Impact of the Mindanao Crises

Article excerpt

The conflict in Muslim Mindanao has been a thorn in the side of successive Philippine presidents. When he came into office in 1998, in the wake of the 1996 Peace Agreement with the MNLF, Mindanao was not high on President Estrada's agenda. However, developments during 1999-2000 changed that.

Faced with the increasing militancy of the MILF, including the demand in 2000 for a U.N.-supervised referendum on independence, and continued failure to achieve progress towards a peaceful settlement, President Estrada eventually opted for "all-out war". His bellicose response to the MILF, and partial military successes, initially raised Estrada's popularity rating, but by year-end other developments had reversed that. Meanwhile, the military campaign against the MILF has been costly in terms of both expenditure on the military and on post-conflict reconstruction, and the adverse impact on foreign investment. The further deferral of the ARMM plebiscite, and growing dissatisfaction over the modest outcomes from the 1996 Agreement with the MNLF, raise the additional prospect of a breakdown in relations between the MNLF and the government. The antics of the Abu Sayyaf in 2000 provided another unwelcome distraction.

In 1997, Nur Misuari, speaking to a meeting of the Mindanao Republican Movement, had advocated a federal-style election of senators by region, and called for a Mindanaon vice-president (perhaps with himself in mind as a prospective Lakas-NUCD candidate in the elections of 1998).11 This "Mindanao Agenda" failed to win substantive support, however, and with the election of President Estrada, the issue faded. During 2000, the idea of a federal "solution" to the conflict in the south was revived. In May, prominent senators Francisco Tatad, John Osmena, and Aquilino Pimentel proposed that the Philippine Congress initiate a constitutional convention which could consider the creation of a federal system as "the ultimate solution to the peace process in Mindanao". They were supported by the chair of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revisions (Miriam Defensor Santiago), and also by Robert Aventajado, former congressman and Muslim scholar Michael Mastura, former University of the Philippines president Jose Abueva, and the Institute for Popular Democracy.12 In the following month, Tawi-Tawi congressman Nur Jaafar filed a resolution calling for a constituent assembly to consider the amendment of the constitution to implement a federal system. At least two NGOs have emerged to press for federalism: the Federal Movement of the Philippines and Lihuk Pederal Mindanao, a coalition of pro-federal groups and individuals. It seems unlikely that the Philippines will opt for a federal system, but the subject is now under debate, and is seen by many as a means of dealing with the demands for Moro separatism.

Externally, developments in Mindanao in 2000 brought greater international awareness of the tenuous nature of state control in western Mindanao and Sulu. …