The Crux of the Moro Problem*

It is clear why the Philippine government is not about to give up Mindanao or even only the acknowledged Moro ancestral domains to the Moro people. All talk about national sovereignty and the indivisibility of Philippine territory is just a convenient cover for the real reasons: ownership of land by big non-Moro landowners, including multinationals such as Dole and Del Monte, and access to the still untapped natural resources in Mindanao, including gold, copper and natural gas.

Streetwise / Business World
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 28, August 19-25, 2007

Every time armed hostilities flare up in Mindanao, government assures the public that it is in control, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) claims it can wipe out the troublemakers in due time, and a plethora of unsolicited solutions or proposals by self-anointed Mindanao experts and watchers are offered.

It would appear at first blush that the hawks or militarists have the upper hand what with de facto President, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA)’s initial pugilistic stance after the series of military setbacks in Basilan and Sulu that embarrassed not just the military generals but also their Commander-in-Chief. This confrontational approach had the potential to develop into an all-out shooting war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Basilan and then the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Sulu. But perhaps cooler, or rather more pragmatic, heads anticipating the financial, political and even diplomatic costs of such an outcome have prevailed.

So the seeming pull back, at least in pronouncements, to the track of maintaining the formal ceasefire with the MILF and the more uneasy one with the MNLF, pursuing so-called rehabilitation and development projects in Muslim Mindanao (many of which are funded by the U.S.) and resuming within the month peace talks with the MILF, currently bogged down on the most contentious item, that of ancestral domain. As to the “necessary” AFP/Philippine National Police (PNP) actions in pursuit of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), GMA called for restraint in seeing to it that MILF and MNLF are not provoked into another firefight that could widen the scope of and further intensify armed hostilities.

Mrs. Arroyo also talked about giving back ancestral lands to the Moro people in an attempt to defuse the situation by “showing sincerity.” But everyone, no less the MILF and MNLF, knows that her words are worthless as a measure of sincerity. On the contrary, a concrete proposal for “pilot project” betrays tokenism and beams a clear signal and assurance to vested interests – foreign and local – that they have nothing to fear.

There is a crying need for a historical flashback on how the ancestral land of the Bangsamoro was forcibly taken from them. This took place with the foisting of first, U.S. colonial rule that presided over their dispossession, followed by the governments of the Commonwealth and the Republic that carried out the same injustice together with the marginalization of the Moros in their own homeland, with the waves of relocation and settlement of non-Moro communities. Thus with 80 percent of the Moros being landless tenants, it is no wonder that their areas are among the most economically depressed in
the country today.

In a book entitled, Bangsamoro, a Nation under Endless Tyranny (1984, updated 1999), Salah Jubair, a member of the MILF central committee, refers to these laws as “legalized land grabbing.”

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