A friend and colleague of mine asked me the following:

Can it be implied by previous and contemporaneous conduct, deed and action of the Bangsamoro people, i.e. participation in elections, referenda, in administration, in having representatives, etc. that there is overwhelming proof (or atleast must be taken to be indicators as well) of agreement to be part of the national territory?

Who speaks for whom? Should a member of the GRP actually privilege one group (in this case, the MILF) as the sole spokesperson for all Bangsamoro constituents? Would the Bangsamoro constituents who are followers of the traditional datus and of those in government be subsumed under this designated sole representative of the Bangsamoro?

My answers:

1. I do not think that actual historical practice – like participating in elections, referenda, plebiscites, representatives in legislative bodies, acceptance to appointments to the government bureaucracy – outweigh the so-called statements. I agree with you however that these can be “indicators as well of agreement to be part of the national territory.”

This is because one can use actual historical practice to point out the contrary opinion, i.e. that practice will show a history of a long line of resistance and struggle against colonizers. And this is contained not just to one statement or statements by one historical agent but by a host of agents, uprisings, statements and actions, i.e. the “Sulu petition”, the “Dansalan Declaration”, the numerous revolts, i.e. Bud Daju, Taglibi, Bud Bagsak, etc., the formation of the MIM, MNLF, MILF and yes – even the Abu Sayyaf Group -that clearly show the resistance of the Bangsamoro people to their colonization.

In the end, I think that the most important thing is to let the Bangsamoro people to decide their fate, their future and their political status as a people. No one – not the MILF, not the political leaders, not even the President of the Philippines – can make that decision for Bangsamoro people. And we should not surmise or deduce from acts or statements. We need to directly ask the Bangsamoro people in clear terms what is their wish.

This is the reason why I support a free and independent referendum to ask the Bangsamoro people once and for all whether they want to be part of the Republic of the Philippines or not. And if yes, by what terms, by what relations, should, we continue this journey of a united yet separate and distinct peoples.

Theoretically then, it is possible that a Bangsamoro group will emerge in the future with a clear political message and agenda of integration into the Philippine State as opposed to the MILF’s call for self-determination. In the end, the people will decide.

2. Any group can claim to speak for the Bangsamoro people. There is no exclusive spokesperson. The MNLF is claiming to be a spokesperson by virtue of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and its recognition by the OIC as an “observer”. The ARMM Government can claim to be the spokesperson, being the elected leaders of the Bangsamoro people. The NCMF can also claim to be spokeperson. In fact, the Philippine Government is claiming that it is the spokesperson of the Bangsamoro people and it is for this reason that it has applied as an “observer” to the OIC.

In the end, it is not the one who claims but the one that is claimed by the Bangsamoro people as their voice and sentinel. It is legitimacy, acceptance and active support by the Bangsamoro people that will determine which group or groups speak of their dreams and aspirations. The people is always the prize.

Philippine Government is talking to everyone, not just the MILF. This was reiterated by P-Noy in his first SONA. However, it is just the MILF that we have peace negotiations because the MILF, which has a reported strength of 13,000, has taken up arms against the Philippine Government. This is not giving the MILF the privilege. From the Government’s point of view, it is borne out of sheer necessity. xxx

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