Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has joined Muslim leaders to celebrate Eid al-Fitr which falls at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Duterte spoke of the need to redress past grievances of Philippine Muslims, also known as Moros and to move forward as a united nation made stronger by devolving powers from Imperial Manila to the diverse regions of The Philippines.
In a plea for “peace and love” to triumph over sectarianism and distrust, Duterte who himself has Muslim members of his extended family stated,
“This is in an opportune time to reflect on the progress we have made to achieve long-lasting peace across the country, especially in Mindanao. May this revered festival inspire us all to foster greater unity amidst our differences in faith and culture. Together, let us engage in acts of charity as we steer our nation towards a more progressive and tolerant future”.
Duterte further called on Moros to “praise Allah in thanksgiving for providing our nation the strength to endure the challenges of misguided ideologies, terrorism and violent extremism“, before stating:
“I trust that the sacrifice of Muslim Filipinos during their month-long fasting has rekindled their faith and reawakened their sense of benevolence and empathy towards their fellowmen”.
Duterte has worked tirelessly with leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and its rival group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) along with the Philippine Congress to pass and implement the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which will grant local autonomy to areas of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao and nearby islands with a Muslim majority population.
One of President Duterte’s key election pledges was working to use federal solutions to end the decades long standing Moro conflict in Mindanao that has seen armed insurgents wage war against The Philippines in attempts to create autonomous Islamic political units in parts of Mindanao. Therefore, for Duterte, the push towards implementing the BBL is integral to his wider push for federalism in the country.
Duterte further elaborated on why pan-Philippine federalism will be good not only for Mindanao but for the entire nation. The President stated,
“The time for federalism has come to our country. We have to move away from the style of unitary government. For the time it was good, we were developing as a nation, and history then did not mind the struggles of Christians and Muslims. It’s time for us to understand that they [Muslims] have been victims also of injustice.
We will try to pass the BBL. I hope Chairman Misuari [the leader of MILF] can be convinced to join the talks so that if there are corrections, or maybe additions, or provisions that would not sit well with the rest of the southern part of Mindanao, then maybe we can realise altogether the friction of the MILF, the MNLF, and the rest of Mindanao.
…I am for federalism. I am for peace”.
When all regions and peoples in The Philippines are allowed to take responsibility and enjoy the benefits of their own autonomous economic, cultural and social management, it does not make The Philippines weaker but stronger and more peaceful. This is the crux of Duterte’s wider push for federalism.
In this sense, just as Singapore encouraged Malays, Chinese and Tamil speaking Indians to speak their own languages in their private and personal life, but speak a unifying language for public matters in order to create both strong individual identities and a strong pan-Singaporean identity, so too is Duterte’s federal model good for distinct local cultures, the Moros being just one, while also strengthening the patriotism of all such cultures who all comprise the Filipino nation. In a further example of outreach to insurgents, Duterte also reached out to the far-left terrorist group NPA saying that eventually this fight too will end, emphasising that reconciliation is in the interests of both the Maoist fighters and the government.
The Philippine President has also called for further unity among all the people of Mindanao to fight newly emerging insurgent terrorist groups aligned with Daesh (ISIS). Duterte warned,
“If nobody will give way, it will result in a war. Kindly, if you want, do not do it on my term. If nothing really works out here with the BBL, then give us time. Because I do not want to fight. I do not wage a war against my own countrymen….
…I really cannot accept ISIS’ terrorism. But rebellion of the Moro people to reclaim your motherland, okay, that’s fine with me. Let’s just talk about it”.
Duterte’s pleas for a united front against Daesh terrorism among all Muslims ought to be a message that resonates powerfully throughout Mindanao, as Duterte has previously stated that a united Filipino people will be made not only stronger through federalism but through encouraging all local communities to band together in a fight against common evils including Daesh terrorism, narco-terrorism and violent crime.
In April of this year, Duterte detailed his proposals to integrate Moro rebel groups into the police force and in so doing, helping to unify the common destiny of the country. He stated,
“There will be no regional armed forces or police. I will not agree to that. If we are all Filipinos, why will you have your own army? My army is your army. My police is your police,” the president said. “The (MILF), they can help, they can be absorbed in the armed forces for those willing. So goes with the MNLF. But there will only be one armed forces.
…And if by 2020, we can have a new president or a Moro president for the Republic of the Philippines, the better for us. After all, that person would be a Filipino”.
Duterte’s genuine hope not only for lasting peace among all Filipinos but for lasting prosperity for the nation as a whole, will ultimately be incomplete without federalism and furthermore without the creation of a parliamentary democracy to replace the currently broken presidential/congressional system.
Duterte’s successful war on narcotics, his ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure initiative, his reforms to end bureaucracy in the tax system and labour market, his historic rapprochement with China and his multipolar/non-aligned foreign policy will ultimately not stand the test of time unless systematic reforms to the political infrastructure of the country are made with urgency.
A federal parliamentary system remains the best way to insure peace and prosperity for future generations of Filipinos. This will create peace not only in Mindanao but will transform the country in totality, thus ending decades of political corruption, deadlock and economic hardship.