University of San Carlos,Cebu City
The acts of secession have been considered as notable undertakings in the chronicles of human history. Some factions have made it gloriously, while others stumble down in defeat, but the most notable thing about secessions is that it doesn’t only give us a rebellious caricature of a child leaving his mother in a desperate move, but an inspiring picture of a child fighting over his freedom and independence in an absurd moment of breakaway in his life.
From the secession of Norway from Sweden in 1905, Iceland from Denmark in 1944, Senegal from Mali in 1960, Singapore from the Malaysian Federation in 1965, Slovakia from Czechoslovakia in 1993, and other republics from the Soviet Union, all we can learn from them is that they made notable moves of seceding from their major or mother states and eventually carried it out successfully. As to the question of how they manage to drive out, speaking of the operations and means, the success towards their aim of independence varies. However, two things are worth keeping: they stand for it and claim it as their right, and deliver their cause with legal integrity.
These notable examples are but things in the past. However, as a researcher what motivates me to take up this research, on the Right of Secession, is rooted into the fact that these undertakings that has long been resting in the realms of history are once again surfacing in the face of the present, such as the Venetians in northern Italy, Catalonia in the northeast of Spain, the Faroe Islands in Denmark, Bavaria in Germany, among others. And what’s more interesting is that the same phenomena is happening recently in the country, that there is an undeniable escalating of demands for freedom, bursting into flames in the southern part of a State that has once been liberated—and that is the gradual rise and emergence of an ethnic and political group bearing the name of the Bangsamoro Republik.
On August 13, 2013, Nur Misuari, the founder of the oldest faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) declared the independence of the Bangsamoro Republik in Daira, Lampaya Village, Talipao, Sulu Province. In the declaration, it was mentioned that the Bangsamoro Republik, a proposed autonomous political entity within the Philippines, structuralizes itself with a federal system of government which provides equal power of Muslims, Christians and highlanders in the government. The idea of the Bangsamoro Republik is to establish a revolutionary form of government embracing the islands of Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Palawan and North Borneo (Sabah), and that according to their constitution Davao City will be its capital. With its wide territorial scale and a federated form of government, the Moro National Liberation front officially proclaims the Bangsamoro Republik, by virtue of their constitution, as the United Federated States of Bangsamoro Republik (UFSBR).
The Bangsamoro platform is originally crafted in line of the pursuit for peace, hoping to eventually end the long hatred and escalating tensions between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The Bangsamoro, composed of Muslim-majority, have significantly claimed of their marginalization and being victimized in the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Philippines, citing as well that they have been subjected to discriminatory employment and housing policies throughout the centuries, and they have also been frequently portrayed differently in the media. And these people are hopeful that with the implementation of this framework, peace and deliverance from the ghosts of oppression and marginalization will be captured.
For the government, the Bangsamoro framework brings a lot of promises to Mindanao, to the land of promise itself. This is thought to serve as an alternative to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a regional government created on August 1, 1989 and inaugurated on November 6, 1990 by the Congress during the time of the late Pres. Corazon C. Aquino, that which is called by the present president of the republic, Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III, as a “failed experiment.” In his speech delivered in the Malacañang Palace, he said: “The ARMM is a failed experiment. Many of the people continue to feel alienated by the system, and those who feel that there is no way out will continue to articulate their grievances through the barrel of a gun. We cannot change this without structural reform.” In this note, the Philippine government per se seems to favor the creation of this Bangsamoro framework, ensuring that this political entity will correct the mistakes in the past and together guarantee a bright future. The president further said, “This framework agreement paves the way for a final, enduring peace in Mindanao.”
This Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro was already signed at the Malacañang Palace in March 27, 2014 as witnessed by leaders and members of MILF and the Philippine Government, as well as the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose country served as the third-party negotiator in the peace talks.
As an observer then, I believe that the ends of the Bangsamoro framework indeed will bring a lot of promise to Mindanao: that it is rooted to what is good, that it is directed towards the preservation of peace, and that it aims to create a new identity of the Muslim-majority. However, as a researcher, allow me to significantly roll the discussion using Daniel Kofman’s article on the Right of Secession by asking, do they really have the right? Is the creation of the United Federated States of Bangsamoro Republik legal? And if so, what constitute its legality?
