News on Moro-related affairs are pushing into the national headlines. The impending pull-out of the Malaysian contingent from the International Monitoring Team (IMT), the hullabaloo about the automation of ARMM elections, the assassination of two Moro chiefs of the Comelec legal department, the release on bail of Nur Misuari, his formal booting-out from the MNLF Chairmanship by the other MNLF group, huge rallies calling for Moro independence, and the various anti-ASG military offensives–these have continually reached the front pages of national media.
They collectively show the restlessness slowly gripping Moroland in the light of two major political events that are currently being played out: one, the conclusion–either a success or a failure–of the GOP-MILF peace talks, and, two, the August ARMM elections.
The outcome of the GOP-MILF peace talks largely depends on achieving agreement on the definition and scope of territory covered by the ancestral domain claimed by the MILF. Basically, it posits that, wherever the Moro are in majority, the territory shall be part of a new Moro autonomous region. Ancestral domain, to MILF, corresponds to a territorial arrangement where there is a Moro self-government. News reports speak of more than 1,000 barangays not only in the current ARMM but extending all the way to certain places in Luzon and non-Moro Mindanao.
The GOP has tried to grapple with the claim by offering a much broader ARMM arrangement within the framework of the Constitution, including a possible local state within a federal Philippine state as proposed in a constitutional reform proposal by various figures in the Philippine government. However, there are suspicions within the government that the MILF proposal–even when there are concessions–basically lays the groundwork for a Moro independent state.
Kuala Lumpur had been hosting the GOP-MILF peace negotiations for sometime and it heads the 60-man IMT. Its decision to withdraw from the IMT–and possibly from the hosting of the negotiations–was publicly linked to its frustration over the stalled talks. However, a recent report alluded to an accusation by an unnamed government official saying that Malaysia wants to make hay while ostensibly hosting–by negotiating on the side for the Philippines to drop its Sabah claim. However true this accusation, the fact that it was made exposes the building tensions surrounding the Moro rebellion issue.
At the same time, the upcoming ARMM elections complicate matters as various political forces maneuver to seize opportunities they offer. The ruling Ampatuan clan is trying to maintain its hold on power. The MNLF-Sema wing will reportedly field Muslimin Sema to contest the governorship. Misuari himself is reportedly eyeing a rerun for the post. MILF is also reportedly organizing to support a candidate.
The ARMM elections are crucial for the future of the Moro issue. The outcome will certainly affect the peace and rebellion prospects in the area, particularly if there is a breakdown of the GOP-MILF peace negotiations. There are already pressures building up to prevent a successful election automation and to undertake massive electoral violence and cheating.
The coming months in the Moro heartland certainly bear watching.