Ever since the Arroyo government reopened peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, I’ve been having a lot of misgivings about these talks.
In the first place, past Philippine governments had signed peace agreements with the Moro National Liberation Front, and they were never fully or substantially implemented. Although the MNLF did have a lot of mistakes and shortcomings in doing its part, I’d put the greater part of the responsibility for the non–implementation on the Philippine government, which, after all, is the entity in power and has much, much more resources at its command.
That Malaysia — a third party acceptable to both parties – was brokering the talks was not reassuring to me at all. I do not doubt the good intentions of Malaysia at all, but I believed then – as now – that it lacks clout. What is badly needed in the Mindanao peace process is not just a peace broker that gets the warring parties to sign a peace pact but one that is able to make sure that the peace is truly implemented. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (with the special roles of Libya and Indonesia) was the peace broker in the 1976, 1987 and 1996 peace pacts. Was it able to do much to try to ensure the implementation of these peace pacts? No. How could Malaysia, which is just one of the member countries of the OIC, possibly fare any better in ensuring that a GRP–MILF peace pact (if one did get signed) would be implemented?
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo didn’t strike me as a president who was really all that concerned about peace and development in Muslim Mindanao. For all her opposition to Estrada’s “all–out war” against the MILF in 2000, her government fought pitched battles with the MILF in 2003. Moreover, I could not see any sign that her government was truly undertaking major development initiatives in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The usual patronage would be passed off as “development projects.” Much was being said in the international media about her government’s gains and successes in fighting the Abu Sayyaf, but we all know that much of the credit does not really belong to her government. Besides, as I learned through a trip to Jolo earlier this year, the Abu Sayyaf is very much alive and kicking, thanks to rampant corruption in government and human rights abuses by the military.
My misgivings about the GRP–MILF talks deepened after Madame Arroyo, members of her family and her cronies became enmeshed in a series of mind–boggling corruption and fraud scandals, and after scores of disappearances and extra–judicial killings of activists and journalists were exposed by human rights groups and the media. How could a government that had become widely perceived as being the most corrupt, most repressive and most unpopular since the Marcos regime possibly rally public support for any peace deal that it could forge with the MILF?
In 2005, amid all the corruption and fraud scandals, Muslim Mindanao was very much in the news. There were two developments that particularly appalled and galled me: the Hello Garci scandal and the ARMM elections. I was somewhat surprised that news analysts did not really go deeper into the implications of these two events on Muslim Mindanao and on the Mindanao peace process. To me, these two events provided valuable insights into the thinking of Arroyo and those around her as regards Muslim Mindanao.
The Hello Garci scandal and the ARMM elections have to be viewed within the context of the country’s politics. Political scientists have come up with various characterizations of Philippine politics, many of which emphasize the theme of elite or oligarchic domination: elite democracy, cacique democracy, patrimonial oligarchic state, boss–democracy, clientelist regime, anti–development state, etc. All the major parties are controlled by powerful political families and factions of the elite. The dominant forces in these parties are traditional politicians (trapos) that resort to patronage, huge electoral spending (including vote–buying), and not too seldomly, other forms of corruption, fraud, coercion and violence. Elite rule has managed not only to survive but also to entrench itself despite “people power” uprisings, insurgencies and military revolts.
What does the Hello Garci scandal tell us about Muslim Mindanao? It tells us that the so–called “autonomous region” has been transformed by the dominant trapo coalition into the national center for committing electoral fraud and stealing elections at the national level. As never before in post–Marcos Philippines, Muslim Mindanao now plays a stellar role in national politics, that is, national trapo politics. That its position as the national center for electoral fraud has been somewhat consolidated is shown by the shenanigans of the 2007 senatorial elections.
And what about the 2005 ARMM elections? Simply, that, with full presidential backing, Muslim Mindanao has been turned over from the MNLF to the powerful political clans and warlords. Zaldy Ampatuan, the son of Muslim Mindanao’s top warlord, Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan, is the current governor of the ARMM, a position formerly occupied by top MNLF leaders. He was recently reelected ARMM Governor by a wide, wide margin. For all the shortcomings and failings of the MNLF, I just cannot imagine how a turnover from the MNLF to the political clans can possibly promote peace and development in Muslim Mindanao. According to the PNP, Muslim Mindanao is the region which has the most private armies and the biggest number of unlicensed firearms. And then you deliver it to the warlords? In the patronage game, the ARMM has become the reward to valuable services provided to the Great Patroness inImperial Manila, especially those who served her well in the 2004 and 2007 elections.
