Monday, October 24, 2011


Rommel C. Banlaoi

Presented at the International Workshop on “The Impact of Identity Politics on Violent Extremism” organized by the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) of the Nanyang Technological University and the Global Futures Forum (GFF) at
Marina Mandarin Hotel, Singapore October 23-25, 2011



Violent extremism is a highly contested and a very fuzzy concept in the field of violence studies and terrorism research. If it means a justification of the use of violence as an extreme measure in furtherance of a certain religious belief or a particular political goal as well as the protection or enhancement of a certain ethnic, class, religious or political identities, the Southern Philippines then is enormously prone to many acts of violent extremism.

 There is no doubt that identity politics is one of the many lenses from which to examine the complex challenges of the so-called violent extremism in the Southern Philippines.  Identity politics is, in fact, a major analytical framework to examine how the Bangsamoro people justify their violent struggle for their right to self-determination so that they can govern themselves in their own way, according to their customs, traditions, religions and socio-cultural identities.[1]  It also serves as the organizing concept to grapple with the development of Bangsamoroism, a Moro ideology in Mindanao that justifies the use of armed violence to protect and enhance the “Moro national identity” and to advance the cause of Islamic state in Mindanao, even if its adherents claim to have been upholding the peaceful struggle for nationhood.   

Through the wisdom of identity politics, Muslim inhabitants of Mindanao identify themselves with a common identity they call Bangsamoro, which is both an ethnic and religious construction.  Identity politics makes sense of the minority status of the Bangsamoros in a society dominated by Christian Filipinos.  It also through the prism of identity politics that some Bangsamoros are radicalized to protect and enhance their identity, which they think are being suppressed by the Christian majority of Filipinos.  Other Bangsamoros fall prey to extreme ideas that endorse the use of armed violence to alter their current social, economic and political situation that they think is utterly oppressive of their cherished identity.

Identity politics serves as an explanatory logic for Muslims in Mindanao to understand how they acquire a sense sameness with one ethnic group or belongingness to an oppressed and nascent nation they call Bangsamoro and distinguish themselves from a dominant and “exploitative” nation of the Christian Filipinos.  This imagined ethnic community of a Moro nation creates a worldview that defines the “self” identity of the Moros and distinguishes themselves from other nations.[2]  This sense of “self” and “other” has permeated sharply into a bitter clash of identities in Mindanao that has brought the “minority Muslim Moros” and the “majority Christian Filipinos” to a bitter ethnic and sectarian violence for more than four decades and to the seemingly intractable internal armed conflicts that have become so costly and damaging to both opposing identities.

There are currently four major armed Muslim groups in the Southern Philippines that promote the concept of a Bangsamoro identity:  the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Al Harakatul Al Islamiyah (AHAI), more popularly known as the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM).  These groups are arguably engaged in various acts associated with violent extremism that is currently being passed on to the younger generation. 

