COMMENTARY: On news reprots that MNLF in Sulu “held hostage” gov’t execs and military generals

For weeks now, I have been a constant visitor of Sulu. I have visited members and supporters of Suara Bangsamoro PArtylist Organization and told them what they have been waiting for years to hear, that despite our loss in the 2004 elections Suara Bangsamoro will again run for the coming 2007 elections as a partylist organization.

In my visit, I have observed that while President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Armed Forces Chief General Hermogenes Esperon have been receiving congratulations from US President George Bush for the death of Abu Sayyaf Leaders Khadaffy Janjalani and Abu Solaiman, the people of Sulu were indifferent about the issue. The same reactions I got from the people of Basilan.

But when on January 18, the Marines in Jolo reported that they have killed 9 Abu Sayyaf men in an encounter in Timpuuk, Patikul municipality, many Joloanos were angered at the report. According to the families of those who were slain, they were not Abu Sayyaf but card-bearing members and a commander of the Moro National Liberation Front who were visiting their families in Patikul, a village very near the Bonbon village, the main camp of the Marines Landing Team 9 in Sulu.

In our interviews with the family, there was even an 11 year old kid who was shot. Rodimar Julali merely accompanied his father in a Tamaraw jeep going to the city to report an incident about the killing of their comrades in Timpuuk. An 82-year old man, Sarail Jaynatul, was also among the casualties.

This sparked anger from the Tausugs, and even merited an investigation from a joint monitoring group of the GRP and MNLF for a week. While investigations were going on and protest from organizations reached the military and the media, the Philippine Marines would not admit their mistakes and still referred to those killed as Abu Sayyaf.

On February 1, both the GRP and the MILF presented their reports of what really happened in Patikul on January 18. The day after, the report was also submitted to Ustadz Habier Malik, chair of the MNLF in Panamao, Sulu where Camp Bitahnag is situated.

When the news broke that Ustadz Malik held them hostage, I feared that war will erupt in Jolo and I fear for the lives of my fellow Moro people. They are often misunderstood and often their actions are being capitalized for war.

As MNLF secretary-general Ustadz Murshid Ibrahim puts it, "Taking hostage of anyone is violative of ISLAM. It is against MNLF doctrines and principles as a revolutionary organization. Using the word hostage is too harsh and unfair. Ustadz Kahber Malik is a man of Peace. He only requested GRP representatives to prolong their stay in Beta'nag for inquiries in view of so many confusing situation going on."

And the GRP really has a lot of explaining to do. How come they are now targetting MNLF members in their pursuit of Abu Sayyaf? Why did they arrest six civilians on January 20 in the municipality of Parang and accused them of being Abu Sayyaf.

Families have complained that Julpi Bastillan, ASli Bahari, Gapur Angkijh, Ben Lipae, Boy Lipae and a certain Karam were tortured to admit they were terrorists. After three days, they were released for lack of evidence.

Why was the tripartite meeting in Jeddah cancelled? This would have been an opportunity for the MNLF to raise the human rights violations issues perpetrated by the GRP against their members and commanders in Sulu since 2000. And of course to raise the issue of the illegal detention of Professor Nur Misuari, chair of the MNLF.

Last week, US ambassador Kristie Kinney and a US diplomat Karen Hughes also went to Jolo to congratulate the Marines there for a job well done. But did they listen to the Tausugs who reported about the wounded Tausug woman from Indanan who suffered several wounds in the back because an American soldier "accidentaly" fired at her home? Buh Bizma Johan, 45, was washing her clothes in their home in Tagbak, Indanan when bombs from a nearby military camp in Bud Datu were fired at her place and shrapnels hit her back.

Her case was considered close by the military and state officials because her family and relatives entered into an agreement with the US soldiers. Her relatives signed an agreement allowing the US soldiers to pay for her medication and moral damages, but there was also a message not formally invoked that they should not file a complaint against the US soldiers.

In our talk with her, Buh Bizma even told us that he was told by the military that she should be thankful that she is being paid a big amount. Had that happened with a Filipino soldier, it would be a cheaper price. Buh Bizma said that there is no room for complaint, for she is much more afraid of the repercussion if she should go after the US soldiers for human rights violations.

Peace loving organizations such as Suara Bangsamoro hope for peace in Sulu and in the rest of Mindanao to reign. Hoewever, while the injustices against our people are not resolved and the government continues their anti-terror drive to a small group, the lives and its relationship to a much larger Moro populace are at stake.

President Arroyo should review her "hands of steel" policy. For while she is boasting her recent "victory" abroad, the Moro people who are victims of her militarist strategy are not clapping their hands. For there is still no peace in Sulu and the rest of Mindanao. Her military solution undermines the peace negotiations and the Moro people's resolve to seek justice for the victims of human rights violations. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Amirah Ali Lidasan is vice chair of the Suara Bangsamoro Partylist Organization based in Cotabato City. Email [email protected])