President: CORAZON C. AQUINO February 25, 1986 to June 30, 1992
Chief of Staff: General Fidel V. Ramos, Philippine Constabulary February 25, 1986 to January 23, 1988
February 25, 1986
Corazon C. Aquino became President amidst a popular revolt against the Marcos dictatorship. In a February 2006 interview, Misuari recalled that he “… was naturally very, very much elated to welcome the dawn of democracy, the dawn of a new life for our people.” He added, “We contributed to the transformation of this country from a repressive regime.” The weight of this contribution to the defeat of President Marcos has not been studied. However, the deep involvement of Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr., in the quest for social justice for the Muslims of the Philippines was taken up and continued by his family in the next decades.
May 1986 and September 5, 1987
President Aquino visited Jolo to meet Nur Misuari, against the advice of her brass. Misuari was given a safe conduct pass under the sponsorship of the President’s brother-in-law, Butz Aquino. The September 5 meeting was described in part by The New York Times: “Setting aside protocol in what she said was a demonstration of her sincerity, Mrs. Aquino flew to this southern island to meet with the chieftain, Nur Misuari, who returned this week from a 10-year exile in Saudi Arabia.” The report added: “In their discussions in a convent sitting room, which were overheard by several reporters, both participants made a point of the lengths to which they had gone in order to take part in the meeting. ‘I came here all the way in the quest of peace, despite the objections of my own armed forces, to reach out to my Moslem brothers,’ the President was heard to say. Mr. Misuari was reported to have replied, ‘It was not easy for me either to get permission from the Moslem people to come here.’ He talked about the bad faith of the Government of Ferdinand E. Marcos, which signed what is known as the Tripoli Agreement in 1976 granting autonomy to 13 Moslem provinces and then reneged on its terms.”
October 20, 1986
During a visit to Mindanao, speaking to a predominantly Muslim audience, President Aquino articulated her policy concerning paramilitary action: “Rest assured therefore that any provision against paramilitary protection of the public safety will be respected only after adequate provision is made for the safety of all communities by other means, even if it takes a larger military establishment to do it. We must, in principle, yield to the public clamor for more responsible guardians of public order than the CHDFs have proved to be, but we will never compromise on the safety of our people, and the protection of their rights and liberties. It is unfortunate that the bad elements in these forces have brought a general discredit to the concept of community-based defense forces. But the over-all aim of community protection against subversion and terrorism remains our first priority and the paramount and exclusive duty and prerogative of the national government.”
The Office of Muslim Affairs and Cultural Communities was abolished and the Aquino government issued three Executive Orders creating three distinct and separate offices, as follows: E.O. No. 122-A, creating the Office on Muslim Affairs (OMA); E.O. 122-B, creating the Office for Northern Cultural Communities (ONCC); and E.O. 122-C, creating the Office for Southern Cultural Communities (OSCC). These three Offices were attached to the Office of the President.
January 3, 1987
Nur Misuari and Philippine government representatives arrived at an agreement in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on the conduct of future talks.
January 3, 1987
The Jeddah Accord was promulgated. The United Nations summarized it thus: “This agreement seeks to create a Joint Commission which will discuss and draft the mechanism and details of the proposal to grant full autonomy to Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Palawan. It also calls for the creation of provincial committees to monitor and implement the cessation of hostilities between the Philippines Government and the MNLF.” It was signed by MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari and Aquilino Pimentel, Jr., Chairman of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines Panel; and witnessed by a representative of the Organization of Islamic Conference.
February 2, 1987
A new Constitution of the Philippines, crafted by an appointed Constitutional Commission, and ratified by an overwhelming majority in plebiscite, set forth the creation of autonomous regions in the Cordilleras and Muslim Mindanao.
