Mohagher Iqbal, the author

Patricio N. Abinales

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[Second of two parts] 'There are several problematic points that are noticeable in the MILF ideologue’s writings, particularly in regards to how to analyze the causes of Moro backwardness and how to overcome this'

(Second of two parts | Part one)

For an academic, there is one perfectly good reason why the Bangsamoro Basic Law has to be signed and Mohagher Iqbal be compelled to return to writing Moro history. For there are several problematic points that are noticeable in the MILF ideologue’s writings, particularly in regards to how to analyze the causes of Moro backwardness and how to overcome this.

These issues are quite notable in Iqbal’s other book The Long Road to Peace: Inside the GRP-MILF Peace Process. Here Iqbal’s list as the roots behind Bangsamoro backwardness a hodgepodge of criminal, moral, cultural and health reasons. To wit: 

  • low spiritual and moral upbringing of the Moros
  • an out of synch value system arising from a misinterpretation of the Maratbat (the Moro code of conduct)
  • the low level of education among the Bangsamoro
  • a “negative attitude” as best represented in the adage “waiting for the moon to fall”
  • corruption, drugs and the influence of Western value systems
  • loose firearms
  • high incidence of poverty and low economic activity
  • land conflicts
  • rido and other unsolved crimes
  • corrupted electoral system
  • poor health and sanitation
  • poor environmental management

How does Iqbal intend to solve these problems? Overcoming these obstacles necessitates a new kind of leadership. Oddly, the MILF ideologue’s idea of this leadership is hardly revolutionary or democratic; it is in fact elitist. He writes:

“While it is ideal for one man or woman to have one vote in choosing the leader, we feel that it is essential that those who are asked to choose the leader, on the basis of criteria that includes moral questions, are those who are better equipped to know who are more qualified to carry the responsibility and to fulfill the trust of the people. They are those whom we might call ‘enlightened.’”

One may then ask the obvious question: apart from the MILF leaders, who else would comprise this? Given that illiteracy is singular among the Bangsamoro, then it is clear where the other members of the “enlightened” would come from: the educated scions of the political families who have held sway over the Bangsamoro since the American colonial period.

Today’s powerful Moro clans pride themselves in having sent their children to institutions of higher education in Manila and in the American mainland. Armed with their education, these heirs then return and enhance family prestige. They also take over the family business and replicate, if not better, the often-brutal management styles of their elders.

This explains Iqbal’s convoluted view of the Moro political clans (the “traditional elites”). He admits that “warlord-politicians and vigilantes” rule the Bangsamoro – “a place where a ‘gun is treasured more than a wife’” – with their private armies.  But he also makes this bizarre qualification: because many of them, from Udtog Matalam in 1966 to the Ampatuans of today “stood for Moro rights and aspirations” and in the latter’s case lent their “support [for] the peace talks initiated by the Arroyo administration with the MILF,” then their transgressions need not be mentioned at the moment.

But the Maguindanao massacre happened, and the MILF was forced to condemn the Ampatuans. But this is rather a belated response, hampered as it were by a pragmatic (opportunistic?) tip of the hat to the brutal clan.

There is more. One could not help but notice the absence of any discussion on the illicit sector of the Bangsamoro political economy (as exemplified by the widespread production and smuggling of guns, drugs, and other commodities). The scholar Francisco Lara, Jr., has warned of what this sector can do to efforts at achieving peace, returning stability and launching economic development in Muslim Mindanao. Lara and colleague Steven Schoofs would co-edit a book where Mindanao scholars show greater detail and with empirical heft, how violence and the illegal economy are intertwined with each other in Muslims Mindanao.

Again it is surprising why Iqbal never notices this major obstacle to peace in the Bangsamoro.

Finally, there is the Iqbal’s creepy notion about women. He does distance himself from the despicable view of the late MILF chairman Hashim Salamat who described women as “property,” and to show that the organization was serious about addressing the gender gap by forming a “women auxiliary brigade.” But he is hardline on gender roles, regarding the “unrestricted mixing of men and women” as dangerous as this would transform the man into “a beast” with “no moral limits or scruples in his sexual behavior,” and bringing about an immoral world where “AIDS, the advent of the so-called third sex, single parenting and the rise of illegitimate children” prevail. Women cannot be granted equal power as men as this would only encourage women to “want to be men” and this is “not what men desire.”

Well, if the BBL is signed and Mohagher Iqbal returns to his scholarly work, he surely will have a lot of explaining to do not only to his constituents but also to Filipinos and Filipinas, if he still wants to be in the middle of the political conversation.

Good luck to that. –

Part 2 is based on a postscript that was added to my book Orthodoxy and History in the Muslim-Mindanao Narrative, published by Ateneo de Manila University Press in 2010.

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