There are lessons to be learned from the failure of Catalan and Kurdistan to declare themselves as independent states.
Catalan or Catalunia, the northern part of Spain populated by Basque people, held a referendum recently to declare itself as an independent and sovereign state. From Madrid the Spanish government declared the referendum illegal and the result null and void. The Basque people’s core group were arrested for treason. Its leader, Carles Puigdemont, escaped arrest by the Spanish authorities because he was in Brussels to seek support and recognition of Catalan’s breakaway state with the European Commission. He is facing arrest and imprisonment if he returns to Spain.
Now a man without a country, Puigdemont is looking at Belgium or some other liberal European country which could give him political asylum. Spain has issued a warrant of arrest against him for the European Union to implement. A European Union member country might be hesitant to give Puigdemont sanctuary as it would offend Spain, an EU member.
Mamoud Barzani, the leader of Iraq’s Kurdistan province, suffered the same fate. His decades-long ambition to give the Kurdish people their own homeland was crushed by the Baghdad government. Barzani, it can be said, was caught between Iraq and a hard place (Turkey).
The Catalan issue is more than a cultural thing or difference of the Catalan language with Spanish. Yielding major cities like Valencia including the tourism revenue-rich Barcelona would be a dismemberment of Spain. Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous region of Catalan. It is the site of the world famous Sagrada Familia cathedral designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. The iconic masterpiece with its pointed towers is a sight to behold. I have seen it together with my wife, Adela, during a tour of Barcelona. Valencia. Madrid, Sevilla and Cordova. Visited by millions of tourists every year, the cathedral was left unfinished by Gaudi who was killed when he was struck by a tram.
The stakes in Kurdistan are just as high because the area the Kurds include in their planned statehood is the oil-rich province of Kirkuk. There is no way cash-strapped Iraq will give up those vast oil fields.
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, a frustrated Barzani said the rejection of the Kurds’ referendum was planned ahead by Iraq. While the Kurds helped provide military assistance in the US-led coalition force to bring down Saddam Hussein, the new Iraqi leadership knew the Kurds could later be a potential threat to its own security and the rich oil fields.
How do the failed statehood dreams of Catalan and Kurdistan relate to our own Muslims seeking to establish an independent homeland in Mindanao? Although the Moro lslamic Liberation Front has toned down its secessionist movement to a push for an autonomous region under the framework of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the prospect to break away from the Republic will always be there.
It does not help that there is a foreign power in the region which is encouraging the Muslims in Mindanao to secede.
Fortunately, a referendum to be initiated by the Muslim population has very little chance of winning given that majority of Mindanao’ population is Christian migrants from the Visayas and Ilocos regions.
While actually not calling it a secessionist movement, an autonomous region in Mindanao would be ceding a large part of Mindanao to the MILF. With the Moro National Liberation Front, the criminal Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Abu Sayyaf joining forces with the MILF, there is no telling when and where these Islamic group will push the boundaries of their territory.
It may sound absurd but it’s not farfetched that Filipinos might eventually need visas to enter these Muslim areas.
Which brings us to the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Thanks to the scrutiny of former Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., that the original BBL as drafted by Noynoy Aquino’s clueless negotiators was shelved for review. Whether Bongbong Marcos wins his electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo or not, he must be given the task of chief negotiator for the BBL under the Duterte administration. The modified BBL version must define the scope and limit to power of the Muslims leaders lest they assume more than what is allowed them by the central government in Manila.
The nightmare of a separate Islamic territory in Mindanao isn’t too hard to imagine as we saw in the siege and devastation of Marawi City by the Maute/ISIS terrorists. That it took five months for government troops to clear Marawi of the last remnants of the Maute/ISIS terrorists showed that the country is facing a full-blown war right in its backyard.
Should these ISIS-inspired terrorists escalate their hostilities to the level of urban guerrilla warfare, then we will really know the meaning of terror like the mayhem wrought on the streets of Paris and London and the Brussels airport.