Rights of Secession: Autonomy and Self-Determination
An opening statement in the article of Daniel Kofman asks, “Should there be a right of secession?” The author arguably says there is, and that for any territorial-based groups, there is. A certain group has the right to secede, but should observe the necessary conditions. In the article, Kofman presented the necessary criteria in order for a certain group to secede; he presented the things that a certain group should possess; he as well enumerated five necessary things that the state must carry on, speaking of the capacities that a seceding group must fulfill; and he explained the role of autonomy and self-determination as components for the rights of secession.
In the first part of his article, the author cited the horrible fate that Chechnya had experienced in the 1990s as it tried to secede and seek freedom from the dominant Russian state. Chechnya or the Chechen Republic (as it is known since 1993) is a group with all the attributes of a distinct ethnicity—speaking of language, culture, religion and history. However, its secession was not successful, and the worst part is that it cost fifty thousand lives. From this incident, the author pulls out the possible reasons as to what really happened, what has been lacking, and what seems to be the problem in the process of their secession.
Hence, to start with the essential elements in the process of secession, Kofman said that “one argument for a right of secession, then, is simply to bring international pressure to bear in dissuading remainder states from resorting to force.” Here, Kofman is telling us that there must be a negotiator or a witness upon uplifting a demand for secession. For in this case, Russia, being the sovereign state, has the power to impose rules and power over Chechnya, pointing out to the “territorial integrity” of Russia to impose laws and ruling—rules that include negation and suppression—but that which doesn’t have the license, speaking of its limitations, to commit genocide. The problem that happened in Chechnya according to Kofman was the “method of suppression and the lack of international support for Chechnya’s right of self-determination.” Supposedly, then, there should be an international backing. The international community has the right to intervene, for domestic laws, laws that are being imposed by the sovereign state, do not encompass the entire domain of what is good, especially in the matters regarding secessions. If only the international community have intervened in this issue, if the international community was just given a seat as witness and a mere negotiating body, Chechnya might have been saved from the brutal arms of mother Russia.
And so Kofman goes on and said once again that “Any territorial majority expressing its wish to secede should be permitted to do so.” But a certain group that wishes to secede must be identified and must be grounded to a certain criterion. As stated above, a group should have an indentified language, culture, religion and history, or in other words a group has a distinct ethnicity or nature, for if there is a qualified right of secession, its ground will always be on the nature of its possible candidates. Without this primordial submission to a certain criterion, intent of secession would be useless and nonsense.
With the idea of establishing an independent statehood from the act of secession, it has to be noted as well that a secessionist group has to consider the importance of acquisition and imposition of power and jurisdiction in and for statehood, and establish an effective domain of governance over its jurisdictions or institutions. The secessionist must be aware of how important power and jurisdiction is in the running affairs of the state. In other words, the state must be aware of its sovereignty. In the article, Kofman cited different views according to how a state should view power in accord to its being a state. One of which says that “Every state is founded on force.” Accordingly, Kofman stressed that it is the “The acquisition of power that provides the value of the independent statehood for groups. More precisely, it is not the acquisition of power per se, but the gaining of direct control of jurisdictions bounded by the territory of the group.” Kofman further added that the “control over different jurisdictions are of varying importance to different national groups.” To impose jurisdictions also means to authorizing and creating institutions. Having a firm jurisdiction over institutions is very essential because institutions are very important “areas of cultural expression” that would become critical avenues for maintaining the identity of a certain state.
Aside from the acquisition of power and jurisdiction, Kofman enumerated five essential things—the first two signifying as the state’s “bounded symbol containers” and the last two as the state’s “bounded power containers”—that a group wishing to transform to statehood has to be capable of doing so.
First, the state must generate “a pervasive symbolic representation of nation-state at every level and sphere of society.” The state must “employ national symbols to convey official status or authority.” An example of this is on making icons that would be understood as a representation of a specific nation. Flags, emblems, stamps and posters are examples that will add to the identity of a specific state. Moreover, the creation of bureaucracies and agencies as well signifies the pervasive representation of the nation in the society. The creation of these bureaucracies does not only represent the state in different level and sphere of society, but allows people direct access and contact to the affairs of the state.
Second, “along with this symbolic marking of nationhood in the institutional life of the country, there is a representation of the state as community in the daily discourse of newspapers, government officials, sportscasts, weather broadcasts, and ordinary conversation.” With this, there will emerge a certain sense of being in a community. This will bring out the communitarian spirit of all the people in the state.
Third, there should be a “clustering of identically bounded jurisdictions” making a systematic control or flow of things across the nation. For without clustering, the passage flow of a system to another will not be efficient.