The Moro National Liberation Front

Founded by Nur Misuari, the MNLF used to be united front of Moro rebels pursuing the cause of Muslim independence in Mindanao. At present however, the MNLF has been heavily factionalized.   Some MNLF members have entered the mainstream Philippine politics while others have been integrated in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).  The rest are still waging arms struggle, particularly those identified with the so-called Misuari Break Away Group (MBG).  The MBG is currently being accused of spreading violent extremism in the Southern Philippines.
Despite its many factions, adherents and followers who associate themselves with the MNLF continue to adhere to the socially constructed idea that Muslims in Mindanao are Moros and not Filipinos.[3] This idea, in fact, originates from the position of the Mindanao Independence Movement (MIM) formed in 1968 after the gruesome Jabidah Massacre.[4]  The Manifesto of the MIM asserts that the Moros have their own identity, culture and history that are distinct from that of the Filipinos.  The MIM even used the slogan, “We are not Filipinos, we are Bangsamoros” during their major rallies.  It was through the MIM when the ideology of Bangsamoroism started to develop.
With its concept of a Bangsamoro identity, the MIM aimed to establish a separate Islamic state in Mindanao.  Leaders of the MNLF came mostly from the MIM, which later on would soften its stand on Moro independence.
Echoing the Bangsamoroism of the MIM, the MNLF believes that the Moros have their own national identity that deserves independence.  The MNLF intensified the promotion of Bangsamoroism as the rallying ideology of the Bangsamoro people for national liberation through arms struggle. This ideology regards the Bangsamoros as oppressed people colonized by Filipinos.  The Manifesto of the MNLF released on 28 April 1974 aptly articulates the ideology of Bangsamoroism when it states:
We, the five million oppressed Bangsamoro people, wishing to free ourselves form the terror, oppression and tyranny of Filipino colonialism which has caused us untold sufferings and miseries by criminality usurping our land, by threatening Islam through wholesale destruction and desecration of its places of worship and its Holy Book, and murdering our innocent brothers, sisters and folks in a genocidal campaign of terrifying magnitude’ hereby declares ‘the establishment of the Bangsamoro Republic’.[5]
Nur Misuari endorses arms struggle to emancipate the Bangsamoro people from the  “oppression” and “colonialism” of Imperial Manila. Misuari regards arms struggle as “a revolution for national salvation and human justice based on jihad, which is the path of struggle of Muslims, either in the moral, ethical, spiritual or political realm, to bring about a positive transformation of the inner self and the socio-economic and political order.”[6]  Thus, the MNLF formed the Bangsamoro Armed Forces (BAF) as its armed wing. The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) recognizes the MNLF as the “sole and legitimate representative of the Bangsamoro people.” 

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front

The Bangsamoroism of the MNLF, however, is viewed to be very secular and even Marxist in ideological orientation.  Thus, a splinter group was formed within the MNLF.  This group called itself as the MILF to advocate a more “Islamist cause”.   
Founded by Hashim Salamat in 1984,[7] the MILF describes itself to be more Islamic in orientation and religious in conviction that the MNLF.   While both the MNLF and the MILF share the same narrative of Bangsamoro identity that views Muslims in Mindanao as marginalized Moros and not Filipinos, the MILF provides a more “Islamic” identity into the Bangsamoro identity.
The MILF also justifies the use of armed violence to advance the Bangsamoro people’s struggle against oppression and colonialism.[8] Thus, it formed the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) to wage a “genuine” jihad of the Moros.  The MILF also has its Special Operation Group (SOG) that is accused of various crimes associated with terrorism.  The MILF-SOG is also being linked with the Jemaah Islamiyah followers operating in the Southern Philippines, particularly in Central Mindanao.
While the MILF recognizes the value of peace talks with the government to advance the right to self-determination of the Bangsamoro people, it also leans towards violent extremism by conducting a war against the Philippine military for “defensive” and  “counter-offensive” purposes.[9]  Salamat even argues that the war being waged by the MILF is part of the war fought by the ancestors of the Bangsamoro people. He elaborates:
The war we are engaged in is part of the war fought by our ancestors.  It flared up since the first half of the 16th century, that is, since more than four hundred years ago.  At present, we have no choice but either to wage Jihad in the cause of Allah plunging ourselves into ferocious war in order to survive in a prosperous life and to remain as Muslims, or to submit to subjugation and humiliation.[10]

The Abu Sayyaf Group
Amidst the two Moro groups with their own versions of Bangsamoroism, another group emerged in 1989 with the establishment of the AHAI by Abdurajak Janjalani, a former MNLF member.[11]   More known as the ASG, this group intended to bridge the divide between the MNLF and MILF. Aiming to establish a “purely Islamic government” of Bangsamoros in Mindanao, Janjalani formed the ASG/AHAI when the MNLF started to enter a peace talk with the government.

