Hundreds of thousands of Bangsamoro Muslims from all walks of life came onto the streets of the major cities of Mindanao on October 23 and 24, in rallies and demonstrations to demand the separation of their homeland from the Republic of the Philippines. The demonstrators carried placards and streamers which boldly stated: “Independence for East Timor, why not for Bangsamoro?”, “Independence is the Only solution”, “Al-Qur’an is our Constitution” and “No to Autonomy, No to Federalism, Yes to Independence”.
These massive open demonstrations and rallies took place two days before the start of the official negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)on October 25, 1999, at the MILF’s Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat municipality, Maguindanao province, some 12 kilometers away from Cotabato City, capital of the government-established Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
These legal rallies were organized by the Ulama-Professionals Executive Committee (UPEC), a group led by a coalition of ulama and
university-educated Muslim professionals. The UPEC is now at the forefront of the political movement for the independence of Mindanao and the establishment of an Islamic state there. The rally in Cotabato City was attended by more than 500,000 people, more 100,000 joined the rally in Marawi City, and more than 5,000 attended one in Davao City. Muslims in other cities issued statements supporting the rallies and the UPEC Manifesto which was distributed widely during the two days.
The UPEC Manifesto states that the only just, viable and lasting solution to the problem in Mindanao is the complete independence of the Bangsamoro homeland. Professor Abhoud Syed Mansur Lingga, chairman of UPEC, said that the demonstrators, through the Manifesto, called on both the GRP and the MILF, who are holding negotiations to solve the Mindanao Problem, to take the aspirations and desires of the Bangsamoro Muslims into account at their sessions.
The Manifesto reminds the GRP and the MILF that, before the establishment of the Philippine nation-state, the Bangsamoro people were already independent and remained independent despite the colonial and imperialist wars waged against them by Spain, the US, and their Filipino successors, for over four centuries to eliminate their Islamic identity and subjugate their homeland.
The fact of their becoming a minority in parts of their traditional homeland, and the participation of some morally-bankrupt Moro leaders in Philippine political exercises, do not alter these historical facts. The continuing jihad of the Bangsamoro people is proof enough of the Muslims’ desire to be free and independent of the Philippine nation-state, which prides itself as the “only Christian nation in Asia”.
The Manifesto also appeals to the GRP and the MILF to consider contemporary global realities which show that peoples forcibly welded together in artificial nation-states inevitably break up sooner or later. Examples include the Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavian nation-state and East Timor.
Although UPEC’s shares the MILF’s demand for independence, Professor Lingga told the Crescent International that the MILF had nothing to do with the rallies and demonstrations. This was in response to allegations by Philippine government spokesmen that the MILF was behind the rallies to try to gain political and psychological leverage at the negotiating table.
The MILF leader, Ustadz Salamat Hashim, has agreed to the negotiations but remains steadfast in his stand for total Bangsamoro independence and the establishment of an Islamic state. Reliable government sources admit that the Manila regime was shocked by the massive demonstrations, not having expected that the Muslims could organize coordinated and peaceful mass actions on this scale in Mindanao’s key cities.
The regime is accustomed to dealing with the MILF’s military operations, but it not used to dealing with open and legal mass actions involving hundreds of thousands of unarmed people. Suppression of these rallies would destroy the ‘democratic image’ that successive Filipino rΘgimes have painstakingly established since the popular overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986.
The government’s problem is that to allow Muslim demonstrations of this sort to continue would expose the government’s oft-repeated line that the independence movement in Mindanao has lost steam since the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Nur Misuari capitulated to the Philippine government and abandoned the independence cause in 1996.
In the search for a just and lasting solution in Mindanao, Professor Lingga, himself an academic and an Islamic activist, has proposed that both the GRP and the MILF explore a ‘democratic alternative’ should there be an impasse in the current negotiation. “Holding a referendum under the supervision of the United Nations to determine whether the Bangsamoro people would want to be independent or prefer to be part of the Republic of the Philippines is the democratic, peaceful and civilized way of resolving the conflict in Mindanao”, he told the Crescent. If the GRP is constrained by its own constitution, which prohibits the severance of any part of the country from the Philippines, “an amendment to the Philippine Constitution should be introduced granting the Bangsamoro people the right to secede, for the right of secession is part of the broader right to self-determination,” he added.
“If president Joseph Estrada is sincere in solving the Mindanao problem without resorting to armed conflict, then he should include this amendment in his proposal to change the constitution,” says Manalindab A. Kalim, Secretary-General of UPEC. “The concept of the right to secession is not new in constitution making. The 1994 constitution of Ethiopia grants this right to the different nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia.”
Meanwhile, as the formal negotiations between the GRP and the MILF continue, UPEC is vowing to hold more demonstrations on a larger scale throughout Mindanao. As it is, Muslim leaders, groups and organizations are signing up to join future mass actions in support of the independence movement.
Muslimedia: November 16-30, 1999