In Davao City, right-wing vigilantes emerged as an organic, anti-communist network. It was widely understood that Alsa Masa, the first clearly defined group of such kind, formed in reaction to leftist “revolutionary taxes” and summary executions that targeted the poor, for instance in the neighborhood of Agdao. Alsa Masa and copycat groups would almost immediately deploy terror tactics, including propagandistic beheadings of known communists — and thus these groups were associated, in the public imagination, with the ilagâ of previous decades. President Aquino and her AFP Chief of Staff, Fidel V. Ramos, both endorsed vigilante groups at the earlier stages of this development (or, resurrection out of its original anti-Muslim stance).
From a news report in the United Kingdom’s The Telegraph, published on December 2, 1987: “Residents say that since the time of deposed President Ferdinand Marcos, certain military officials have openly cultivated some of the cults, deputizing members as government militiamen and giving them firearms to fight the rebels. Some of them, like the machete-wielding Tadtad, have made a virtual religion of anti-communism and continue their practices although Mr. Marcos was ousted and replaced 21 months ago by President Corazon Aquino. Military field commanders in Mindanao admit that the fanatical groups are useful to the counter-insurgency drive but the Manila authorities disown the cults and reject any official contact with them.” A recent study by a Roman Catholic group showed that “seven main cults and dozens of smaller organisations across Mindanao had an estimated total of 75,000 members.”
Senator Ramon Revilla, Sr., produced and played the lead role in a feature film based on the life of Kumander Toothpick. The movie played up Toothpick’s anti-hero character.
May 8, 1987
Habib M. Hashim, Chairman of the MNLF Panel, at a press conference: “We came to Manila upon invitation of the Philippine Government thinking that with the sincerity at last, the lasting peaceful political solution could at last be reached. And that while our people may not totally be free, at least we would be able to breathe the air of freedom and the same with our brother, the brother Filipinos, too. But unfortunately, in view of the so-called constitutional constraints, the Philippine Panel was not able to agree with us and grant us our demands. Nevertheless, on behalf of my Panel and the MNLF leadership, we have the highest respect for his Excellency, Emmanuel Pelaez. If ever we have not reached an agreement, it is not because the President herself or perhaps the members of the Government Panel are not really determined to grant us the demand that we have requested; it is because perhaps of the legal technicalities and the constitutional constraints.”
June 22, 1987
President Aquino’s Executive Order 229 outlined her government’s plans for comprehensive agrarian reform.
Peace talks broke down as the Philippine government unilaterally implements the autonomy mandate in the newly approved Constitution. The points of disagreement were the various interpretations of the Tripoli Agreement and the Jeddah Accord.
August 11, 1987
President Aquino signed Administrative Order No. 30 creating the Office of the Peace Commissioner (OPC) to exercise coordinative functions over the peace efforts and the Joint Executive-Legislative Peace Council. President Aquino’s term, however, ended without the MNLF returning to the peace talks.
June 10, 1988
Chief of Staff: General Renato de Villa, Philippine Constabulary January 23, 1988 to January 23, 1991
The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) was promulgated through Republic Act No. 6657, known as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL). Explicitly articulating its combined social justice and economic development agendas, the law provides for assistance to beneficiaries, over and above the land grants. Mindanao covers 40% of the total land distribution in CARP. Evaluation of CARP until 2000, however, has indicated troubled and inadequate implementation.
1988 to 1989
The Afghan War against the Soviet invasion of 1979 ended and the thousands of mujahedeen mobilized from all over the world to assist in this war started dispersing back into their countries of origin. There are no precise figures fixing the number of Muslims from the Philippines who were mujahedeen in Afghanistan, but reliable estimates indicate 200 volunteers. It is also widely believed in the global strategic studies community that Osama bin Laden’s fortune funded the recruitment of willing volunteers through the entirety of the anti-Soviet war.