There were allegations that the ASG was created by the Philippine military.  But Janjalani argued that he founded the ASG as an alternative resistance group of Bangsamoros who were disappointed with the secular leaderships of the MNLF and the moderate Islamist position of the MILF. In fact, most of the original founders of the ASG were disgruntled members of the MNLF and the MILF. In his undated public proclamation containing many elements of violent extremist ideology, Janjalani explained what it called the “Four Basic Truths” about the ASG, to wit:

1. It is not to create another faction in the Muslim struggle, which would be    
    against the teaching of Islam, especially the Quran, but to serve as a bridge
    and balance between the MILF and MNLF, whose revolutionary roles and     
     leadership cannot  be ignored or usurped;

2. Its ultimate goal is the establishment of a purely Islamic government whose
    “nature, meaning, emblem and objective” are basic to peace;

3. Its advocacy of war is a necessity for as long as there exist oppression,
     injustice,  capricious ambitions, and arbitrary claims imposed on the

4. It believes that “war disturbs peace only for the attainment of the true and        
     real objective of humanity — the establishment of justice and righteousness     
     for all under the law of the noble Quran and the purified Sunnah”.[12]

Like Misuari and Salamat, Janjalani adheres to the narrative of Bangsamoroism that embraces the idea of a separate Bangsamoro identity that deserves its own sovereign state.  His group also leans towards violent extremism as part of Jihad Fi-Sabil-lillah or fighting for the cause of Allah.  Janjalani claims to have founded the ASG to seek kaadilan or justice for the Bangsamoro people through Jihad.

 The ASG, however, rapidly degenerated into a band of bandit soon after the death of Abdurajak in 1998.[13]  Yet, the ASG, at present, has proven to be a resilient group of Bangsamoros engaged in banditry, terrorism and violent extremism.[14]  Its links with personalities associated with Jemaah Islamiyah and Al-Qaeda have even strengthened the violent extremist leaning of the ASG in order to promote the cause of a Bangsamoro identity.

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement

A newest Moro rebel group that is currently engaged many acts of violent extremism is the BIFM.  The BIFM started as an armed faction of the MILF headed by Ameril Umbra Kato, the former commander of the MILF 105th Base Command.  Kato originally called his group the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter (BIFF) of the MILF during its inauguration in December 2010.  But he renamed his group as BIFM in August 2011 when his group attracted more adherents from both armed and non-armed Bangsamoros. 

The BIFM rejects the on-going peace talks between the Philippine government the MILF.  Kato even argues that the right to self-determination of the Bangsamoro people cannot be negotiated - it can only be won through arms struggle.  Kato criticizes the “endless” peace negotiation between the government and the MILF. 

Though the exact ideology of the BIFM has not been fully discussed in the public domain, Kato adheres to Bangsamoroism of Salamat.  Kato claims that his BIFM represents the united front work of the Bangsamoros struggling for genuine freedom through Jihad.  Its armed-wing, the BIFF, aims to pursue this freedom through arms struggle.

Identity Politics and Violent Extremism of the Bangsamoros

Identity politics may be viewed as the principal driver of violent extremism of the Bangsamoros.  It is the major source of the ideology of Bangsamoroism, which regards the Morohood as a single and transcendent national identity that is entitled to have its sovereignty and independence. [15] The formation of this Bangsamoro identity is said to have developed through more than 400 years of hard and painful struggle for self-determination in the “Bangsamoro” homeland in Mindanao.[16] 

This idea of a Bangsamoro identity currently informs the violent behavior of armed Muslims groups in Mindanao.   This idea of a national identity (that is believed by Moros to be under assault, persecution, oppression, and even “annihilation” by other national identities) provides a moral ground to some Moros to adopt an extreme measure that compels them to resort to violence in order to protect and enhance this identity in accordance with the system of life that is deemed suitable and acceptable to the Bangsamoro people.

