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November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
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From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek

MARCH 31, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 12

E X T E N D E D I N T E R V I E W
Salamat Hashim Speaks

The Muslim separatist rebel leader wants "the East Timor formula"


Antonio Lopez for Asiaweek
Hashim is still pressing for nothing less than full independence

Just days before Philippine President Joseph Estrada ordered an all-out offensive against the separatists Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the southern island of Mindanao, Asiaweek Senior Correspondent Antonio Lopez secured an interview with MILF leader Salamat Hashim. As fighting raged in the neighboring province of Lanao del Norte, about 200 kms away, Hashim, 57, talked with Lopez in Camp Abubakar, the front's sprawling main redoubt deep in the jungle in the town of Barira, Lanao del Sur. Extended excerpts from their two-hour conversation:

Give me some details about your personal circumstances.
I was born in what used to be Cotabato province and which is now Maguindanao, to a peasant father, Hashim, now dead. I finished my elementary in Maguindanao. In 1959, I went to the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt where I finished my secondary schooling in Arabic, my degree in basic slamic studies and my masters degree in philosophy. I completed the required units for a doctorate in Islamic studies. My thesis, which took me three years to research, was burned in late 1973 when the military attacked our house in Pagaroan, Cotabato (now Maguindanao).. The subject of my thesis was the rise of Islam in Southeast Asi I saw the spread of Islam in this region. The prophet Mohamad emphasized that this religion will prevail in the world, whether people like it or not, because it is the religion of Alah. Islam was born in this country in 1310. But there is evidence that Islam came to the Philippines even before that. I was abroad for 21 years, from 1959 to 1970. I spent most of time in Cairo. After martial law was declared in 1972, I stayed in Libya for a few years and after that, in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan for a few years. In the late 1960s. brother Nur Misuari and I organized the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to counter the Ilagas, the movement of non-Muslims who were killings Muslims, including children, burning their houses, schools, and mosques. Muslims were asking for help from the government but they were ignored. So we felt it necessary to establish a group that will defend the security of Muslims.

In 1973, heavy fighting broke out between the MNLF and the government. The Philippine government, under Marcos, launched massive offensives against the Muslim people here in our are Some sympathizers, Muslim countries and headed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), asked the Philippine government asked the government to solve the matter peacefully. In 1975, negotiations were conducted and I headed the MNLF negotiating panel. In 1976, brother Nur Misuari signed the Tripoli Agreement (which provided for autonomy in 13 provinces in Mindanao). I consider the Tripoli Agreement a trap, so I separated from the MNLF and put up my own group. By 1978, the Moro Islamic Liberaton Front was full-fledged organization. I married late, to Zenaid I have five children, the eldest is 12, the youngest is two. I pray five times a day which is the usual Muslim practice. I wake up at 3:30 in the morning, do some exercises and walking around the camp, have breakfast of bread and honey, work, pray, have lunch of half-cooked vegetables and fish and little rice, rest for 30 minutes after lunch, meet with my commanders. At 11 pm. I go to bed. I have had some military training. I sometimes carry a baby armalite.

 
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Why did you say the Tripoli Agreement was trap?
There's nothing there. It does not contain any substantial issues. It does not guarantee the security and future of our people. And there was the provision that everything must done through constitutional processes, which means nothing can be achieved because everything must be referred to Congress. If everything is referred to Congress, there would never be any agreement. I felt that was not the solution to the problem.

But constitutional processes are basic to democracy.
Yes, but what we are solving is the problem of rebellion. I believe in democracy but not Philippine democracy. I don't know if there is something wrong with Philippine democracy in Luzon and the Visayas (the two other major geographical regions of the archipelago), but here in our area, I cannot accept Philippine democracy.

What's an ideal agreement?
An agreement that will guarantee the security and future of our people. Not only the future of our people but the future of the coming generation. We believe that the only solution to the problem of the Bangsa Moro people that can be workable is for them to regain their immorally and illegally usurped freedom of self-determination. We believe that any solution to the problem of our people disregarding the problem of self-determination cannot work. We tried this with the Tripoli Agreement. It couldn't work. During the time of President Ramos, there was some autonomy tried but it didn't work. We tried the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao [ARMM]. It didn't solve the problem. The SPCPD [Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development] is there. It didn't solve the problem. Why? Because the real problem was not addressed.

What is the real problem?
The real problem is that when the Philippine government was granted independence by America in 1946, the Bangsa Moro people felt that instead of becoming free, they instead lost their freedom. Before the establishment of the Philippine government by by western imperialists, the Bangsa Moro people were independent. They had their sultanates or independent principalities in Sulu and Maguindanao which were united by alliance and cooperation. The Bangsa Moro people felt that when their homeland was annexed to the Philippine government, the freedom they enjoyed was entirely lost. So this the problem we want the Philippine government to address.

How can the Philippine government address this?
This is why we are negotiating with the government. We want the Philippine government to pave the way for a peaceful and democratic solution to the problem of our people. The question is quite simple. Just ask the Bangsa Moro people whether they want independence, autonomy or federalism. This can be done through a referendum in the areas still dominated by the Bangsa Moro people, although we that historically, the entire island of Mindanao belongs to us. But we are practical. Because of the influx of immigrants from Luzon and the Visayas, we know that many areas now are dominated by settlers from Luzon and the Visayas and therefore, we are no longer claiming those territories.

So we want the referendum to be conducted in these areas like the provinces of Maguindanao, , Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi. Aside from these five provinces, there are municipalities where the Muslims are still the majority, like one-half of the municipalities of Lanao del Sur, some towns in North Cotabato like Pikit and Carmen, and some more. People in these areas, Muslims and non-Muslims, can participate. A real referendum should be conducted by a third party, if possible the United Nations. If the people reject independence, we will respect it. We cannot oppose the will of the people. We are with the people, we listen to the people.

