By Cha Monforte
The shrinking of Bangsamoro land redux
Will the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front bring rapid urbanization to the incoming Bangsamoro in Mindanao? Urbanization we simply mean as that kabibo, jolly mood of places buoyed up primarily by the entry of big bulk of new residents or population to a rural, humdrum places due to exciting economic developments happening or placement of new system, structure, big infrastructure or project that generates jobs and livelihood opportunities.
Through the almost three decades Mindanao areas subjected for Muslim autonomy and self-rule have gone expanding and shrinking – and changing by legal sanctions and after plebiscites. There are few places that are already thriving cities in Moroland but most of those covered in regional autonomy are dull, backwood rural places, mirroring the accumulated results in the long state of war and economic underdevelopment of places dominantly populated by the Moro people. No doubt about it, as many see how cities and even towns in the Christian side of Mindanao have been rising and roaring like urban tigers since the recent last decade.
There is this smaller Moroland within the original Moro-Lumad land, that is Mindanao during the pre-Spanish time. Bangsamoro area was first postulated big, then it had shrunk, expanded and expanded- formally or secretly- and is continued to be sought for expansion even now.
The Framework Agreement recently signed states: “The core territory of the Bangsamoro shall be composed of: (a) the present geographical area of the ARMM; (b) the Municipalities of Baloi, Munai, Nunugan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal in the province of Lanao del Norte and all other barangays in the Municipalities of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit, and Midsayap that voted for inclusion in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite; (c) the cities of Cotabato and Isabela; and (d) all other contiguous areas where there is a resolution of the local government unit or a petition of at least ten percent (10%) of the qualified voters in the area asking for their inclusion at least two months prior to the conduct of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the process of delimitation of the Bangsamoro…”.
The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao now is composed of predominantly five Muslim provinces, namely: Basilan (except Isabela City), Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. Its regional capital is at Cotabato City, although it is outside of its jurisdiction. In 1989, 15 provinces and 11 cities had a plebiscite on whether they would be included in the expanded ARMM. In the end only four provinces (Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-tawi) voted in favor of inclusion in the new autonomous region, thus shrinking the Bangsamoro or Moroland conceived while the MNLF waged its war.
The autonomous Moroland was bigger before- in concept. The 1976 Tripoli Agreement between Marcos and the MNLF put 13 provinces and their inclusive cities under autonomy. To realize the agreement amid the separatist war of Moro rebels, Marcos created two autonomous governments for the Muslims along with the division of the rest of the country into administrative regions. The two regional governments were for Regions IX and XII covering a total of 10 provinces, thus expanding again Bangsamoro spaces. But the 1977 plebiscite rejected it, and Bangsamoro shrank again. Marcos recoiled, creating one Regional Autonomous Government for Western and Central Mindanao region, covering the same 10 provinces even as Bangsamoro fronts persisted their war.
It was during the time of President Cory Aquino that the official four-province Moro territory was enshrined by the organic act (R.A. No. 6734) creating the ARMM. During President Macapagal-Arroyo’s reign, another plebiscite was made in 2001 to ratify the law (R.A. 9054) expanding ARMM, and so the official Bangsamoro grew in size, with the addition of the province of Basilan (excluding Isabela City) and the Islamic City of Marawi, 6 Lanao del Norte towns, and 6 other North Cotabato towns.
The controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) provided for an expansion of the Moro region with the additional 712 villages but the Supreme Court aborted it, declaring the Arroyo government-MILF deal as unconstitutional.
Current MSU-IIT Chancellor Dr. Sukarno D. Tanggol in his 1993 dissertation book offered the “Option 3″, a much bigger area of autonomy that besides ARMM’s first four provinces would have the whole of North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat, the cities of Iligan, Cotabato and Zamboanga, Sarangani Island, and 17 other towns in Zamboanga Norte and Sur, South Cotabato and Sarangani Province. Dr. Tanggol has decision matrix taking the factors of Moro ancestral domain, Moro population majority, Tripoli agreement, various fields of feasibility, and the “return of Moro sovereignty over the most part of Mindanao where Moro sultanates used to lord it over until foreign masters imposed their will on the unwilling Moro.”
Verily, Bangsamoro area is still subject for a flux by the requirements of local legislative-executive fiat and plebiscite as provided by government-MILF Framework Agreement. But efforts to expand the Bangsamoro consumed a lengthy time already while waves after waves of Christian in-migration has been continuously taking place and the tides of history and regimes of private land ownership of Christian migrants or non-Muslim population over the once claimed Moro-Lumad land are irreversible already.
And there’s this Christian majority’s opposition and resistance to be under Muslim autonomous region. Take the vocal and ultra-aggressive stance of Zamboanga leaders, and in many other considered places. The rising of Ilaga armed hostilities can no longer be allowed to disturb up all efforts of peace this time. But as it has been, resolution on the ticklish and contentious issue on the area of Bangsamoro boils down on what the people residing on considered spaces would decide during plebiscite, and naturally, hitherto Moro ancestral lands that are dominated already by non-Muslims negated proposals to be included.
With the incoming establishment of Bangsamoro, will a part of Mindanao be in for a lifetime of land boundary and scope conflict akin to Arab-Israeli conflict? Good for the two countries, they have hollowed biblical sites to cash in on from tourism, as they have high technologies, venture capital and bullish commercial trading while they are at war against each other. But the part of Mindanao, the Bangsamoro-by whatever size it has- which has been burning in decades remains largely stagnant, dull and rural while it has great untapped wealth. The closure on the issue of territory is needed now for the Bangsamoro to be seen as stable and fixed target of Middle East investors to be attracted by one Bangsamoro government. That’s a best bait to unprecedented growth and urban development in the Muslim side of Mindanao. (follow @chamonforte on Twitter, Cha Monforte on Facebook)