1988 to 2000
Writing in 2006, political scientist professor Carolina Hernandez: “Thus, in dealing with the communist insurgency and Moro separatism, the military’s institutional response has often showed the effects of a balance of power vis-à-vis the civilian authority continuing to tilt on its side. While the general security policy is decided by the executive branch with the support or concurrence of the legislature, actual implementation of the security policy rests in the hands of the military. In this process, its own institutional interest could get in the way of a more faithful implementation of the declared policy. For example, President Corazon C. Aquino’s preference for the peaceful path to resolve the communist insurgency and Moro separatism was undermined by the military’s preference for a military solution. This difference in preferences became one of the principal grievances of the rebel military that was used to justify coup attempts against the government during the 1980s.”
August 1, 1989
The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was created through Republic Act No. 6734 (otherwise known as the Organic Act). Based on 1990 statistics, ARMM had a population of 2,108,061 at its start. This would increase to 2,803,045 in 2000, that is, a decade later.
November 17, 1989
A plebiscite for ratification followed the enactment of the Organic Act of August 1, 1989; held in the provinces of Basilan, Cotabato, Davao del Norte, Davao Oriental, Davao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Palawan, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Norte, and Zamboanga del Sur; and in the cities of Cotabato, Davao, Dapitan, Dipolog, General Santos, Koronadal, Iligan, Marawi, Pagadian, Puerto Princesa, and Zamboanga. Only four provinces voted for inclusion: Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.
End of the 1980s
The total foreign aid allocation for agrarian reform totaled US$2.9 billion or 22% of all foreign assistance. According to one study: “It may be incorrect to attribute the reproduction and growth of poverty and the prevailing armed conflict in Mindanao to the CARP’s flaws and incompletion or to the inadequacies in the implementation of IPRA. But there are compelling arguments to demand a rethinking of the land policy and recognize the oversight of restorative justice in the program’s social justice orientation. While it is difficult to quantify the costs of compensating the historical losses accrued by aggrieved sectors, reform policies should take cognizance of the need for an appropriate response.”
The National Artist for Film, Lino Brocka, finished his movie, “Orapronobis,” which makes overt reference to the killing and cannibalism of Fr. Tullio Favali in 1985. The movie endeavored to represent the complex developments that emerged from Mindanao’s history under Marcos, including murderous rampages by amulet-bearing cultists against both Muslims and suspected communist rebels.
December 1 to 9, 1989
Led by the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), which inadvertently helped install Corazon Aquino to the presidency in 1986, this most serious of seven consecutive coups d’état against the Aquino presidency got so far as an attack on Malacañan Palace; and the serious wounding of Aquino’s son, Benigno III. The most public face of the coup was Colonel Gregorio Honasan, who served with the 1st Composite Infantry Battalion of the AFP from 1972 to 1974. Wounded in the battles of Lebak, Jolo, and Zamboanga, a mythic hero status accreted around him. Before he rebelled against her, President Aquino awarded him three Gold Cross Medals for bravery. The right-wing rebellions associated with Honasan, RAM, and their enabler, the Marcos Martial Law architect Juan Ponce Enrile, publicly rejected Aquino’s accommodation with communist and Muslim insurgents.
October 4, 1990
A new crisis in Mindanao was fomented by Col. Alexander Noble, a veteran of the wars waged during the Marcos regime against Muslim separatists and a member of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) that staged coup attempts against the Aquino administration. Noble declared an independent Federal Republic of Mindanao, from garrisons he had taken over in Butuan City and Cagayan de Oro City. It was reported formally and informally that the military veterans of the Mindanao wars were disappointed to the point of rebellion, with, among other issues, the Aquino administration’s handling of the Mindanao secessionist contest with the State; and that there was little appreciation nor understanding of the AFP’s military triumphs in that theater of war. Noble styled himself as a tribal leader (adopted), and staged his rebellion with supporters from the Manobo-speaking peoples called Higaonon. His rebellion was over within days, but the restiveness of RAM persisted, expressed in a range of political and military initiatives.
November 6, 1990
ARMM was inaugurated in Cotabato City, which became the seat of the regional government. It consisted of 83 municipalities and 2,126 barangays, with a land area of 1,199,647 hectares. Of this hectarage, 46.7% was, at that time, classified as alienable and disposable, 53.22% timberland, and 5.32% unclassified.