The ideology of Bangsamoroism endorses some religious values and political beliefs that uphold a worldview of what is just and unjust for the Muslims in Mindanao. In fact, leaders of armed Muslim groups, particularly the MNLF and the MILF, contend that the Bangsamoro identity extends to oppressed non-Muslim inhabitants of Mindanao: the Christians and the indigenous people (IP), locally known as the lumads.[17]

This primordialist and even ethnocentric view of Moro national identity, which some scholars describe as a “myth of Morohood””, is a strong tie that vigorously binds all Muslim rulers, rebels and even warlords involved in everyday politics of armed separatism and Muslim insurgencies in Mindanao.[18] Even unarmed and non-violent groups of Muslims in Mindanao share this primordialist and ethnocentric understanding of a Bangsamoro identity.  The internationalization of the Bangsamoro struggle has even strengthened the claim of the Moros to vigorously fight for their identities and their right to self-determination in the form of an independent state.[19]

The global and regional trends in Islamic resurgence in the aftermath of the cold war have further intensified this assertion for a Bangsamoro identity.[20] The rise of transnational Islam after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States has also heightened the Islamic consciousness of Muslims in the Philippines, largely encouraging their continued struggle for self-determination.[21] The Moro conception of a separate national identity is said to have entitled its people to enjoy their right of self-determination, to wit:

The Bangsamoro people qualify as a people who hold the right of self-determination because they have a common historical tradition and religious affinity and share many cultural practices.  They occupy contiguous territory (being maritime societies connected by the sea) with rich natural resources.[22]

In other words, the internal armed conflict in Mindanao on the Moro Front, more popularly known as the “Moro Problem”, is considered as a “manifestation of the aspiration of the Bangsamoro people to retain their cultural, religious, and ethnic identity and to gain greater control over their own lives.”[23]

But the concept of a Bangsamoro identity is being challenged.  It is argued that the notion of Bangsamoro nationhood is very new (only more than 40 years old) and is yet to be crystallized and even internalized by other Muslims in Mindanao.[24]

Nonetheless, this so-called myth of national identity continues to define the violent struggle of Muslims in Mindanao for self-determination. Though Muslims in Mindanao were given autonomy as a result of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, 1989 Organic Law on the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and the 1996 Agreement between the Philippine government and the MNLF, this type of autonomy is currently rejected by the MILF, the ASG and the BIFM because of allegations of corruption, incompetence of co-opted Muslim officials, and lack of real autonomy (as the ARMM is said to have been under the control of a central government in Manila).[25]  The so-called “Paper Autonomy” in the ARMM compels other Moro rebels, particularly from the MILF, ASG and BIFM, to resume their violent resistance.

Identity Politics and A Justification for Violence

From the perspectives of identity politics, the Moros justify their violent resistance because of the following reasons:  a) “minoritization”; b) economic marginalization; and c) social and political exclusion. 

Young generation of Bangsamoros are exposed, socialized, and even “brainwashed” to these underlying reasons.  These reasons are, in fact, being used to radicalize the minds of the Bangsamoro youth and to glorify the use of violence as a rightful and even necessary tool to redress the injustices committed against the Moro people.

Minoritization.  The Moros feel that the “Christian-dominated” government of the Filipinos has systematically minoritized them.  The process of minoritization began during Spanish colonial period that lasted until the American colonial rule of the archipelago now known as the Philippines.  The minoritization of Muslims in Mindanao continued when the Philippines acquired its independence from the United States in 1946. 

By the 1960s, minoritization of the Moros had become a fait accompli.[26]  In 1900, Muslims in Mindanao represented 76 percent of the total population.  By 2000, Muslim population in Mindanao dropped to 20 percent. 

The minoritization of the Moros was attributed to misdirected state policies on agrarian reforms that encouraged Christians in Luzon and Visayas to settle in Mindanao.[27]  These agrarian reform programs made the Moros to “become a minority in many parts of their traditional homeland, with many losing their land to the immigrant settlers through dubious legal transactions or outright confiscation.”[28]

Economic Marginalization. The land reform program for the Christians in Luzon and the Visayas resulted in the landlessness of the Muslims in Mindanao.  Thus, the Moros feel that they have been dispossessed of their ancestral lands.  With no lands at their disposal, the Moros have also been economically marginalized.  In fact, all Muslim areas of the Philippines are considered to be at the bottom of the heap.[29]

