Illustration by Carlo Patricio P. Franco

NEITHER culture nor birthright can justify terrorism. The insurgency of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in much-criticized Mindanao is certainly not an exception.

With Moro rebels failing to get the government to sign a deal granting them territory, the MILF began a ruthless onslaught and devastated villages in North Cotabato and Lanao del Sur in August, leaving 49 dead and thousands homeless.

According to survivors, the rebels used civilians as “human shields” against the military troops sent to quell the insurgency. Aside from this, rebels who surrendered revealed that they were instructed to kill everyone who can resist and harm anyone who stood in their way regardless of age and gender, betraying the MILF’s lack of sincerity and commitment to peace.

Worse, the recent MILF episode shows the Moro rebellion’s leadership really has no control over its ground troops, whose commanders have a reputation for being loose cannons.

The developments have, in fact, forced the Arroyo administration to abandon the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, which would have annexed Christian towns and barangays, without their consent, to a new legal entity for the Bangsamoro homeland.

A decade ago, the government and the MILF signed an Agreement for General Cessation of Hostilities, in which “the Parties (GRP and MILF) affirmed their commitment to protect and respect human rights in accordance with the principles set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

What had happened in North Cotabato and Lanao del Sur, like other heinous crimes involving the MILF, was in no way faithful to the universal principles of respect for human rights. The end does not justify the means even if the goal is self-rule for the Moros.

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The proposed Bangsamoro Juridical entity could even go the way of its predecessor, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Twelve years after the ARMM was practically handed over to the Nur Misuari-led Moro National Liberation Front in a bid to appease Moro rebels, the autonomous region remains the country’s basketcase, a showcase of inefficiency, corruption, and tribal politics. Misuari ended up jailed for attempting another rebellion because of the ARMM’s failed promise.

Given the MILF’s poor track record in keeping its word, what guarantee can the separatist group give to assure that it would not go the way of Misuari? With the rebel group resorting to terror just to get its wishes, it seems Mindanao could get even worse.

If the Moros can claim that they have the right to autonomy because they have the “birthright” as “Bangsamoros,” then what would stop Bulakeños, Cebuanos, Batangueños, and indigenous people of their own land to demand their own juridical entity?

More than pushing for the MILF to be tagged internationally as a terrorist organization, the government has to find ways to eradicate the entity of terror that has hounded southern Philippines for such a long time.

This step is no aggression. It is the responsibility of the state to protect and defend the people, the civilians in Mindanao who have nothing to do with the MILF’s agenda of terror.

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