Buencamino writes political commentary for Action for Economic Reforms.  This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad Column of BusinessWorld, June 12, 2006 edition, page S1/5.

The official website of the MILF, Luwaran.com, said the people of Western Mindanao are pinning their hopes on peace negotiations between the Philippine Government (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

It reported, “Muslims and Christians are joining hands in their quest for final and lasting peace in Mindanao…once the final and lasting agreement will be inked by the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Then all the way, the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity will be put in place to serve as the backbone of law and order in Mindanao.”

What about the Lumad?

Lumad (highlander) is the term applied to ethno-linguistic tribes who were once predominant in Mindanao. They are indigenous people who held on to their religious beliefs and customs and neither converted to Islam nor adopted the sultanate type of political system.

Lumads still have a large population in Western Mindanao. They have their unique concerns—ancestral domains, indigenous peoples rights, preservation of culture and way of life— yet the MILF appointed itself as their representative. Many Lumads are not comfortable with that arrangement.

Muhammad Ameen, Secretary of the MILF Central Committee, told Luwaran he was worried that some elements of the Lumads were “spearheading moves to delineate IP (indigenous people) ancestral domain from those of the Moros even before the proposed comprehensive compact is signed.”  He characterized such moves as “untimely and could complicate the peace process.”

He added, “It is better to finish the peace process, after which the two communities will adopt their traditional method of delineating their territories rather than ‘rocking the boat’ now when the talks are still in limbo.”  Clearly, the MILF considers the welfare of Lumads secondary to its desire for a Bangsa Moro juridical entity.

And there’s reason why Lumads are only a fifth wheel in the MILF agenda. The MILF does not consider Lumads as their equals.

Luwaran reported, “Ameen recalled that the history of the Moros and IPs is one and inseparable, but noted that the former were always the ‘bigger brother’ while the latter [was] the ‘younger brother’”. Luwaran claimed that Moros “have developed a higher plane of political existence” than Lumads because they converted to Islam and adopted the sultanate system. History is replete with the tragic tales of “inferior people” at the hands of their “betters”. One can only pray that the Moros have taken to heart their experience at the hands of “imperial” Manila.

A good portion of the country’s fabled $800 billion mineral wealth “lying hidden in the ground” can be found in Western Mindanao, but mining companies will not go there unless bullets stop flying. Malaca?ang, which is in desperate need of funds from mining to ensure its political survival, will go to any lengths for a good investment climate in Western Mindanao. Thus the MILF is making Malaca?ang pay through the nose.

The question is, will Western Mindanao be on the road to lasting peace when the concerns of a sizeable portion of its population are treated as a footnote to the MILF/GRP peace talks?

Who will settle disputes between Lumads and Moros over ownership and exploitation of ancestral domains? The Bangsa Moro juridical entity?

What will happen if the peace accord fails to address the concerns of indigenous people and they become restless and restive? Will the MILF and the GRP join forces to quell any “disturbance?”

Malaca?ang and the MILF are making a big mistake if they believe they can parley over the rights of people who are not sitting with them. Western Mindanao is not an exclusive Moro domain, at least not yet. There are many other stakeholders there and they are not signatories to the GRP-MILF peace treaty.

There are consequences to negotiating a separate peace.  Remember what happened between Filipino independistas and Americans following the signing of the Treaty of Paris?

Maybe the GRP and the MILF believe they can  produce a different result by doing the same thing in the same way— but as Confucius will tell you, “that’s insanity.”