The first ARMM election was held. The first Regional Governor-elect was Atty. Zacaria Candao who took his oath of office and commenced the formal operation of the ARMM. On April 2, 1993, Lininding P. Pangandaman was elected as the second Regional Governor, following the administration of Atty. Candao. Much hope was vested in ARMM as the long-term solution to the Mindanao conflict.
Chief of Staff: General Rodolfo Biazon, Philippine Marine Corps January 24, 1991 to April 12, 1991
General Lisandro Abadia, Philippine Army April 12, 1991 to April 12, 1994
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) formed and created a foothold in the islands of Jolo and Basilan. They have since carried out kidnappings, bombings, assassination, and extortion, but described themselves as fighters for an independent Islamic state. The group has since been classified internationally as a terrorist organization. The ASG founder, Abdulrazzak Janjalani, who fought as a mujahid against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, was killed in 1998. His brother Khaddafy Janjalani was then regarded, at least nominally, as the group’s leader. Informed sources agree that the ASG received funding from Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda — a network of fundamentalist organizations in many countries — and had hosted and worked with Jemaah Islamiyah, a pan-Southeast Asian clandestine organization globally classified as terrorist.
Within a year of its commencement, the work of Middle Eastern jihadists in the Philippines and Malaysia was discovered by the Philippine intelligence community and its police. The main figures of this militant movement have been on the run since 1991.
President: FIDEL V. RAMOS June 30, 1992 to June 30, 1998
From TIME Magazine in 2009: “In the early 1990s, Osama bin Laden’s brother- in-law funneled money into Abu Sayyaf through a fake Islamic charity in the Philippines. Abu Sayyaf, which means “barrier of the sword,” carried out its first attack in 1991, killing two American evangelists with grenades on the southern island of Mindanao. As the 1990s unfolded, the group’s body count in Mindanao steadily rose. In 1994 the Philippine army blamed Abu Sayyaf for a series of bombings in the Philippine city of Zamboanga that killed 71. The following year, Abu Sayyaf raided the town of Ipil, leaving 53 dead, and in 1998 a grenade attack on a department store injured 60.”
The Mindanao population consisted of a non-Muslim majority, with Muslims accounting for 18.9% and indigenous peoples, 5.1%, according to the National Statistics Office.
September 1, 1992
Soon after his election to the presidency, Fidel V. Ramos created the Philippines National Unification Commission (NUC) to primarily conduct a nationwide consultative process with all armed groups engaging the State.
The MNLF had misgivings about the Organic Act, but the group allowed for an important social experiment to transpire. The Act provided for a three-year Phase I, envisioned as a transition period, at the start of which was established, through an executive order, the Special Zone of Peace and Development (SZOPAD), the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD), and the Consultative Assembly. It was also stipulated that former MNLF guerrillas would be integrated into the AFP and the PNP.
According to official records of the Office of the Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process: “It took the NUC six months to conduct a nationwide program of public consultations to gather inputs for the formulation of a peace process. Assisted by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, the Commission held consultations in seventy-one out of seventy-six provinces. During this time as well, talks were rekindled with MNLF, and MILF signified willingness to enter into negotiations.”
The Philippine Government signed a Joint Ceasefire Agreement with the MNLF.
It was estimated that at this juncture, the war had cost the Philippines over US$3 billion since it began in 1972.
July 31, 1993
The NUC finished its recommendations. Of the document, Miriam Coronel Ferrer wrote: “The document legitimized and validated the long-existing demands of social movements and progressive sections of civil society: the need for comprehensive reforms to address structural inequalities and achieve lasting peace.” She added: “Despite its shortcomings, including the diffuse nature of the consulted groups and the exclusion of others, the NUC’s report was groundbreaking in recognizing poverty and inequality as the primary causes of conflict…” Furthermore: “The process reinvigorated the peace process, raised public awareness, helped crystallize a network of peace organizations and made public consultation a part of governance.”