In terms of Human Development Index, Muslim-dominated provinces of Maguindanao, Sulu, Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi have the least access to education, health, electricity, transportation, and water and sanitation services.[30]  These provinces also have the highest number of armed encounters between the government and rebel forces.  These conflict-affected provinces of Mindanao are considered to be the poorest among the 77 Philippine provinces and are found to have the highest levels of dissatisfaction with government services.[31]

Social and Political Exclusion.  Being minoritized and economically marginalized, the Moros also suffer from social and political exclusion under a unitary system of the Philippine government.[32]  Through decades of negative stereotyping, the Christian Filipino majority has developed built-in biases against the Muslim minority in terms of employment.  Even in national elections, Muslims have difficulties winning a seat in the national posts.   Moros who occupy government positions are deemed to have been co-opted and corrupted and acting like oppressors.  In the study conducted by the World Bank, the social and political exclusion of the Moros is exacerbated by the following factors related with minoritization and economic marginalization:

·      Philippine history texts that do not acknowledge the historic contributions of the Bangsamoro;
·      Biases and prejudice in media accounts and reports;
·      Apparent discrimination against Muslims in job placements;
·      Lack of provisions for the customary and traditional practices of Muslims in official and public settings; and,
·      Loss of Bangsamoro ancestral properties because of discriminatory land registration policies[33]

Thus, the Moros feel powerless and this sense of powerlessness drives them to behave violently to empower themselves.  


Identity politics strongly resonates as the main driver of the so-called violent extremism in Mindanao.  A strongly held idea of a Bangsamoro identity that creates the ideology of Bangsamoroism provides a strong moral justification for the Moros to accommodate extreme measures and to pursue their struggle for self-determination through the use of force.  The centrality of national identity also inspires the Moros to be very resilient in their violent struggle for freedom and nationhood, which until now informs the behavior of armed Moros associated with the MNLF, MILF, ASG and BIFM.

The MNLF, MILF, ASG, and BIFM cling to the general notion of a Bangsamoro identity. They all subscribe to the general ideology of Bangsamoroism that justifies the use of violence to protect and enhance this identity.  But they have different interpretations of Bangsamoroism and approaches on how to protect and enhance the Bangsamoro identity.

While there is no doubt that the quest for national identity drives people to act violently, there are many other drivers of violent extremism.[34]   These drivers are context-and-time-bound and even culture-and-society-specific.  A more nuanced examination of these drivers is therefore essential to have a better grasp of the many challenges of violent extremism not only in the Southern Philippines but also elsewhere.

But there is a need to emphasize that while identities unleash several problems associated with violent extremism, identities are not static, immutable and frozen in time and space.[35] Identities are dynamic, socially constructed and products of the so-called invention of traditions.   Identities can, in fact, accommodate changes and therefore contribute to conflict resolution and social transformation.   As such, identities can also provide just and lasting solutions to the problems of violent extremism.

[1]For my initial use of identity politics to examine Philippine national security predicaments amidst terrorist threats, see Rommel C. Banlaoi, “Identity Politics and Philippine National Security in the Age of Terror” in Rommel C. Banlaoi, Philippine Security in the Age of Terror: National, Regional, and Global Challenges in the Post-9/11 World (New York and London:  CRC Press/Taylor and Francis, 2010), pp. 3-26.

[2]For the concept of imagined community, see Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities:  Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, revised (New York:  Verso, 1991).

[3]For a seminal work on this concept, see Abdurasad Asana, Moros Not Filipinos (Marawi City: Bangsamoro Research Center, nd).

[4]The Jabidah Massacre  pertains to the summary execution of a number of Moro recruits being trained for Operation Merdeka, a codename for clandestine military plan to infiltrate Sabah as part of the Philippine’s strategy to establish its ownership of the said territory.  For an excellent investigative report on the Jabidah Massacre, see Marites Vitug and Glenda, Under the Crescent Moon:  Rebellion in Mindanao (Quezon City:  Ateneo Center for Social Policy and Public Affairs/Institute for Popular Democracy, 2000).

[5] The Manifesto of the Moro National Liberation Front (28 April 1974).