After the signing of the 1996 GRP–MNLF peace agreement, the Ramos and Arroyo governments backed the candidacies for ARMM governor of MNLF leaders Misuari and Hussin, respectively. I think that the MNLF made the mistake of not building a strong electoral party; it became too dependent on the ruling trapo coalition. Trapo politics of patronage and corruption corroded a number of the MNLF cadres who were in the ARMM. Some have been swallowed up by the trapo parties and a few, who have unexplainable wealth, have now built powerful political clans and dynasties.
One can imagine just how the whole game with the MILF would play out if a GRP–MILF peace pact gets signed and the so–called “Bangsamoro Juridical Entity” (BJE) would take the place of the ARMM. As in the case of the MNLF, Imperial Manila would let the MILF win the first two BJE elections or so. Then it would lure the MILF cadres into the trapo politics of patronage and corruption. Once enough corrosion had been achieved, the ruling trapo coalition would then let the political clans devour the BJE.
Even if the MILF were to set up its own electoral party, it would be no match whatsoever to the powerful political clans and warlords who have mastered all the tricks of the electoral game – flying voters, vote–buying, dagdag–bawas, “guns, goons, gold”, etc. Even with his enormous popularity and the full backing of opposition trapo parties, Fernando Poe, Jr., could not get even 1 per cent of the votes as counted – or rather miscounted – in seven municipalities of Maguindanao in 2004. Would another electoral neophyte (the electoral party of the MILF) fare any better?
Despite all my misgivings about the GRP–MILF peace negotiations, I nonetheless supported the talks. As far as implementation of an eventual peace agreement was concerned, I did not trust Arroyo at all. But I was hoping that a peace pact could be signed just before the end of her term, and that the actual implementation would be done by the new government. Perhaps Arroyo would want something to crow about after her term, some sort of dramatic end, or crowning achievement for posterity. I was hoping that despite Arroyo’s terrible record, a good peace pact could still be worked out. I knew the background of some of the members of the government panel, and I knew them to be men and women of integrity, who truly desired a just and enduring peace in Mindanao.
After five long years of negotiations, the GRP and the MILF panels recently came up with a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA–AD). It’s not even a comprehensive peace agreement yet. And what does Arroyo do? She throws it into the dust bin.
One does not have to study the annals of war and peace to know that that’s utterly foul – treachery of the highest order.
Arroyo should have known that peace negotiations are serious business and not her usual game of patronage. If the Arroyo government did not conduct proper consultations with all sectors concerned, it should take responsibility. If there are provisions in the MOA that are indeed unconstitutional, it should take responsibility. It cannot simply wash its hands and walk away.
I’m very much saddened to say not that my misgivings about the GRP–MILF talks have been proven right. It’s clear what Muslim Mindanao truly means to Arroyo and the ruling trapo coalition.
Muslim Mindanao has been wracked for almost four decades now by armed conflict between the government and Moro “liberation” forces. Due in good part to this armed conflict, there is great disorder and lawlessness, where you find all sorts of armed groups moving about – military, rebels, extremists, criminal elements, private armies, goons, vigilantes, etc. Corruption is rampant. I have written elsewhere that Muslim Mindanao has become a boggy ground in which various parties in conflict have sunk deeper and deeper and found it difficult to extricate themselves – a quagmire. If Muslim Mindanao were a state, it would easily qualify as a failed state, as some political scientists have pointed out.
But it is precisely because of this situation that Muslim Mindanao has become most valuable – a land of opportunity – to Arroyo and the ruling trapos. It serves as a national center for electoral fraud and stealing elections. Posts in the ARMM serve as a reward for powerful political clans and warlords who have delivered the most to the National Patroness. In addition, Muslim Mindanao serves as a hideout for Comelec officials who wish to run away from investigations and inquiries into election anomalies.
Muslim Mindanao has been so valuable, so useful. Why change all that?
Peace? That’s too complicated. It is much too difficult and irksome to satisfy all those pesky parties involved. Pushing the MOA–AD could even get one impeached. Piss on your peace! Arroyo’s legacy to Muslim Mindanao and what Muslim Mindanao truly means to her are fully reflected in two simple words: Hello Garci!
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