September 15, 1993
President Ramos, following the NUC recommendations, signed Executive Order No. 125, “charting the 3 Principles Underlying the Comprehensive Peace Process” and “the 6 paths to peace.” It established a cabinet-level Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (PAPP) to manage and supervise the comprehensive peace process, and the creation of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).
Chief of Staff: General Arturo Enrile, Philippine Army April 15, 1994 to November 28, 1996
The Joint Ceasefire Ground Rules between the MNLF and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRPH) was settled. This 1994 MNLF-GRPH Joint Ceasefire Ground Rules, which was still in effect as of 2011, allowed the MNLF to possess and carry firearms in the 13 provinces stipulated in the Tripoli Agreement and for MNLF officials to carry side-arms when moving in areas outside the said 13 provinces.
December 11, 1994
Philippine Airlines Flight 434, from Manila to Tokyo with stop over at Cebu City, was saved after a bomb exploded inside the plane while it was flying above an area near Okinawa. The bomb was the work of Ramzi Yousef, who had spent some time in the Philippine south training members of the ASG and MILF in bomb-making. Philippine police and intelligence operatives alerted their international counterparts to Yousef. After further coordinated intelligence work in several continents, Yousef was arrested in Pakistan and sent to the US, where he was tried and convicted of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City and of the PAL bombing. Yousef led myriad plans to blow up airliners over US cities.
Some 200 heavily armed members of the ASG attacked Ipil, Zamboanga del Sur. More than 50 soldiers, police officers, and civilians were killed. The ASG would gain international notoriety five years later with the kidnapping of 20 civilians, mostly foreign tourists, on Sipadan Island (Malaysia) on April 23, 2000.
September 13, 1995
The Muslim Autonomy Act No. 25, or the Act Providing for a Local Government Code for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, was passed by the Second Legislative Assembly of ARMM. The principles of decentralization and operation were set forth, aligning ARMM with the Philippines’ Local Government Code.
September 2, 1996
The Peace Agreement between the MNLF and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines was signed by Nur Misuari, Chairman of the MNLF negotiating panel, and Ambassador Manuel T. Tan, Chairman of the GRP panel, on behalf of President Ramos. The Agreement ended what had already been a twenty-four-year war in Mindanao. It was witnessed by H.E. Mr. Ali Alatas Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia/Chairman of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). Ministerial Committee of the Six H.E. Dr. Hamid Al-Gabid, the OIC Secretary-General. According to one study: “The GRP-MNLF Peace Agreement in 1996 was partly induced by aid offerings if and when the agreement was signed. The World Bank alone committed [US]$10 million for the Special Zone of Peace and Development (SZOPAD), the mythical zone of peace to which post-conflict assistance was delivered in partnership with the MNLF and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). USAID was also significantly active, having poured in $292 million between 1996 and 2006 with aid levels gearing up after 9/11. USAID assistance soared from $90.6 million in 1996 to 2001 to $242 million annually from 2002 to 2006.”
October 21, 1996
As instructed by the Peace Agreement of September 1996, Executive Order 371 established the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD). It was intended towards “full implementation of the Tripoli Agreement.” Nur Misuari was the first head of this body, concurrent with his position as elected Governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The SPCPD was to: “take charge of the promotion, monitoring, and coordination of the improvement of peace and order in the area; to focus on peace and development efforts, especially in the depressed areas and initiate the implementation of appropriate projects; to support the local government units, when needed; to use other powers needed to implement its mandate as may be delegated by the President; to assist in the holding of elections, referenda, or plebiscite, and peoples’ initiative in the area, if deputized by the Commission on Elections upon the recommendation of the President; and to recommend the creation of such offices or instrumentalities necessary for the effective and efficient administration of the affairs of the area.”
