The Union of Filipino Socialists (BISIG)[1] on the MoA AD Issue and the Mindanao Question

August 26, 2008

This recent, the entire country is gripped by the issue of the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) concerning the Bangsamoro people’s rightful claim of their Ancestral Domains (AD) and the Bangsamoro Judirical Entity (BJE). The issue was so explosive and emotional that it regretfully aroused misplaced passions, renewed prejudices and unnecessary violence on an otherwise opportune moment for progressive forces much more the democratic left to discuss, popularize its concepts and give necessary illumination to the enduring Mindanao predicament which many view with wrong assumptions and understanding.

We believe the Mindanao Question is a complex problem. It is so multifaceted that it is almost impossible to decipher it in a simplistic manner. However, while we believe understanding and political clarity are the most basic necessities as of the moment, we also deem it necessary that these must be arrived through intelligent, democratic, far-reaching and dispassionate discourse.

This paper is a contribution to such an exercise.

The Right to Self-Determination

Marx’s famous dictum “workers have no countries of their own, only a world to win” has been the battle cry of the revolutionary working class all around the globe and the foundation of its internationalist struggle and solidarity. It clearly distinguished revolutionary socialism from the pitfalls of superficial nationalism and its tendency towards social chauvinism and fascism as well as the concrete class interest of the proletariat and the broad masses from that of the bourgeoisie.

However, this does not mean the left movement outrightly dismisses national oppression because it is opposed or a hindrance to the international accord of the workers. We believe in this present situation, the concept of nations and countries are a reality that must be dealt by the forces of change and not esoterically ignored in exchange of “unadulterated class struggle” as espoused by “super leftists.”

While we believe in class struggle, we also believe a nation oppressing another nation will never be free and will instead be a hindrance to the emancipation of the working people and our important work of socialist construction. Thus, the right to self-determination or the right to independence, the right to free, political secession from the oppressing nation is a just struggle of all nations.

This must be dissociated from the false postulation provided by the likes of Vice Governor Pinol, the Lobregats, the Makati Business Club (MBC) and the elite politicians that self-determination is a Pandora box which will open a sovereign state like the Philippines to unnecessary partition. This line of argument is shallow and flawed as it is designed to confuse and sow fear rather than enlighten.

The struggle for self-determination is but the rationale political expression against national oppression as experienced by a legitimate nation or a group of people comprising such categorization. The Bangsamoro realm is such an example.

Nationalism of the Oppressed Vs. Nationalism of the Oppressor

In a capitalist setup, it is true that each country is divided by class, its antagonisms and the state-which while representing predominantly the interest of the ruling class must also obtain the support of “the ruled.” This can be done through force or by consent. Included in “consent” is a narrow appeal for a backward nationalist sentiment as in our case, advocated by the so-called anti- chop chop elite opposition based in Manila which is conveniently being re-echoed by the local elites in Mindanao.

Hence, we must make a distinction between the fake nationalism of the tyrants and the nationalism of the oppressed. This is an imperative not so much because we want a better form of nationalism but because we are not prone to accept the superiority of one nation over another. On the contrary, we struggle for equality of all countries and such scenario can only happen by recognizing the right of oppressed nations to self-determination.

This is a necessary first step in uniting the working people of the oppressed nations with that of the oppressor nations towards socialism.

Bangsamoro: A Defiant and Proud Nation

While the Bangsamoro people are now a minority in Mindanao, this was not always the case. Any critical student of our history will know that long before the Spanish colonizers came; our sister and brother Muslims already have a sophisticated level of governance, sense of nationality and a blossoming culture. In fact, a large part of Manila was under Moro rule like Manila and Tondo. This was long before Comrade Andres Bonifacio and the revolutionary Katipunan imagined a Philippine nation outside of the feudal Spanish crown. If only the Spaniards came in a little later, then maybe we will discuss a different history-a history perhaps without Spain.

