The forging of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is the most recent chapter to the 16 years of exploratory talks between the two parties, and it seeks to conclude the decades-long armed struggle staged by MILF.

But it is worth noting that the Bangsamoro struggle can be trailed way back 1521 when a Spanish expedition, led by Ferdinand Magellan, sought to claim Cebu but was deflected by an Islamic community led by Lapu-lapu. Eventually, the majority of the Philippines was colonized by the Spaniards for more than 300 years using the divide-and-rule tactic but it failed to “Christianize” the Muslims in Mindanao. The Spaniards espoused a drama called “MoroMoro” to instill into the consciousness of the Christians that Muslims are blunt and bloodthirsty barbarians, this derisive perception of Muslims is still lingering in the mentality of present-day non-Muslims.

When the Spanish colonizers were evidently defeated by the Philippine revolutionary forces, they sold the country to the United States for $20 million, including Mindanao even though they were never able to dominate this region, in an agreement called as Treaty of Paris. But for Muslims, it was what is called as historical injustice.

The injustice that Muslims endured during the Spanish colonization persisted during the American occupation with laws and legislations that opened Mindanao to large-scale migration and land-grabbing. Muslim leaders fought hard not to include Mindanao in the “Independent Philippines” that the Americans will grant but it was included just the same.

After the “liberation”, the marginalization of Muslims in Mindanao escalated in every regime voted to power. The Mindanao Homestead Program, which was instituted to appease former communist guerillas by granting them land parcels, made the Muslims strangers in their own homeland and it led to the formation of Muslim Independence Movement (MIM) in the 1950’s.

When Ferdinand Marcos rose to power, he recruited Moro fighters to occupy Sabah but they were summarily executed by their military superiors in 1968 when they refused to follow orders. That gruesome incident is the infamous Jabidah Massacre which caused outrage among Muslims and led to the formation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

The MNLF waged an armed struggle against the GPH, demanding an independent Muslim state in Mindanao. The Marcos dictatorship, which was significantly weakening, entered negotiations and signed an agreement granting autonomy to Muslim Mindanao in Tripoli, Libya in 1976. The GPH insisted on a plebiscite to determine the territories of the autonomous region but the MNLF did not recognize the results, resulting to the collapse of the negotiations. The botched Tripoli Agreement resulted to a split in the ranks of MNLF and the formation of MILF in 1977.

The MNLF signed a peace agreement with the GPH in 1996 which ushered the establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that includes Sulu, Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and Tawi-tawi provinces. But the MILF refused to recognize the peace agreement and sustained its armed struggle, calling for an Islamic sub-state in Mindanao.

In 1997, the GPH and MILF started negotiations, but then President Joseph Estrada suspended the peace talks in 2000 and declared an all-out-war against the MILF. The peace talks resumed in 2002 under Gloria Arroyo’s regime which resulted to two agreements, the Implementing Guidelines on the Humanitarian, Rehabilitative, and Development Aspects of the 2001 Tripoli Agreement on Peace; and the creation of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG). But just a year after, Gloria Arroyo again suspended the negotiations and declared “War against Terrorism”.

In 2004, GPH and MILF went back to the negotiating table again and discussed an Ancestral Domain pact that will expand the ARMM territories with 700 more villages and will lead the foundation of a new entity in the country, the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity. But the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domains (MOA-AD) in October, 2008.

The MILF has submitted to 32 rounds of exploratory talks with the GPH, in which the latest resulted to the forging of the Framework Agreement which may lead to the establishment of a new autonomous political entity that will supersede the ARMM.

Indeed, this latest development is expected to pave the way for a lasting peace in Muslim Mindanao where justice will be served finally to our Muslim forebears; and every Muslim can proudly claim being a Moro as the tag of the free people.

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