The Philippine government is pretending to solve the problem. We believe that with the approach of the Philippine government, it cannot solve the problem. It wants to tell us, the Bangsa Moro people, this is your problem and this is the solution. If thePhilippine government really wants to solve the problem, then why not ask the people, what is your problem and what is the solution. The problem is the lack of self-determination and the loss of freedom. After the loss of self-determination and the loss of freedom, so many other problems have arisen. Discrimination, injustices, negligence. Since the grant of independence by America in 1946, most parts of the country have bee developed. But our areas have not been developed.

There were some government projects in our area but we feel these projects are intended to exploit our natural resources without the benefit to the native inhabitants. For example, several logging companies are operating here, drawing billions and billions from our are But nothing for our people. Like in the town of Barira, logging is going on and billions are being taken away from the are But Barira has no municipal hall, no roads, no water, no electricity, nothing.

How do you define self-determination?
You cannot have self-determination without full freedom. To make it very simple, our demand is independence. It means having a separate territory, a separate government, a separate armed forces, the power to tax, the power to exploit our natural resources, the power to conduct foreign affairs, the power to negotiate with other countries, including Manila.

That's very difficult to grant.
We know that. But we feel it is our right to demand for independence. The only way to solve the problem permanently is to give the Bangsa Moro people independence. Make them free. We want the East Timor formul The East Timor formula is asking the East Timorese whether they wanted independence or autonomy. So they voted for independence. If East Timor became independent, why not our people?

Independence can be the subject of negotiations. If the Philippine government can show us something that can address the problem of our people, then we do not close our doors. We will consider the possibility of signing a temporary agreement -- before independence. I have emphasized this to many government officials coming here. If there is a formula submitted by the Philippine government and that formula is acceptable to us because it addresses the problem of the Bangsa Moro people, then we will consider signing a temporary agreement. By temporary, we mean we want to see it first. We do not want a trap. Brother Misuari himself has told me that he was told. I am reasonable and flexible about this matter. We cannot be not reasonable. Everybody is reasonable. But everybody has his own principles.

Why did you stage a rebellion against the government?
Simply because of discrimination. Inspite of the fact that we were the native inhabitants of the area, we felt discrimination, injustices, oppression against our people. The natural resources of our area were being exploited not for the benefit of the native inhabitants.

Why would rebellion solve the problem of lack of self-determination, lack of freedom of and the discrimination against of Muslim Filipinos?
Our long experience with the Philippine government after her independence in 1946 convinced us to launch this rebellion because of the feeling of discrimination, injustices, oppression against our people and exploitation of natural resources without benefit to inhabitants in the are We felt that the only thing we can do is to revolt against the Philippine government. We have tried peaceful means. We have signed several petitions to the Philippine government asking the government to address our problems here-the problem of ignorance and the rampant injustices by the military against our people. We felt the government didn't want to listen to our demands. So we were forced to organize this struggle against the Philippine government. We have lost all hopes to enjoy a better life, to enjoy justice, to be treated as a friend people under the Philippine government. There is no more way. This is an act of desperation.

Why do say the ARMM is a failure?
The nature of the ARMM is that it cannot work. Even if you put an angel, the most honest man there, it will not work because the ARMM is not given the necessary powers of government. Towns are even stronger than the ARMM because the mayor of a municipality can command the local police, while Misuari cannot even command the police to act as the security of the ARMM because the police gets their orders from the national government.

Do you consider the Estrada administration sincere?
I consider the administration sincere in solving the problems of the Philippines. As to whether he's sincere in solving the problem of the Bangsa Moro people. If he is sincere, then we can achieve a viable and lasting solution to the problem of the Bangsa Moro people. If not, then we cannot solve the problem.

President Estrada says he will never allow the dismemberment of Philippine territory.
Every Philippine president says that. No president can afford not to say that. He is the president of the Philippines and he has the right to say that. It is the practice of all countries to give priority to national interest. And maybe, the national interest of a country does not include dismemberment.

Do you favor dismemberment of Philippine territory?
If the will of the people says so, why not? Our people have already expressed it several times. They want it. They believe that that is not against the Philippine constitution. They believe that the homeland of the Bangsa Moro people was annexed illegally and immorally. The people here in the area were never asked whether they want to join the independent government. So there is no reason why we cannot demand for the regaining of our freedom and self-determination.

You refer to Mindanao as these areas, if as you don't recognize it as part of the Philippines.
Of course, we never recognized Mindanao as part of the Philippines because we had an independent sultanate here long before the establishment of the Philippine government by western imperialists. We have a unique history. People who were free lost their freedom.

So you don't recognize the Philippine government in Mindanao?
We don't recognize the Philippine government here because we believe our people are independent.

If you don't recognize the Philippine government in Mindanao, why are negotiating with it?
We are negotiating with the Philippine government as another country. You see different countries can negotiate in the same way Malaysia can negotiate with Indonesi We are another country. Our country includes provinces dominated by Muslims and these are Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi and those municipalities (in the other provinces) where the Moros are still the majority, including towns in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, South Cotabato.

Do other countries recognize you?
We are not yet a separate government and country but we are a separate entity.

If you already have this separate entity, why put it to a referendum?
To make it official. To be recognized by the Philippine government and recognized by other countries. We have an actual, separate entity defended by 80,000 regulator fighters of the MILF, funded by billions of pesos a year coming from dues of four million Muslims.

Who is your favorite Filipino hero?
I don't have any. All my student life, I was abroad. And during our struggle, I was also out of the country.

You don't consider Filipino Muslims as Filipinos?
No, they are Moros, Bangsa Moro people.

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