Lanao still exist but are ceremonial in nature. From the early days of the Commonwealth and Philippine Republic, Filipinos from all parts of the Philippines came to settle and develop the fertile fields of Mindanao. They established homesteads, or bought lands from the natives.

 Slowly and painfully, the forests and grasslands of Mindanao were cleared and converted to productive farms. Many died from malaria and other tropical diseases. Now Mindanao has the potential of becoming second to Luzon in agricultural and industrial production. This potential had not escaped the eyes of the MILF. They presented a show of force to wring out the best terms they can get in the negotiating table. But those affected will not take things sitting down.

 It is too outlandish to think that the sons of the hardy settlers will just had over the lands that they have developed to the MILF without a struggle. Nor would the relatives of the settlers in the rest of the Philippines look on when their homes of their kin are violated, if the army will not protect them. The MILF know that but they will try to get what they can get on the bargaining table what they may not get in the filed. They know the gaming theory.