Quashing a seditious idea
In a show of pique amid his escalating word war with President Marcos whom he publicly described as a
“drug addict,” former president Rodrigo Duterte last week raised the “desirability of Mindanao seceding from the Republic of the Philippines.”
Duterte said local political forces led by Davao del Norte representative and chief proponent of the secession idea Pantaleon Alvarez, would be regrouping in the province to start a signature campaign calling for Mindanao’s separation from the country.
Mindanao would rather be “independent since nothing has happened in the Philippines after so many presidents,” Duterte said in the vernacular. With its rich natural resources, the island can stand on its own, said the former president whose “Bangon Marawi” rehabilitation project remains unfinished seven years after the 2017 siege during his term.
Critics were quick to point out how the idea mainly upholds Duterte’s political interest, given the cracks in the Duterte-Marcos UniTeam. As the most likely opposition in the midterm elections in 2025, Duterte and his daughter, Vice President Sara Duterte, would surely benefit from the economic chaos unleashed by talks of secession, a political analyst noted.
Question of motive
Duterte himself settled the question of motive. Referring to the investigation being conducted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on his brutal war on drugs during his presidency, he deadpanned: “If there will be a separate Mindanao Republic, [ICC] could no longer enter Mindanao because Alvarez here will hide me.”
Whether said in jest or seriously, Duterte’s proposal was quickly shot down, with even former Muslim separatists saying that it would erode the gains from past peace negotiations. Mindanao’s largest rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government in 2014, settling for enhanced autonomy instead of independence for the Bangsamoro region. Bangsamoro’s chief minister, Ahod Ebrahim, issued a statement pledging continued commitment to the peace agreement.
Omar Yasser Sema, deputy speaker of the Interim Bangsamoro parliament and a second-generation member of the Moro National Liberation Front noted how “it is not good to preoccupy ourselves with talks of secession right now, considering that we are facing external threats. China is threatening our cohesiveness as a nation.”
Having no constitutional basis, the idea might even be considered seditious, with National Security adviser Eduardo Año vowing to use “resolute force” to quell “all attempts to dismember the republic.” Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and government peace process adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., said as much, while Armed Forces chief Romeo Brawner told soldiers “to remain united and loyal to the Constitution and the chain of command.” As they should.
For its part, the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines stressed “the importance of maintaining the integrity of the Philippines’ national territory while recognizing and celebrating diverse local and regional identities.” The League of Provinces also rejected the idea as being “myopic and parochial in [a] world that is becoming open and borderless.”
Although widely seen as a crazy idea that will not prosper, political observers warn that Duterte’s call for the separation as Mindanao could be destabilizing and might be used by disgruntled groups to stir up trouble and distract the government from the more pressing problems of the island—including the devastating floods in the province controlled by Alvarez and Duterte themselves.
Collection of 500 firearms
It doesn’t help that Duterte has boasted about his collection of 500 firearms, “gifted” him and properly licensed, he said. With such an arsenal, what would stop him from building a private army he could control to carry out his idea? Shouldn’t authorities be concerned about so many lethal weapons held by this man whose favorite expression as president was “Kill, kill, kill!”? Davao Rep. Paulo Duterte’s allocation of P51.7 billion in from 2020 to 2022 should be accounted for as well, lest they be used to fund groups to carry out the secessionist idea.
Though Duterte had tried to buy their loyalty with generous pay hikes, the police and military should prove themselves as professionals and make sure that the secessionist idea never takes off. They should monitor groups and personalities known to be staunch supporters of the former president, while the courts must throw the book at those who can be charged with sedition or undermining national security. Given his close friendship with an increasingly militarist and aggressive China, the former president must be watched closely as well.
More crucial, however, is the national government’s realignment of priorities and decentralization of governance to give Mindanao a more equitable share of budget allocation and a stronger political voice, two factors that can effectively silence any misplaced call for secession.