[6]Nur Misuari, MNLF Guidelines for Political Cadres and Military Commanders, n.p.:  (Bangsa Moro Research Center of the Moro National Liberation Front., 1984), pp. 6-7.

[7]Salamat traces the origin of MILF in 1962 when he formed in Cairo a Islamic group of Moro students called Moro Liberation Front (MLF).

[8]Salamat Hashim, The Bangsamoro People’s Struggle Against Oppression and Colonialism (Camp Abu Bakar, Maguindanao:  MILF Agency for Youth Affairs, 2001).

[9]Salah Jubair, The Long Road to Peace: Inside the GRP-MILF Peace Process (Cotabato City:  Institute of Bangsamoro Studies, 2007), p. 18.

[10]Salamat Hashim, Referendum:  Peaceful, Civilized, Diplomatic and Democratic Means of Solving the Mindanao Conflicts (Camp Abu Bakar, Maguindanao:  MILF Agency for Youth Affairs, 2002), p. 13.

[11]For a more detailed analysis of the origin, evolution and dynamics of the ASG, see Rommel C. Banlaoi, Al Harakatul-Al Islamiyah:  Essays on the Abu Sayyaf Group (Quezon City:  Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, 2009).

[12]Samuel K. Tan, “Beyond Freedom: The Juma’a Abu Sayyaf (Assessment of Its Origins, Objectives, Ideology and Method of Struggle)”, in Internationalization of the Bangsamoro Struggle (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Center for Integrative and Development Studies, 2003), revised edition, p. 96.

[13] For details, see Rommel C. Banlaoi, “The Abu Sayyaf Group: From Mere Banditry to Genuine Terrorism”, in Dalijit Singh and Lorraine Salazar (eds), Southeast Asian Affairs 2006 (Singapore:Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2006), pp. 247-262.

[14]See Rommel C. Banlaoi,“The Sources of Abu Sayyaf’s Resilience in the Southern Philippines”, CTC Sentinel, vol. 3, Issue 5 (May 2010), pp. 17-19.
[15]Kit Collier calls this identity as the “myth of Morohood”. See Kit Collier, “Dynamics of Muslim Separatism in the Philippines” in Damien Kingburry (ed), Violence in Between:  Conflict and Security in the Archipelagic Southeast Asia (Victoria and Singapore:  Monash University Press and Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2005), pp. 155-176.

[16] See Salah Jubair, Bangsamoro: A Nation Under Endless Tyranny (Kuala Lumpur:  IQ Marin SDN BHD, 1999).

[17]This tri-people concept of Bangsamoro identity, however,  is contested.   The Bangsamoro identity may even be regarded as an excellent example of an invented tradition.  See Eric J. Hobsbawm and Terence O. Ranger (eds), The Invention of Traditions (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1983).

[18]Thomas M. Mckenna, Muslim Rulers and Rebels:  Everyday Politics and Armed Separatism in the Southern Philippines (Pasig City:  Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2000).

[19]Samuel K. Tan, The Internationalization of the Bangsamoro Struggle , 2nd printing (Quezon City:  University of the Philippines Center for Integrative and Development Studies, 2003). The MNLF is advancing an independent secular state. But the for the MILF, the ASG, and the BIFM, it should be an independent Islamic state. 

[20]Mehol K. Sadain, Global and Regional Trends in Islamic Resurgence:  Their Implications on the Southern Philippines (Pasay City:  Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies of the Foreign Service Institute, 1994).

[21]See Rommel Banlaoi, “Transnational Islam in the Philippines” in Peter Mandaville, et. al., Transnational Islam in South and Southeast Asia: Movements, Networks, and Conflict Dynamics (Seattle:  National Bureau of Asian Research, 2009), pp. 167-188.

[22]Abhoud Syed M. Lingga, “Bangsamoro Self-Determination” in Peter Kreuzer and Rainer Werning (eds), Voices from Moroland:  Perspectives from Stakeholders and Observers on the Conflict in the Southern Philippines (Petalling Jaya, Malaysia:  Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, 2007), p. 32.

