CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/10 March) — As the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) gets closer to its objective—which we are asked to believe is GENUINE PEACE and NOT SECESSION—there is no significant scaling down of violence, skirmishes, and displacement in areas it wants to control and exploit for its purposes.
With the entry into the scene of the Moro Islamic Freedom Fighters, or BIFF, people are beginning to wonder whether the MILF’s original strategy of violence, destabilization, and negotiation has been delegated to Ameril Umra Kato and his marauders.
It is well-known that these new disturbers of the peace in Central Mindanao were recruited, trained, and armed by the MILF. And this is the reason why people presume this so-called break-away group is not being reined in by the MILF.
Nonetheless, the MILF must have the list or inventory of arms in the BIFF’s possession and where its arsenals are located. Surely it also knows the BIFF rank and file, their strategy and tactics, their movements, their location. The MILF is therefore in a position to counteract or neutralize the BIFF’s destabilizing forays into government or civilian facilities.
Why is the MILF letting this BIFF gang get away with its adventurism under its very noses? Why doesn’t the MILF curb its criminal activities? This alleged break-away group even has the cheek to announce that it is not out to sabotage the peace agreement. To such gratuitous disavowals, one can only say: what do they take us for, granted?
At the least, the MILF should furnish to the authorities what intelligence information it has on the group as well as launch parallel or joint efforts to quell the violence and destabilization.
BIFF’s operatives have committed crimes for which arrest warrants need to be served. The crimes they committed earlier on could not be prosecuted because of the MILF’s protection. They are even accused of violating international laws that prohibit recruitment of children, deploying child warriors in combat areas, or placing them in harm’s way.
It is ridiculous that all the MILF panel chairman can say is that he hopes the group will join the peace process and that in any case the BIFF will always be welcome to return to the folds of MILF.
Meanwhile, thousands are displaced and scattered all over Maguindanao and Cotabato, saddling local and national government agencies with BIFF-created burdens.
If the MILF really means business, it should confront destroyers of the peace and hold them accountable for the damage they cause to people and communities. Instead, they welcome these criminals with open arms!
This does not inspire trust or confidence in the MILF’s attitude towards rule of law or law enforcement. In any negotiation, accountability and mutual confidence are basic. This means that even as we allow ourselves and our negotiators to trust them, we must also be in a position to verify the credibility of their claims or assurances that it is really peace they seek.
The MILF cannot just shrug off the recalcitrant behavior of their BIFF comrades and leave it for us to deal with them. They should clean up their act and help sanitize areas over which they claim the right and privilege to control and exploit for their own purposes.
The price they are asking for their demands is very high. It would be a mistake to take anything for granted.
Wouldn’t it be so ironic if, having signed the Bangsamoro agreement and accommodated the MILF, the government will then have to set up another negotiation table for the BIFF?
Let the government be firm and resolute in hounding the MILF for answers or explanations to these concerns on our behalf. Dealing effectively with the MILF is its primary responsibility to Mindanaons.
The fact that worrisome questions keep on surfacing this late in this game should drive home the point that not all communities are being reached or informed; that people are dissatisfied.
Especially in Northern Mindanao, people say there’s been too much of song-and-dance acts and cat-and-mouse games and charade in this drawn-out process and they no longer want to be fooled or to be taken for fools!
It is now high noon of the peace process. They want peace and hope it happens soon. So they want to see the removal of barriers and spoilers of the process starting to happen. They want to see signs of accountability emerging, not taken for granted or left till the last minute. And they want to move forward and start to build the peace and progress our society yearns for and deserves.
But no peace will endure for long without the Rule of Law. So let’s start discarding violence as a negotiating tactic.
Everyone knows there is no perfect formula for peace, only an acceptable one—one we can adopt willingly and pursue with trust and confidence. Otherwise, how can we forge an iron resolve to actualize peace at the personal, philosophical, and political level?
Non-Muslim Mindanaons need assurance that the government has their best interests in mind. Then they can embrace the new reality without fear or hesitation; the reality that our lives are inextricably bound—juxtaposed like the rainbow hues of the malong, intertwined like the woven colors of our banig, and waving aloft like sails of the vinta that lend splendor to our shores.
So what they’re saying is, let’s get the lowdown on the BIFF and proceed in earnest na!
Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific, secretary-general of Southeast Asian Publishers Association, director at development academy of Philippines, vice chair of Local Government Academy, member of the Cory Government’s Peace Panel, and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. firstname.lastname@example.org