1996 to 2002
Nur Misuari served as ARMM Governor from 1996 to 2002. Of his term, historians Patricio Abinales and Donna Amoroso wrote in 2005 that “…instead of transforming ARMM into an authority reflecting the ideals of the MNLF, Nur Misuari and his comrades did little to change its “oversized and mostly inept bureaucracy of 19,000 employees.” In fact, MNLF leaders were soon accused of contributing to its characteristic waste and corruption.” The historians added their supposition that “State capacity has been particularly weak where personnel are former guerrillas;” continuing to say that “institution-building programs are being done by the Australian, Japanese, and US governments, among others.”
Second half of the 1990s
It was estimated that, at this juncture, the war had cost the Philippines over US$3 billion since it began in 1972.
Chief of Staff: General Arnulfo Acedera, Philippine Air Force November 28, 1996 to December 31, 1997
Datu Ismail “Toto” Paglas entered into an agreement with the multinational consortium represented in the Philippines by Oribanex. A total of 1,500 hectares of land in the general area of Buluan, Maguindanao, was leased to Oribanex, which in turn made an investment of US$27 million, the largest foreign direct investment in Muslim Mindanao. The banana plantation became La Frutera Inc., co-managed by the Unifrutti Group (Chiquita International) and the Ultrex Group, into which Oribanex evolved. According to a case study, “Datu Toto convinced MILF soldiers and sympathizers to work on the land instead of taking up arms…. Nearly ninety percent of employees were hired from local communities.” An excerpt from The Wall Street Journal in 2002: “At the center of this area’s turnaround is a highly unusual business venture that brings together Saudi traders, Israeli farming experts, Chiquita, and top MILF commanders. The result, La Frutera Inc., is the largest foreign-investment project in the Philippines’ Muslim autonomous region.” The operations have not had a single incident of violence since its commencement and have been the subject of intense study by development agencies. However, well into the 21st C, its example has yet to be followed by other investors and protagonists in the struggle for peace and prosperity in Mindanao.
October 29, 1997
Republic Act No. 8371, the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA), was promulgated. With its creation of the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), IPRA institutionalized changes in the State’s land administration structure. NCIP has since been put in charge of an estimated five million hectares of ancestral lands (approximately 16% of the national territory). The law states the operative spirit: “…land, inland waters, coastal areas and natural resources therein held under a claim of ownership, occupied or possessed…by their ancestors communally or individually since time immemorial…” and… “ancestral lands, forests, pasture, residential, agricultural and other lands individually owned whether alienable or disposable or otherwise, hunting grounds, burial grounds, worship areas, bodies of water, mineral and other natural resources and lands which may no longer be exclusively occupied…”
May 26, 1999
President: JOSEPH EJERCITO ESTRADA June 30, 1998 to January 20, 2001
Chief of Staff: General Joselino Nazareno, Philippine Army
The Philippine Senate signed the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which allowed the US military wide berth in participating, both covertly and otherwise, in the Philippine military’s anti-insurgency and anti-terrorism planning and training. American troops and vehicles were allowed unrestricted access to the Philippines. “Balikatan” — joint military exercises that would include Australian troops during the next decade — was a major project of the VFA and would be held often in Mindanao.
October 23, 1999
Chief of Staff: General Angelo Reyes, Philippine Army July 8, 1999 to March 17, 2001
Several hundred thousand Muslims turned up for a series of rallies called “Rally for Peace and Justice” held in Cotabato City and Davao City on October 23; in Marawi City on October 24; and in Isabela, Basilan on December 7. The manifesto issued during these rallies asserted, “We believe that the only just, viable and lasting solution to the problem of our turbulent relationship with the Philippine government is the restoration of our freedom, liberty and independence which were illegally and immorally usurped from us, and that we be given a chance to establish a government in accordance with our political culture, religious beliefs and social norms.”
Two respected analysts wrote in the journal Accord: “In March 1999, the outlook for a successful transition is bleak. There is widespread disappointment in Mindanao with the results of the Agreement and the new administration of President Joseph Estrada is taking a more aggressive stance to rebel groups. Amid the tensions, the responsibility for resolving conflicts at community level and promoting cross-cultural understanding has fallen disproportionately on the shoulders of civil society groups.” It is for this reason that peace-building skills at the grassroots level came to be disproportionately well-developed among Mindanao’s civil society groups, in the forthcoming decade, in contrast to government capability.