Fourth, the state must participate in the international arena. A state must have an active participation and proper representation especially in the United Nations General Assembly and other nation federations in order for the state to be recognized. In the case of the Republic of the Philippines, it has to establish an essential membership with UN and the ASEAN. According to Kofman, “this enhances a sense of identity among ‘in-group’ members, by raising their self-esteem, reinforcing their recognition of commonality among themselves, and making their imagined border between themselves and others more secure.”
Fifth and last, a state must be open for innovation for the development of the nation. A state has to go with the technology and sciences, among others. This requirement doesn’t really dwell on the symbolic recognition of the state but on the propagation of the state. In order for the state to be at par with its neighbors, it has to accept innovations and advances. With these five essential characteristics that a state has to fulfill, a secessionist group must be aware of the challenge.
Now, another issue that should not be taken for granted about secession is to look into the background or ethnicity of a certain group. There are instances that a seceding group is deemed diverse. Diverse in two senses: that it has a dichotomizing pole of a majority and a minority, and a complex variation of ethnic distributions. In some viewpoint, this may prove problematic in the sense that there seems to be a ground for possible divisions within a seceding society. However, the author asserts that even in a certain group with diverse ethnicity, unity can still be achieved. He is suggesting that if the group is a diverse territorial society, it has to create set of rites, ceremonies, badges, codes, style of dress and other behavior so that there becomes a unified sense of belongingness and identity in the community which ultimately lead towards a cultivation of culture. And it has to be noted that cultural content is crucial in maintaining the identity of a certain society. The article is also reminding that in the case for a group with certain minorities, the group, speaking of the majority, must not be discriminatory, but encourage participation and communitarian spirit. As the author would say, “Involving them in the process from the outset has the valuable function of helping them to find their place in the new state in the event of an affirmative outcome.”
Now to talk about autonomy and self-determination, the author says that the drive towards the former and the latter is rooted upon the desire to making an identity. Indeed, autonomy and self-determination make up the bulk of forming an identity in the course of secession.
In the pursuit of autonomy and self-determination, he made it a point that when a group, historically and culturally rich, secedes, the transformation that occurs is also preservation and stabilization of its identity and that is precisely what is secured in acquiring statehood. But often times, secessionist groups fail because of the lack of recognition of a certain “objective”. This is crucial in the sense that our subjective nature sometimes hinders us to meet what is the objective. According to Kofman, the making of an “objective” is one of the criteria of the right to self-determination. He explained it by saying, “The group needs to have some common institutions and practices and some symbolic representation of itself at different levels, which enable its members to recognize each other as members”.
Another thing is that in an identity formation towards self-determination, democratic procedure is essential. He said, “Part of the value of self-determination is that it allows them the possibility of making a momentous choice about a central part of their identities, of deciding how their identity should evolve.” This democratic procedure would also lead to referendum, a democratic referendum for all the members of the society. By allowing a democratic means, it only enhances the people’s self-respect and self-esteem. The author said it best that “If the ideal of autonomy is to be the author of one’s own life, shaping one’s identity must be a central part of that ideal.”
So all in all, Daniel Kofman is telling us that there is indeed a significant right to secede, and that any group who wishes to secede has to be respected. A demand for secession has to undergo a series of examinations and consultations, as stated above, and that the final arbiter of it is the Judge and his court. That’s why at the end of the article, Kofman insisted that “what is needed is a permanent arbitration commission or international court to evaluate claims to independence on the criteria suggested… [and for] the gradual accumulation of judgments to guide future decisions, and a new willingness of the international community to act quickly to protect legitimate claimants from being throttled at birth, or subjected to needless labor pains.”
When the author said that there is a significant right to secession, and for any territorial-based groups there is, my ultimate judgment is that the Bangsamoro people deserves to have a Bangsamoro Republik.
To stress out a point that Bangsamoro people deserve a Bangsamoro Republik means that firstly, in my analysis, the cause for the Moros to secede is valid and in accord of legal integrity. When I speak of legal integrity, I mean that the procedure that it went through is officially authorized. As we know it, this framework was not done alone by the MNLF Chair or the President of the Republic of the Philippines, but it reached for international communities and organizations to back in, cementing a legal and diplomatic action. For instance, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Malaysia serve as witnesses and negotiators as the Philippine Government signed the deal with the Moro officials. Moreover, the framework was not made in a one-sided manner but both parties are working on it hand in hand. This is just to say that things are indeed done in a legal and diplomatic way.
