Peace groups to Esperon: uphold the primacy of the peace process; GMA sends PSG Marines to Basilan

Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado of the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus and Bantay Ceasefire urged Esperon to “hold his ultimatum to allow an impartial and independent investigation to take place to determine who was responsible in decapitating the Marines in Basilan. We owe that to our people and our commitment to the peace process,” she said.

“We owe that to our people and our commitment to the peace process,” she said.

This as President Arroyo sent off this morning a company of Marines detailed with the Presidential Security Group (PSG) “to help hunt down the Moro Islamic Liberation Front  (MILF) fighters who mercilessly killed 14 of the Marines’ comrades in Basilan last July 10,” the Office of the Press Secretary reported.

“Of the 14 Marines slain while on a mission to rescue kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi from his captors, 10 were beheaded and mutilated by their sadistic attackers,” the OPS report said.

Escorted by PSG chief Brig. Gen. Romeo Prestoza, the President sent off the 93rd Marine Security Escort Company headed by Marine Capt. Danilo Guzman at the Kalayaan Hall grounds of Malacañang.

“In full battle gear, the 65 members of the 93rd MSEC rode in three 6×6 trucks that brought them to their waiting aircraft. They will be stationed in Basilan for 45 (to) 60 days, according to Gen. Prestoza,” the OPS said.

GMA News TV reported Saturday that the military has given the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) until tomorrow, Sunday, to surrender the perpetrators behind the July 10 clash  that killed 14 Marine troopers, or face “punitive police action.”

Ten of the slain Marines were decapitated allegedly by the MILF, an allegation the MILF has vehemently denied.

On July 15, Western Mindanao Command chief, Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo issued an ultimatum giving the MILF one week or until Sunday, July 22, to turn in the MILF guerrillas who killed the Marines.

Esperon had earlier clarified that there would be no immediate launching of an all-out war if and when the MILF will not comply with the July 22 deadline. He said the AFP has at least 10 options and the all-out war is the last.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews, “we abide by the terms of the ceasefire and it never said that we are obliged to do so. The beheading must be investigated first. We did not do it.”

Guiamel Alim, Executive Director of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, told MindaNews Esperon “should allow the existing mechanism to resolve the issue. The civilians will again be displaced.”

Government peace panel chair Rodolfo Garcia, who retired as Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Staff, told MindaNews he is “saddened by the turn of events” and “will do everything I can.”

Government peace panel vice chair Rudy Rodil, recalled that Esperon had earlier spoken of upholding the primacy of the peace process. He said he will pray Esperon “is able to find the balance between the two.”

“I hope they will wait for the result of the joint fact-finding,” Brig. Gen. Edgardo Gurrea, head of the government peace panel’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), said.

The government and MILF CCCH have started gathering data in Basilan, he said.

Professor Rufa Guiam, head of the peace center at the Mindanao State University in General Santos City, said “I think it will lead to more hardening of the MILF position. Why not conduct fact-finding first?”

Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga, executive director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies,said “military solution is not the solution. It will only result to more deaths and displacement of people.”

 

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) Philippine province in statement issued by is provincial, Father Ramon Bernabe, called for “patience and restraint.”

“The violent conflict between government and the MILF has already taken so many lives—combatants from the government and MILF, and innocent civilians.  We abhor the brutality of the death of many of the victims in this conflict, the Marine soldiers and the imam included.  There should be no room for such viciousness, on whichever side, in an already cruel war,” Bernabe said.

“Our concern now is that an impartial investigation of the most recent violence in Basilan be given a chance to work, according to the mechanisms of the prevailing ceasefire agreement,” he said.

He urged all parties to the conflict to exercise restraint and patience, “while searching for a just resolution, not only to this specific instance of violence, but to the larger issue of conflict in Mindanao.”

“The primacy of the peace process should be held paramount.  We cannot risk a bigger conflagration coming from rush judgments and indiscriminate action.  We will only be multiplying victims and perpetuating the war. As we pray for all the victims and their families, we pray even more for those who are working to resolve this conflict peacefully.”

Fr. Angel Calvo, lead convenor of the Mindanao PeaceWeavers, an umbrella organization of coalitions of peace groups, said, “we maintain the stand of our MPW statement.

In its July 19 statement, the MPW said the July 10 incident was “clearly a ceasefire-related violation and falls within the jurisdiction and mandate” of the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (JCCCH) and the Malaysian led International
Monitoring Team (IMT).

“We should allow the JCCCH and IMT to respond to the crisis and exhaust all means possible to bring the cowardly perpetrators to justice,” it said, as it urged the Marines to “cooperate with the ceasefire mechanisms and refrain from taking emotional punitive and retaliatory acts that could only harm innocent civilians. The Marines have been a proud professional unit of the AFP and this sad incident will test the mettle of their character. We call on the MILF to likewise continue avoiding further acts of provocation. Because of this carnage, there are already 4,915 persons who have evacuated, turning three barangays into virtual ghost communities,” it said.

“For over five years now, Basilan (has been) relatively quiet and peaceful. We
cannot but agree fully with the former AFP brigade commander of the island, Maj. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer who said that “peace is so fragile and so structures and mechanisms have to be built while we work through people’s minds (by clarifying perceptions) and hearts (by healing the hurts). I see this as a challenge to strengthen local peace formations and coordination between GRP and MILF.”

The MPW noted that the Basilan incident, “while lamentable, can thus be the spark not only to strengthen existing mechanisms and formations for peace, but to explore, create and build conditions to further expand the gains of the peace process until it is consolidated enough to withstand attacks and machinations of rogue elements, spoilers and catastrophes such as this.”

“The July 10 carnage was a tragic event. But we should not allow it to further sow carnage and chaos and make all the efforts we have built for peace and reconciliation go to waste. That will be more tragic.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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