March 21, 2000
President Estrada declared an “all-out war” against the MILF. Within three months, the principal MILF base, Camp Abubakar, in Barira, Maguindanao, fell to the AFP. “The government has captured the hive but the angry bees have escaped and are regrouping to attack,” a Moro National Liberation Front official reportedly said.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) asked President Estrada to negotiate a ceasefire with the MILF, even as the battles were ongoing. The President declined. He thought a ceasefire would lead to more “terrorist attacks.”
July 10, 2000
A news report said: “Estrada himself entered the surrendered MILF Camp Abubakar to raise the Philippine flag. The 2,500-hectare stronghold of Salamat Hashim yielded to a month-long offensive that notably included the bombing and take-over of this and twenty-five satellite MILF Camps. President Estrada declared that after this military offensive, he would focus on the root cause of the rebellion, which he concluded is poverty.”
July 15, 2000
President Estrada ordered the military to arrest top MILF leaders
Writing after a decade, a columnist for a major broadsheet recalled the Estrada gambit: “The MILF doesn’t operate under conventional warfare where certain territories MUST be held at all costs. It’s engaged in guerrilla warfare and that mandates that the MILF fighters have to remain fluid, easily regrouping their units for an attack or dispersing to avoid heavy casualties. The MILF knew that defending Camp Abubakar would have resulted in too many casualties on their side. Following the dictum of guerrilla warfare, they opted to cede the camp and regroup elsewhere. Estrada’s predecessor, President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR), had a better perspective towards the MILF secessionist rebellion. FVR allowed them to hold territories. He constructed a highway that runs deep into MILF territory that was heralded as the start of development in the area. More than the development, what FVR was constructing was a highway that could improve AFP access to the MILF fronts.” The columnist surmised: “Where Estrada pursued an all- out war, FVR, a former soldier, pursued all-out peace.”
The all-out war strategy ordered by President Estrada directly affected a million-some Mindanao residents in terms of death, displacement, damage to property, ill health, enduring poverty, and dismal ratings on the international Human Development Index. However, President Estrada, until 2015, has insisted that the result of the 2010 presidential elections, when he won over President Benigno Aquino III in 12 provinces in Mindanao, is evidence of Mindanao’s approval of the war he waged in 2000.
After the well-publicized attack on and takeover of MILF’s Camp Abubakar by the AFP, the MILF forces occupied Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte. Muslim residents pointed out that, aside from ransacking the police headquarters, the MILF did not damage civilian and government property. In this respect, they also pointed out the use of blanket fire by the AFP during the clearing operations and of arson by Christian participants.
The United Nations in the Philippines provides the figure of 932,000 internally displaced people (IDP) as a direct outcome of the all-out war. Furthermore, wrote an analyst: “While the Estrada’s military offensives successfully overran a number of MILF strongholds, the group’s military wing known as the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) remained largely intact and retained a capacity to wage guerrilla warfare.”
As in 1986, another generation of ilagâ emerged from the obscurity into which the Christian militias were partially concealed during the decades since the mid-1980s. They made threats during the Estrada offensive against the MILF, regrouped, and swore to defend their property from the “barbaric” Muslims. The ilagâ culture of terror had not disappeared.
December 30, 2000
Bombings occurred in several areas of Metro Manila, in close succession within the day. These “Rizal Day Bombings,” which killed 22 and injured more than a hundred, occurred in a Light Rail Transit cab at the Blumentritt station; on a bus along EDSA; at the cargo handling area of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport; at a gasoline station in Makati’s central business district; and at Plaza Ferguson in Malate, Manila. Members of the Jemaah Islamiyah were arrested and charged with multiple murder within the next decade and a half. The MNLF and the MILF were cleared of suspicion and charges.