The Explainer: BJE – Peace in our time?

Neville Chamberlain was cheered for achieving, as he famously declared it, “peace in our time” by preventing a European war by surrendering Czechoslovakia’s independence to Adolf Hitler. Two years later, Chamberlain lost power and his agreement with Hitler has gone down in history as something dishonorable –Appeasement, Winston Churchill called it. The name has stuck.

But before we can ask, as many people are already asking, whether the President’s proposed peace deal with the MILF will achieve peace in our time, or go down in history as appeasement, let’s come to grips with what the deal sets out to achieve, and when –and a lost sultanate whose territory the deal aims to cover.

I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.


I. The price of peace


Something interesting happened on Monday. As you know, when the President announced a peace agreement would be signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, opponents of the agreement brought their opposition to the Supreme Court.

The critics of the agreement wanted the opportunity to examine the agreement, and asked the Supreme Court to delay the deal until they obtained a copy of the agreement.

This was despite the agreement having been leaked to the media, and its contents published on line.

ABS-CBN, for example, published a facsimile of the agreement itself. Here it is.

While  for its part published the text of the agreement online.

Anyway, the government, in response, argued that the agreement was covered by executive privilege, and refused to disclose its contents, officially.

At 1:30 pm, however, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order, or TRO, requiring the President to refrain from signing the agreement on August 5, or today.

Now what’s interesting about all this is that the MILF had already gone ahead and stated, publicly, that the agreement was actually signed on July 16:

And what was meant to take place in Kuala Lumpur today was just a formality. But even that statement contradicts what the President said, when she said the issues had been settled on July 25, the night before her State of the Nation Address.

But this may all be posturing to try to keep the Palace committed to a deal that’s caused a furor in Mindanao.

Why this is is so, is explained by Fr. Eliseo Mercado, recipient of the Aurora Aragon Quezon Peace Award:

The paramount flaw is the absence or utter lack of consultation of stakeholders, including Christian leaders, indigenous peoples in Mindanao, and peace advocates themselves. This flaw contravenes the very essence of any peace process which is participative of the stakeholders. The participative aspect of any process can NOT be overemphasized since this should lead to a regional and national consensus on the peace formula.

But what, then, is the deal all about?

This chart which was prepared by Atty. Bong Montesa, who is part of our government’s negotiating team, outlines the peace process as hammered out between our government and the MILF.

Now ignore, for a moment, the incongruity of having a flowchart of the peace process using explosions as icons. In broad strokes, the government-MILF game plan looks at August 2008, August 2009, September 2009, May 2010 and 2016 to accomplish the steps necessary to transform today’s Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, or ARMM, into something to be called the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, or BJE. This overall schedule is fully in keeping with the President’s vision of bringing us to First World Status by 2020.

Here’s what’s supposed to happen.

This month, as the President already announced, one of the main obstacles to an agreement was disposed of, when our government consented to recognizing the MILF’s claim to an Ancestral Domain.

This is basically means that our government recognizes the moral and economic claim of the MILF, to a historically-defined territory, regardless of who actually inhabits that territory now. The extent of this territory is something we’ll look at more closely in the next portion of this show.

The agreement, once signed in KL, then gets the ball rolling on the government’s commitment to expand the territory of today’s ARMM, by including towns the MILF believes should be included in the future Bangsamoro Juridical Entity or state.  By August 2009, a plebiscite in these areas should take place.

Five months after that, or by September 2009, the government should also deliver the amendment of our Constitution, shifting our form of government to Federalism, and whatever amendments are necessary will of course, require approval in a national plebiscite. This is not just a constitutional requirement, but also symbolizes the ratification of the entire peace process and its details, by the Filipino people.

And by May 10, 2010, new officials can be elected in the embryo BJE.

Which all leads to the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity having its basic law, or constitution, and its officials, representation in the Organization of Islamic Countries, its own territorial police force and ability to send and receive trade delegations to other nations, all in place by 2016. When there will be another referendum on the final political status of the BJE.

Until then, the BJE would have only three limitations on its powers within its territory: foreign affairs, national defense, and monetary matters would remain under the authority of our government, in a manner similar to the Commonwealth period which reserved similar powers for the United States between 1935 and 1946.

Now when we return, we’ll look at why the MILF has laid claim to territory that goes beyond the present ARMM, and includes portions of Palawan.


II. A successor state


That was Sultan Jamal ul-Kiram II, the last Sultan of Sulu, who died in 1936. This film dates from 1933 and shows him expressing support for Philippine independence to US Senator Harry Hawes.

Of course the old sultanate is long gone, but its memory lives on in that its territory, along with the territories of other historic sultanates such as Maguindanao’s, constitutes the extent of what modern-day Filipino Muslims call their Ancestral Domain.