[23]The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, Joint Needs Assessment for Reconstruction and Development of Conflict-Affected Areas in Mindanao:  Volume 5, Local Governance and Institutions Report (Pasig City:  IBRD/WB: 2005), p. 2.

[24]Rizal Buendia, The Politics of Ethnicity and Moro Secessionism in the Philippines (Murdoch University, Working Paper Number 146, November 2007), p. 13.

[25] See Benedicto R. Bacani, Beyond Paper Autonomy:  The Challenge in Southern Philippines (Makati  City and Cotabato City:  Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Center for Autonomy and Governance, 2004).

[26]Astrid Tuminez, “Rebellion, Terrorism, Peace: America’s Unfinished Business with Muslims in the Philippines”, Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume 15, Number 1 (Fall/Winter 2008), p. 214.

[27]For an excellent analysis of this issue, see Eric Guttierez and Saturnino Borras, Jr., The Moro Conflict:  Landlessness and Misdirected State Policies (Washington DC:  East-West Center Policy Studies Number 8, 2004).

[28] See Andrew Tan, “The Indigenous Roots of Conflict in Southeast Asia:  The Case of Mindanao”, in Kumar Ramakrishna and See Seng Tan (eds), After Bali:  The Threat of Terrorism in Southeast Asia (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing and Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, 2003), p. 99.

[29]Ibid., p. 2.

[30]Ibid.  Also see Philippine Human Development Report 2005:  Peace, Human Security and Human Development in the Philippines (Manila:  Human Development Network, 2005).

[31]The World Bank, Social Assessment of Conflict-Affected Areas in Mindanao (Manila:  The World Bank  Philippines Post Conflict Series Number 1, 2003), pp. 9-10.

[32]For a good read on this topic, see Mark Turner, R.J. May and Lulu Respall Turner (eds), Mindanao:  Land of Unfulfilled Promise (Quezon City:  New Day Publishers, 1992).  Also see Bobby Tuazon (ed), The Moro Reader: History and Contemporary Struggles of the Bangsamoro People (Quezon City:  Center for People Empowerment in Governance, 2008).

[33]The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, Joint Needs Assessment for Reconstruction and Development of Conflict-Affected Areas in Mindanao:  Volume 5, Local Governance and Institutions Report (Pasig City:  IBRD/WB: 2005), p. 2.

[34]See United States Agency for International Development, Guide to the Drivers of Violent Extremism (Washington DC:  USAID, 2009).

[35] For an excellent review of existing knowledge on this topic, see Sumuna Das Gupta, “Editorial”, Peace Prints: South Asian Journal of Peacebuilding, No. 3, Vol. 2 (Winter 2010).

Sunday, October 23, 2011



(Originally published in Philippine Star on 21 October 2011)

AMIDST calls from some politicians and military officers to declare another all-out-war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as a result of the gruesome killing of 19 soldiers in a recent military encounter in Al-Barka, Basilan, the incident, in fact, calls for more talks than war.

The Al-Barka incident was a crystal clear proof that waging a war can only unleash ill feelings between Muslims and Christians in the country. 

Rather than bridge the centuries old divide between Muslims and Christians, the brutal use of force can further foment sectarian violence that unnecessarily obstructs the attainment of peace and development in the Philippines.

There is no doubt that grief of the families of the 19 victims is a reason for a national mourning.   The families need justice that they deserve.

But more than 900 Muslim families (with pregnant women, children, and elderly) in four affected villages in Al-Barka town have been currently displaced in the aftermath of the clash. Displaced families due to armed violence also provide a reason for sorrow. They also cry for justice.

More wars mean more killings, more displacements and more destruction of properties.

When the Philippine government declared an all-out-war against the MILF in 2000, it led to the displacement of up to one million people in Mindanao and widespread destruction of billion pesos worth of properties.

But when the Philippine government started peace talks with the MILF in 2004, Mindanao posted a positive growth rate from 2005 to 2007, until military clashes resumed between the military and the MILF in 2008 due to controversies surrounding the now defunct Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).