In fact, three centuries of Spanish rule did nothing in subjugating the Bangsamoro people which resulted to a desperate conclusion from the conquistadores that the Moro people were in fact a different nation. As of 1896, when the Philippine revolution took center stage, there were in fact two nations struggling against Spain, the then emerging yet besieged Philippine Nation and the unconquered Bangsamoro Homeland.

The American colonizers also shared the same sentiment. The Kiram-Bates Treaty is a proof of this fact. While it may be seen by some as a compromise by the Sultanate of Sulu, the American forces known for their arrogance and triumphalism also yielded, thereby, preserving not only the Bangsamoro realm but also getting virtual admission from the Americans of the existence of such a nation.

It is only the superior weaponry of the US, their brutal wars/massacres coupled with legalized land-grabbing, political and economic disenfranchisement using unknowing Filipino settlers as sanctioned by the then colonial Filipino government which turned the tide against the Moro people and which eventually led to their dislocation from their own land.

The Ancestral Domain and the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA)

For the longest time, the main mode of the Bangsamoro people to reclaim their homeland is through armed struggle. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are the expressions of this form of struggle. While it is a just and legitimate struggle, it however claimed a regretful 120,000 lives and displaced thousands.

That is why the MoA between GRP and the MILF is somewhat a breakthrough not only because it elevated to a higher level the Moro people’s right to self-governance and determination, more so, it is also a peaceful political rectification of the flawed annexation of their nation to that of the Philippine republic.

For the very first time, the imperial government of Manila will recognize the Moros as a people with distinct territory, history, culture and struggle; will recognize their war of national liberation against colonial rule as just and legitimate.

Furthermore, the MoA proposes a governance framework while not fundamentally creating an independent nation as it only grants associative relationship with the Philippine Government; nonetheless, is a necessary first step and a political tool by the Moro people in the realization of a nation of their own. Yet again, it doesn’t automatically mean that the MoA is outrightly tainted or worse a “treason” of the Bangsamoro’s cause. Lest we forget, this did not fall squarely at the laps of the Moros. It was a product of a determined and just struggle.

However, the bogus Arroyo regime as always has other intentions such as prolonging its stay to power via charter change while using the MoA as conciliation with the US Government. Worse, the Arroyo Regime might use the current state of hostilities to introduce martial rule.

In this predicament, the left movement together with the broad masses must dismantle all of Mrs. Arroyo’s ambitions to extend power beyond 2010 by tinkering with the present constitution or by flirting with fascist rule. In the immediate, we must smash the renewed aspirations of the Arroyo regime to lengthen its rule using the MoA or the Bangsamoro people’s legitimate struggle.

The United States and the Specter of Imperialism

On the other hand, it is also out-and-out absurdity on our part not to see the United States’ hand in this juncture. Truly, imperialism is well and alive in Mindanao as it is in many parts of the world.

Without doubt, the United States is making plans in asserting itself as the “peacekeeper” and “protector” of the “newly-carved territory” to advance its political, economic and military interests. For one, Mindanao is militarily strategic to the US. Much more, it is rich in natural resources-resources like oil, greedy private corporations want to have a hand on.

BISIG strongly cautions our Moro sisters and brothers of such dangerous interests in the periphery. While we respect the right and the struggle for self-determination, we strongly assert that the United States and the bankrupt Arroyo Regime cannot become legitimate instruments and political conveyors to achieve genuine and lasting peace.

War, Peace and Atrocities

We also strongly condemn the atrocities committed against non-combatants and civilians. Likewise, we denounce the armament of civilian volunteer organizations fanning the flame of a pseudo Christian-Muslim war. While war might be an outcome of a legitimate and popular struggle, our long experience taught us that a purely military solution has only escalated conflicts, misunderstanding and un-peace. We maintain, the resolution of a question such as Mindanao can be mainly achieved through a political and economic solution.

Thus, we enjoin the MILF and GRP to offset the growing peace deficit by respecting the dignity of life and human rights by implementing an immediate cessation of military actions and by continuing with the peace process.

