POSTSCRIPT / June 2, 2015 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Bangsamoro safe from Islamic State?

THERE IS still time, and there is need for it, to insert safeguards in the Bangsamoro Basic Law against the projected Moro nation in Mindanao possibly falling under the sway of Islamic State militants that are savagely annexing Middle East territory and now eyeing more lands beyond.

If not safeguards, there could be “iron-clad” guarantees by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or whichever Sunni group will dominate the Bangsamoro that it will not secede eventually, join a neighboring federation, or, worse, be overrun by the extremist Islamic State.

We cannot read the future, nor can we stop people from exploiting their right to self-determination, but we should at least make it difficult under the BBL to break away. We have to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic.

This concern over possible Islamic State takeover came back to us with the warning last Friday of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of the threat of Islamic State militancy creeping into Southeast Asia. His warning was reported by Reuters.

Addressing the three-day Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s biggest security forum, the Singapore leader said it was not inconceivable that IS/ISIS extremists could establish a base in our region, as they have done in Iraq and Syria.

Lee did not mention any likely target, but said: “The idea that ISIS can turn Southeast Asia into a wilayat — a province of a worldwide Islamic caliphate — is a grandiose, pie-in-the-sky idea. But it is not so far-fetched that ISIS could establish a base somewhere in the region, somewhere where the governments’ writs do not run.”

Hundreds of jihad-impelled people from Southeast Asia, some of them reportedly Muslims from Southern Philippines, have joined Islamic State forces rampaging in Iraq and Syria.

Demanding allegiance from Muslims around the world, the Sunni ultra-radicals have declared their goal of establishing a caliphate stretching from Middle East areas now in their grip to lands in Asia, Europe and North Africa with a Muslim majority or historical roots.

Even Spain, which converted to Christianity a large segment of the native population in these Las Islas Filipinas, is marked for Islamic capture by 2020 — just because it was ruled by the Moors for 700 years until 1492.

• Implications of citing historical facts

INVOKING of rights vested by historical facts finds resonance in the Preamble of the Bangsamoro Basic Law which says in part:

“Affirming the distinct historical identity and birthright of the Bangsamoro people to their ancestral homeland and their right to self-determination – beginning with the struggle for freedom of their forefathers in generations past and extending to the present – that will secure their identity and posterity, and allow for genuine autonomy and meaningful self-governance.…”

As to who the Bangsamoro people are, Section 1, Article II, identifies them as “Those who at the time of conquest and colonization were considered natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago and their adjacent islands including Palawan, and their descendants, whether of mixed or of full blood, shall have the right to identify themselves as Bangsamoro by ascription or self-ascription.”

(There is no mention of who conquered or colonized whom. Neither is there any mention of Sabah or North Borneo which is part of the Sulu Sultanate and on which there is a subsisting Philippine claim.)

• US must write down ‘iron-clad’ pledges

IF WE may digress a bit, mention of “iron-clad” guarantees calls to mind an American pledge to defend the Philippines being reiterated by US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in talks with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin in Hawaii last week.

Gazmin came back to Manila apparently satisfied, although Carter merely rehashed commitments made in the 63-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty which does not mention any “iron-clad” assurances.

On the contrary, the MDT says that defensive retaliation will come only in case of an armed attack and that US action will have to pass through congressional processes. No mention of water cannon blasts or land-grabbing through reclamation. The intruder has to fire a shot.

If we may suggest to General Gazmin, Sir, please ask Secretary Parker to put all that alleged iron-cladding in an updated treaty duly ratified or concurred in by the Senates of our two countries.

Based on my personal experience with US officials, it is never safe leaving “commitments” hanging without being formalized in writing. Their saliva is not enough assurance, especially if you are “only” a Filipino.

• What’s US agenda in Mindanao?

INEVITABLY, one question in this former American colony is: What is the hand of Uncle Sam in all this turmoil in Mindanao?

The popular theory is that the US wants a new Muslim state created in Mindanao under its sponsorship. A client-state beholden to Washington will be easier to manipulate than a left-leaning and corrupt central government in Manila.

But lately we have been hearing a different tune on embassy row – which is that Uncle Sam is unhappy with a fumbling President Noynoy Aquino and wants the BBL scuttled, and may have even misled Mr. Aquino on the Mamasapano operation of Jan. 25.

Some reasons given for this new line: (1) The MILF’s Malaysian patrons are bringing in Chinese business rivals to Mindanao, and (2) Washington is not so sure the Bangsamoro will not end up with the Islamic caliphate.

With Beijing aggressively building a sandy wall across the South China Sea to pad its soft underbelly, preempt maritime mineral resources, and project its military might, the US is under pressure to show a credible countervailing presence to sustain leadership in the Asia-Pacific arena.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 2, 2015)

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