Secondly, the Bangsamoro, like the rest of seceding groups, has a concrete history, language, culture and religion. The Bangsamoro people are always proud and arrogant to claim that they were already sovereign even before the “discovery” of the Philippines, thus branding the Spaniards, Americans and even Filipinos as colonizers, and that they have no right to govern them. In this claim, historically speaking, it makes sense. History books would tell us that indeed before Ferdinand Magellan came, Islam was already at a certain age of maturity. My point here is to neither contest nor interprets the history of the Moros in particular and the Philippines in general but to elaborate that the Bangsamoro people has concrete history, and that they exist in history. And since they exist in history, language and culture integrally exist as well. However, with regard their language and culture, the Bangsamoro people offer a variation of it. This is because the Bangsamoro people is a combination of at least ten ethnic groups comprising the Moros of the Philippines, that which, as history would point out, all descend from the Austronesian people (Malayo-Polynesian) that migrated from Taiwan and populated the regions of the Philippines. But even if there seems to be diversity within the Bangsamoro, what makes them one is their religion. Their belief in Islam identifies one another as a brother or sister, thus strengthening the sense of not just a community but a family. Eventually, culture will be cultivated and will define their identity. Nobody can deny the rich history, language, culture and religion that the Bangsamoro people possess, for a negation of any of such equates to negating their very own identity.
The Bangsamoro, like the rest of the seceding groups, aspire for autonomy and self-determination. In the context of the Bangsamoro people, this aspiration is usually derived from the experience of the negative—speaking of the deprivations, oppressions and marginalization in history. The aspiration to be free is also rooted in the absurdity of life, of being a Muslim in a dominant Catholic Philippines. Amidst these downgrading experiences, the history of the Bangsamoro people is not really shattered; it’s intact but tainted with the blood of the Muslim martyrs. And as they continue to look back at their history, the spirit to pursue their thirst for freedom and independence are bursting in flames, for in that manner they believe that they can claim their sacred identity. Moreover, the independence that the Bangsamoro Republik wishes is not only a means to preserving its Muslim-majority identity, but in part a new Identity.
41 years it has been. 41 long years have passed since the Moros attempted to raise the first flag of the Bangsamoro Republik. It has been 41 long years of waiting, and 41 long years of struggling for recognition. As a researcher and an observer, I believe that now is the time, however, we always have to remember that in the context of the article of Daniel Kofman, no matter how valid the claims and qualifications that a seceding group may boast to have, at the end of the day, the court has to judge and make the final say.
 Daniel Kofman, “Right of Secession”, Society, July/August 1998: 30-37, 30-31
 “These 8 Places in Europe could be the Next to try for Independence,” The Washington Post, last modified September 18, 2014, accessed March 20, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/09/18/if-scotland-breaks-away-these-8-places-in-europe-could-be-next/
 “Misuari Declares Independence of Mindanao, southern Philippines,” Gulf News Philippines, last modified March 15, 2015, accessed March 20, 2015, http://gulfnews.com/news/asia/philippines/misuari-declares-independence-of-mindanao-southern-philippines-1.1220970
 “Bangsamoro Constitution: Road Map to Independence and National Self-Determination,” Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), last modified August 23, 2013, accessed March 20, 2015, http://mnlfnet.com/Articles/BYC_23Aug2013_Bangsamoro%20Constitution.htm
 “Peace Deals Pave the Way for Long and Enduring Peace,” Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, last modified October 16, 2012, http://www.unpo.org/article/14993
 “Govt, MILF agree to create ‘Bangsamoro’ to replace ARMM,” GMA News Online, last modified October 7, 2012, accessed March 20, 2015, http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/277218/news/nation/govt-milf-agree-to-create-bangsamoro-to-replace-armm
 Daniel Kofman, “Right of Secession”, 30
 Ibid., 31
 Ibid., 32
 Ibid., 33
 Ibid., 36
 Ibid., 34
 Ibid., 35
 Ibid., 34
 Ibid., 36
 “The Political and Religious History of the Bangsamoro People,” Moro National Liberation Front, copyright 2001, accessed March 20, 2015, http://mnlfnet.com/History.htm
 Nick Joaquin, Culture and History: Occasional Notes on the Process of Philippine Becoming (Pasig: Anvil Publishing, 2004), 226
 According to historical account, An independent state of Bangsamoro Republik was first declared on 28 April 1974.