Equally, we remind the public not to let their emotions, prejudices and biases be the central configurations in an issue which has now become a national public discourse. We should do away with the anti-Moro propaganda of the reactionary media and the dim-witted statements of supposed enlightened politicians who do not know better.

Socialism, Secularism and the Bangsamoro Homeland

For the longest time, socialism was always deemed to be at the side of secularism. The socialist tradition debunked institutionalized religion and faith as bastions of reaction, “the opium of the masses.” The basis was that religion for the longest time was a source of conservatism, of clerico-fascism as people were taught by elite-controlled institutions of hegemony such as the church to fully entrust their destinies to a supernatural being that emphasizes powerlessness and justifies exploitation.

However, through the years, a section of today’s contemporary religion and faith have been advocating for radical change in the “material world” which they believe must be duly realized the soonest possible. Our brand of Socialism recognizes that progressive faiths can be a force of change. Example of this is the radical section of the Christian faith that struggles to free the gospel from its bourgeois class fetters by linking faith with revolutionary struggle. The anti imperialist stance of progressive Islam is another yet, different example.

Without doubt, Socialism and the Moro struggle are not incompatible concepts and perspectives, much more the Moro people’s aspiration for an independent homeland with that of the emancipation of the Filipino working class from the rule of capital. We both aim for a better world, a better society and a truly lasting peace for all.

However, it can only happen by aiming for the abolition of global capitalism and by aspiring for the strategic abolition of the current political and economic dissection of the working peoples of the world which in turn will create a just and pluralist socialist society.

Then maybe, maybe then, the new people of the new world with new perspectives and values will come close to each other once more and celebrate their optimum freedom, democracy and justice.

We are All Moros

If there is one thing this juncture has taught us is this; a thorough, critical and an alternative review of our history will point us to the fact that the modern “Filipino insurgents” of the contemporary Philippine state fighting capitalist exploitation have much in common with the Moro insurgents rightfully struggling to reclaim their homeland. Both were deprived of their sense of nations, both were subdued and exploited by foreign colonizers; both are fighting for genuine independence, peace and freedom.

In a sense, we are all Moros. Not just because we share the same historical Malay origins, but more importantly, we are all Moros because we share the same pain of losing our sense of nation and the joy of rediscovering once more our own respective national aspirations. Without doubt, the struggle of the north and the south are tied in an uncoincidental political umbilical cord of struggle.

The right to self-determination is a struggle close to the heart of socialism. It is not an alien concept. These ideas were first put forward by Karl Marx on the question of England’s oppression of Ireland. He rightfully saw the “profound antagonism” between the Irish proletariat and the English proletariat. This antagonism among the English workers he said was artificially nourished and fanned by the British elite. Marx saw this as the underlying antagonism, the secret of maintaining its oppressive power over Ireland.

While the said countries’ experience is different from ours, the same thing can be said of the Mindanao question. In the final analysis, the relatively free working class of the Philippines cannot completely claim freedom not even under a society geared towards socialist democracy unless the working people of the Bangsamoro people are equally free. Furthermore, the Filipino working class cannot unite with the Moro working people and the rest of workers of the world in defeating the unjust global order unless the Moro people are free as represented in the immediate by an independent Bangsamoro homeland.

Prospects and Challenges

The current issue while complex also presents the democratic left with an important opportunity for engagement. The fundamental challenge is to contribute largely in building a stronger and wider peace consensus involving all stakeholders in order to attain a truly democratic solution to the Mindanao problem.

In the same way, we must bring down the discussions on ancestral domain and right to self-determination down to the communities not only to allay fears and dispel myths, but more importantly to empower the people; so that they will have collective ownership over their future which had been denied to them by succeeding governments and the status quo.

The very issue itself addresses the very core of a national question that any nation and its peoples must grapple. This is the challenge the Democratic Left, Moros and Filipinos alike must face.

26 August 2008

[1] Also, the Bukluran sa Ikauunlad ng Sosyalistang Isip at Gawa (BISIG)