In his last State of the Nation Address (SONA), erstwhile President Joseph Estrada made several triumphant declarations about Mindanao. The Philippine Armed Forces, of which the president of the Philippines is commander-in –chief, had destroyed Camp Abubakar in Maguindanao and 50 other pockets of resistance under the sway of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). In July, 2000, when the president delivered his SONA, the national “moro-moro” was less complicated as there were only two forces to contend with—the MNLF and the MILF—which is not the case today.
Then President Estrada said: “ The MILF could not be talked out of their position, whether territorial or ideological. They said that their goal of secession was non-negotiable. Well, neither is the sovereignty and integrity of the Republic. No one can challenge that proposition by force of arms and get away with it.”
Estrada then presented the 4-point strategy of his administration: (1) To restore and maintain peace in Mindanao because without peace there can be no development; (2) To develop Mindanao because without development there can be no peace; (3) To continue seeking peace talks with the MILF within the framework of the Constitution because a peace accord based on good faith is preferable to one enforced by the force of arms; (4) To continue the implementation of the peace agreement between the government and the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front, headed by Nur Misuari).
“These are not requests but demands,” the commander-in-Chief was emphatic. He ordered both MNLF and MILF to drop their weapons because only the Philippine Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police are authorized to bear arms in ” the sovereign territory of this Republic.”
Sovereignty was the core of the presidential address; the state of the nation must never be altered by secession movements. “Secession by itself is a mere ideology, but if backed by armed force, it becomes a rebellion,” the then president declared. “A secessionist can only argue but a rebel can kill. The government has no choice but to disarm the rebel…You must drop all your criminal activities because terrorism, bombings, ambushes, and violence have no place in a civilized society. Criminals have no place at the negotiating table. Their place is in jail.”
He minced no words. Estrada dismissed secession as “an impossible dream” because “…there is no space in our geography, demographics, and national psyche for the forcible carving out of another state….Those foreign models you invoke, like East Timor, will not work for you.”
Then he thrust a figurative kris with these lacerating words: “Please bear in mind that you are neither the sole occupants nor even the majority in the lands you wish to carve out to convert into your own state. There are whole Filipino populations in Mindanao — Muslims, Christians, and Lumad — who do not want their territories and their residences disturbed. Not even the majority of the Muslim population shares your separatist views nor the violent means you employ to attain them. The overriding passion of the people of Mindanao is for peace. Our peple will simply not stand for the dismemberment of the county. All of the Philippines belong to all Filipinos. No part of it belongs to any particular group. “Then Estrada alluded to a war we must all fight together, the war to correct historical wrongs, a legacy of poverty and injustice.
Seventeen years have passed since that triumphant SONA prayed for “peaceful coexistence, interactive harmony, and constructive interdependence.” Forty-four valiant young men were butchered in Mamasapano and more recently in Marawi 58 young heroes offered their lives in defense of the republic. President Duterte has bared a mailed fist. In our perpetual quest for peace, we are forced to make war.