I’d like to show you some maps I dug up from the Perry Castaneda historical map collection featured in the University of Texas at Austin website.


They date back to the final decades of the Spanish era, the time of the formation of the Philippines as we know it today.

First, here’s a map which shows the division of our part of the world among the various colonial powers. Notice how part of what we consider today’s Philippines, was shown to be outside direct Spanish control. You’ll also notice something we pointed out previously on this show, how the Spanish view of the Philippines stretched to present-day Guam.

Here’s another German map, which also dates back to 1859 which gives you a clearer view of the fullest extent of Spanish direct control over Mindanao and Palawan, and the territory formally recognized by other nations as being outside the direct control of Spain. It’s this wavy dotted line here.


This other map from an American encyclopedia circa 1892, practically the eve of our own revolution, and then then the Filipino-American War, shows the territorial extent of the Sultanate of Sulu in yellow, see here, in Mindanao and part of Palawan.


Now that yellow area, more or less, is the claimed Ancestral Domain that the MILF got our President to recognize two weeks ago.


With this historic area in mind, the historical basis of the territorial claims of the MILF are clearer.

If, today, we have the ARMM, the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao that was born of the Tripoli Agreement signed by President Marcos with the MNLF; and if we refer to those old maps, and refer, in turn, to the details of the Memorandum of Agreement the President wants to sign with the MILF, which includes this map which lists several hundred barangays that would be subjected to a plebiscite on their proposed incorporation into the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity,


Then we get the expansion of the ARMM from this –the map we just showed you, shown here, again-

To this which shows the plebiscite areas for potential inclusion in the BJE, and if you impose on that, in turn, the approximate territorial extent of the old Sultanate of Sulu, it all falls neatly into place.

But then of course, one problem is that the MILF began as a splinter organization from the MNLF; and the MNLF, in turn, had its origins, not in the old Muslim royalty, but among intellectuals who would have had no prominence in the old royal society that’s governed Filipino Muslim society for centuries.

Four things happened to this ancient sultanate which dates back to 1450 A.D.. First, between 1877-1883, it became a protectorate of Spain.

Second, when President Aguinaldo sent feelers to the Sultan for his dominion to join the First Republic, the Sultan declined.


Third, between 1899 and 1896, the Sultanate of Sulu became a protectorate, then an outright conquered territory, with American officers such as Leonard Wood- and John Pershing gaining fame for their conquests.

The United States finally obtained treaty concessions in which the Sultan lost all his remaining political powers. Until 1935, American Governors-General personally appointed senators to represent the Muslims.

And Muslims, like Christian Filipinos, entered the colonial army to help enforce American control.

Fourth, in 1935 Muslims participated in the drafting of the Philippine Constitution, and the territory of the old sultanate participated in the plebiscite that ratified that constitution. And in 1936, the last Sultan of Sulu died, and when the Philippine government refused to recognize a successor, the heirs of the last Sultan proved unable to select a successor, a problem that exists to this day.

Christian leaders, as shown in this photo from the late 1920s,

Pursued a two-track policy of trying to build alliances with Muslim leaders.

But in areas outside the traditional domain of the Old Sulu Sultanate, the Commonwealth was concerned over neighboring powers, including Japan, simply annexing Philippine territory before we could even become fully independent.

And so began the policy of encouraging settlers from the Visayas and Luzon to move to Mindanao.

This is why you have a city named after this gentleman, former Philippine Army Chief of Staff Paulino Santos,

Shown in the center of this photograph,

And after whom the new settlement he supervised is named –GENSAN.

By the 1960s, however, the new generation of educated Muslim non-royals had had enough of the old Muslim royalty who’d become senators and congressmen; and instead of dreaming of sultanates, they aspired to modernity and even independence.

In the 1990s, of course, a further change took place: a less secular one, a more fundamentalist one, where being Islamic was more important than being merely Moro.

So where are we now, with these old claims mixed with new ideologies? We’ll talk to two people who have strong opinions on the matter, when we return.


My view


At her eighth state of the nation address, the President announced that the night before, a deal on ancestral domain had been concluded. That deal was barely noticed, and when I questioned Sec. Jesus Dureza on Korina Sanchez’s show, he was evasive.

Today, of course, a week or so later, our government is singing a different tune, a duet with the MILF while wardrums have started thud in war panic in Christian Mindanao. While other Filipino Muslims, including some members of the old royal families, protest that the MILF cannot speak for them.

In truth, Christian and Muslims in Mindanao, seem to be echoing a similar line: what’s in the deal, and how can our national government claim it can sign in their name? Christian or Muslim or atheist, concerned Filipinos have every right to ask our government to explain what that deal contains, and how it will be carried out.

One thing is sure: invoking executive privilege, at the Supreme Court, has gotten the whole debate off to a very bad, because poisonous, start.



Manuel L. Quezon III.

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