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    Southeast Asia
     Jan 31, 2013

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Moro leader looks for united front
By Andre Vltchek

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) is a nationalist political organization that has been waging an armed struggle against the Philippine state since its establishment in 1969. It struggles for the independence of Bangsamoro. As defined by the MNLF, the territory of Bangsamoro covers Sulu, Mindanao, and Palawan - otherwise known as MINSUPALA, encompassing some of the poorest areas of the Philippines.

Unlike its Islamic offshoot, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the MNLF is not a religious organization, and it styles its ideology as egalitarianism. A racially and religiously inclusive organization, MNLF calls for independence and social justice for

the most exploited and marginalized people of the Philippines - a country where according to a 2011 survey some 20.5% of families, or about 4.1 million, go hungry, while 51%, or some 10.4 million families, consider themselves poor.

MNLF Central Committee member Commander Haji Ibrahim "Bambi", aged 67, met the author for an interview in January 2013 at an undisclosed location in Sabah, Malaysia.

Andre Vltchek: Peace process, peace agreements, broken peace agreements, and more process - it appears a never-ending saga. You are facing the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), one of the most brutal and corrupt armies in the world, which is determinedly supported by the former colonizers of the Philippines, the United States, Spain, and indeed Europe. Do you have any chance to win the war and consequently the independence for your people?

Commander "Bambi": It will not be easy. We would all have to unite: MNLF, MILF, and the Marxist groups. MILF would have to agree to join the constitutional process and agree to negotiate, something they are refusing to do. We all have to sit down and talk.

The United States, Europe, and the entire West would then have to join our effort to implement, and then support, a real peace agreement.

The peace process is in danger, because most of the terms agreed on during the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 and later the Jeddah Accord in 1987 were never implemented. The government is now busy dealing with the MILF. On top of it, the peace process would have to go through the constitutional procedure, within the government of the Philippines. It would have to go through the Senate and through Congress. And the fact that there are more Christians than Muslims in both institutions, even in the Mindanao local senate, would further complicate things.

Once I attended a meeting sponsored by one of the EU countries. There were also representatives of Colombia there, of Indonesia, as well as three people from the US, probably CIA. I told them, "American brothers, you are not our enemies, are you? You were preaching to us about freedom for so many years and decades. But when you are here, you are not seeking peace, instead you are siding with the Philippines government against the will of the people."

AV: What exactly is the United States trying to achieve by supporting the Philippine regime?

CB: The US goal is to control the entire Pacific. It wants to prevent China from playing any significant role in this part of the world.

The US is playing a very dangerous game by training the Philippine military, justifying it by the "search" for Abu Sayyaf fighters. All this is against the Philippine Constitution - the US military is not allowed to operate on the territory of the Philippines. But conducting joined exercises like "Balikatan" is supposed to give "legitimacy" to illegal military acts. 

Rebels sailing to a conflict zone (photo by Andre Vltchek).

AV: What are you called by the US?

CB: In the past, they used to call us Maoists or Communists. We are not on that terrorist list of theirs. But they consider us their main enemies.

Abu Sayyaf is on their terrorist list, of course. But the CIA created Abu Sayyaf during the government of Fidel Ramos [president 1992-98], to undermine the MNLF. Both the US and Philippine governments needed more bombs to explode, more weapons to be used, in order to have their military budgets approved. It is also no secret that during the wave of kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf, 80-90% of the ransom money used to go directly to the military leaders.

The government and the US say to the MNLF: "Oh, you can't control your own people - look at Abu Sayyaf!" They say no peace can be reached if we can't control Abu Sayyaf. It is undeniable that some Abu Sayyaf fighters are former members of MNLF, including Commander Nur.

But what they refuse to say and acknowledge is that we hate Abu Sayyaf! We have nothing to do with them. All over Mindanao, people are distancing themselves from them, seeing them as clients of the US forces. Abu Sayyaf has such a bad image! The MNLF even fought Abu Sayyaf. Once they kidnapped a female medic from our ranks. We attacked their camp and freed the medic.

AV: Is the US using propaganda to justify its presence in the Philippines?

CB: Yes, the propaganda is used all over the Philippines. The US is always portrayed as liberators, as good guys. People are flooded with movies, books, and shows... Douglas MacArthur is presented as liberator, and people actually believe it, after all those years and decades of propaganda.

And then the story of liberating us from the Japanese! Of course, old people in the Philippines were not used to the character of the Japanese when they occupied the country - like bowing. There were cultural misunderstandings, and even crimes committed by the Japanese. But Japanese invaders never performed mass slaughter of the Philippine civilians, while the US did. What is guarded as some secret is that the US was much more brutal than Japan in this part of the world, and that brutality was occurring even before the Japanese occupation. Just recall the Balangiga massacre.

AV: I heard, from Philippine academics, that the US is igniting the conflict between several regional players in Southeast Asia and China over the Spratly Islands. It apparently found exceptionally willing collaborators in the latest Philippine administration.

CB: Once again: the US wants to have full control over the Pacific. For that it needs countries like the Philippines - client states. We provoked the problem of the Spratly islands. Our government dares to play this game because it knows that it has US behind it.
It is worth mentioning that the Spratlys were historically part of the Sulu Sultanate. The islands are called, in the local language, "Manangkayan", or "Giant Clam". Sulu sultans were extremely close to China. There are graveyards of Chinese people all over Sulu. Chinese emissaries were living right next to the sultan's palace. China was the closest ally of Sulu before the Spanish conquerors arrived. What followed, you know: things were turned upside down and the Spaniards massacred around 10,000 Chinese people in one go, just because they did not want to abandon their culture, to change their name.

But in the Philippines, very little is known about the history of the region. 

Continued 1 2  

Clouds gather over Mindanao peace deal (Jan 9, '13)

Spoilers to Philippine peace deal (Nov 6, '12)


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