When discussing the world’s longest running conflicts, the internal conflict in Myanmar, the Kashmir conflict and the Israel-Palestine conflict are often pointed to as struggles which all began in the late 1940s and continue to rage to this day. However, in many respects, the long standing Moro conflict in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao has raged for far longer.
During the American imperialist conquest of The Philippines which began in 1899 after the US defeated Spain, the former imperial master of The Philippines, the Moros (Philippine Muslims) of Mindanao continued to resist colonisation long after the rest of The Philippines fell under the whip hand of American rule.
Prior to the late 19th century, Moro warriors had led a 400 year fight against Spanish domination while also proving a formidable resistance force against the Japanese occupation of The Philippines. Even after The Philippines gained formal independence in 1946, Moros continued to wage war against ‘Imperial Manila’ in a fight that asymmetrically grew throughout the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st century. In this sense, one can point to the Moro’s rebelling against various overlords as the longest running conflict in the world today. The conflict however appears to be on the verge of ending due to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivering the highly anticipated Bangsamoro Organic Law.
During his State of The Nation Address on the 23rd of July, President Rodrigo Duterte instructed Congress to urgently pass the Bangsamoro Organic Law so that it could be signed as soon as possible. On the 26th of July, Duterte delivered, thus setting the stage for an historic rapprochement between Moro leaders and Manila which looks to end a conflict which in an on-and-off fashion raged for over a century.
Duterte now plans to meet with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Vice Chair for Political Affairs Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chair Nur Misuari to finalise the implementation of the new law. While Duterte remains committed to a federal structure for the entire nation, the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law was of particular importance as it looks to end a cycle of distrust, violence and political uncertainty that has plagued the region for far too long.
Duterte himself is firmly committed to a united country where through the implementation of local/regional control on a federal model, the distinct peoples who collectively form the Filipino nation will be able to live an existence wherein local characteristics are able to exist harmoniously with a pan-Filipino identity and patriotism. As the first President in the history of The Philippines to come from Mindanao and as a man with Moro relatives in his extended family, Duterte’s concerns for the well being of Moros has been a decisive factor in helping him to engage in constructive dialogue with the leaders of the two largest Moro political factions MILF and MNFL.
Duterte’s engagement with MILF and MNFL has also helped to create a united front among Moros against extremist factions, including those aligned with Daesh who in 2017 laid siege to the city of Marawi. Duterte’s implementation of Martial Law in Mindanao has helped to liberate Marawi while he has also offered an amnesty for poor Moros who joined terror groups out of desperation, so long as such wayward individuals renounce violence and join with legitimate political factions in the pursuit of enforcing law and order.
In a recent address to Moro groups, President Duterte said the following:
“There will be no regional armed forces or police. I will not agree to that. If we are all Filipinos, why will you have your own army? My army is your army. My police is your police. The (MILF), they can help, they can be absorbed in the armed forces for those willing. So goes with the MNLF. But there will only be one armed forces.
…And if by 2020, we can have a new president or a Moro president for the Republic of the Philippines, the better for us. After all, that person would be a Filipino”.
This is the key to Duterte’s federal proposals for the country. When all regions and peoples in The Philippines are allowed to take responsibility and enjoy the benefits of their own autonomous economic, cultural and social management, it does not make The Philippines weaker but stronger and more peaceful.
In this sense, just as Singapore encouraged Malays, Chinese and Tamil speaking Indians to speak their own languages in their private and personal life, but speak a unifying language for public matters in order to create both strong individual identities and a strong pan-Singaporean identity, so too is Duterte’s federal model good for distinct local cultures, the Moros being just one, while also strengthening the patriotism of all such cultures who all comprise the Filipino nation. In a further example of outreach to insurgents, Duterte also reached out to the far-left terrorist group NPA saying that eventually this fight too will end, emphasising that reconciliation is in the interests of both the Maoist fighters and the government.
In securing trust among ordinary Moros and their leaders, Duterte has managed to convince major Moro groups to embrace the peace process by staking his presidency on his ability to bring peace to the Bangsamoro regions, while also convincing moderate Moro leaders to aid the Philippine armed forces in a mutual battle against extremist groups which have infiltrated Moro regions, including those loyal to the international terrorist organisations al-Qaeda and Daesh (aka ISIS).
In delivering the Bangsamoro Organic Law, Duterte has proved yet again that his tough, unwavering stance on delivering his election promises, has ultimately been in the service of peace. This is true whether this means peaceful streets free of narco-bandits, a peaceful relationship with China or a peaceful settlement to the decades long conflict with both Moro insurgents and the NPA.
Duterte’s signing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law represents a major leap forward in the peace process that many prior Philippine leaders tried to cement but which Duterte has managed to achieve through his persistence, his ability to communicate with all sides in the dispute and his ability to demonstrate that a better life for all Filipinos is far more important than any personal matters of ego or personal enrichment. This victory is as much Duterte’s as it is a victory for the country as a whole.
By working to end a centuries long protracted and manifold conflict through a combination of legal intensity, cultural compassion and human outreach towards the Moros, Duterte has taken a major step towards doing something that the Spanish and American imperialists, Japanese occupiers and previous Filipino leaders could not do: bring peace to the Bangsamoro region and the Moro people.
For this, Duterte should seriously be considered as a contender for the Nobel Peace Prize. If bringing a centuries long conflict to an end is not a historic move for peace, it is difficult to imagine what is.