The problem of armed violence, insurgency and terrorism in Mindanao is not entirely a military problem that warrants an all-out military war. 

The violent conflict in Mindanao is largely a political problem needing a political solution. Finding the right political solution to the Mindanao conflict can only be identified through a protracted process we call peace talks.

A protracted peace process is better than a protracted war.

The Al-Barka incident shall not stop us from giving peace a chance in Mindanao.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011


By Rommel C. Banlaoi

Also published in the Philippine Star on October 10, 2011.

Just few days after the re-arrest of Retired Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, a former Comptroller Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who has been charged of multiple corruption for his unexplained wealth and for holding a U.S. green card while in active service, Newsbreak launched a book, The Enemy Within, on October 5, 2011 to disclose some inside stories on military corruption in the Philippines.

Authored by award-winning investigative journalists - Glenda Gloria, Aries Rufo, and Gemma Bagayaua-Mendoza - The Enemy Within is a fearless expose of major issues that have become the epicenters of corrupt practices in the Philippine military.

Chapter One ,“In the Name of War”,  written by Gloria talks about how men who are tasked to fight internal wars are able to make money (intended to win a war) and enrich themselves.

Chapter Two, “The Epic Failure” by Mendoza, laments how the civilian leaders fail to tame the military from corrupt practices. 

Chapter Three, “How the Big Fish Got Away” by Rufo, discloses how the sense of impunity perpetuates these corrupt practices. 

The Final Chapter, “Making Money, Making Peace” also by Rufo, tells how these corrupt practices have reached military peacekeeping missions abroad.

In theory, military corruption is easy to curb in the armed forces organization because of the military’s rigid system and hierarchical structure.  Fighting military corruption is easier done when the military commanders can lead with utmost integrity and sheer honesty. 

The perennial problem of military corruption occurs when commanders themselves are corrupt.  The situation becomes worse when corrupt commanders can act with impunity amidst their illicit activities because they are protected by equally corrupt civilian leaders. 

Principles of good governance require the civilian authorities to exercise oversight of the military and make the armed forces accountable to democratic processes. 

The Enemy Within aims to disclose the great dilemma on how to fight an enemy when the enemy lies inside the military hierarchy and the civilian bureaucracy. 

Indeed, the enemy within is the hardest enemy to subdue. To paraphrase the old Chinese proverb, “the hardest victory is the victory against the enemy within.”

Thus,  Gloria, the Newsbreak Executive Director, expresses her immense agony when she strongly admits that “writing this book was painful”.

Indeed, nothing is more painful than to write about endemic corruption in the military, an important political institution that should serve as the symbol of our country’s national pride.  Because of the corruption committed by a few bad men in uniform in cahoots with predatory civilian officials, the Philippine military has put our country into a grim reality of national shame. 

The title of the book paints a negative image of AFP and the civilian institutions mandated to oversee it.  But the book, which is a rare masterpiece in Filipino investigative journalism, has the noble intention to make the AFP more transparent and accountable to civilian authorities. 

The authors, in fact, “hope to help an institution confront the enemy within and – with the help of a mature civilian leadership – defeat it.”

Having said this, the book has a great value not only to the wider public seeking good governance but also to academics and scholars analyzing the state of civil-military relations in the Philippines.  

The book valiantly reveals that military corruption persists in a weak political system with problematic civil-military relations.  The corrupted civil-military relation is, in fact, “The Enemy Within”. 

Hence, curbing corruption in the military requires not only a military reform but also a comprehensive transformation of civil-military relations in the Philippines.   

Without a strong civil-military relation where the military is answerable to the democratic control of the equally accountable and transparent civilian authorities, it will be very difficult to defeat the enemy within, and more so in defeating the enemies of the state.  

This inside story on military corruption in the Philippines is a story many times told already in newspapers, talk shows and official investigations. 

But the book is written to tell the inconvenient truth that the “The Enemy Within” poses a greater threat than the enemies of the state. 

If the enemy within is not subdued, the Philippines is doomed to suffer this cycle  of military corruption from generation to generation.