MIND DA NEWS :Blame It on Tactical Errors

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/17 September)– The MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) “invaders” of Zamboanga City have no chance. Numbering 180 (some reports say 300), how could they win against 3,000 “defenders” mostly elite military troops? By the latest reports, more than a hundred of them had been killed or captured. Unless, they surrender, they will be wiped out.

Was the “invasion” on orders of MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari or on the initiative of MNLF Commander Ustadz Habier Malik?

Misuari has “disowned the actions of Habier Malik”, said Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar after talking with Misuari by telephone. But his spokesman, lawyer Emmanuel Fontanilla, said that Misuari “was directing the MNLF fighters’ movements” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 13, 2013: Misuari disowns acts of followers in Zamboanga City).

Misuari’s long-time spokesman and loyal lieutenant Rev. Absalom Cerveza said more – that Misuari never disowned Malik and “never disowned responsibility” for the hostilities (philstar.com, September 13, 2013: Nur’s MNLF pursuing ‘war for independence’). He said Misuari’s men did not go to Zamboanga City for a peace caravan but to wage “a war of independence”.

To elucidate, he explained that last month Misuari “declared a de facto” independent “Bangsamoro Republik”, composed of Mindanao, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Palawan and the Malaysian federal states of Sabah and Sarawak with himself as president and commander-in-chief of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces. MNLF is waging war “to gain its independence”.

In an editorial in its website last September 12, MNLF accused the Aquino government of having “no respect for the September 2, 1996 GRP-OIC-MNLF Jakarta peace agreement” (1996 FPA). It is terminating the GRP-OIC-MNLF tripartite review for the full implementation of the 1996 FPA to give way to its framework agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that will establish the Bangsamoro in place of the ARMM. That is among the causes of the “Filipino-Moro war in Zamboanga City”.

Whatever be the truth, the “invasion” was quixotic. Here were 180 armed fighters, brave they might be, landing right at the main door of the Western Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. They were, they claimed, to march “peacefully” – of course, brandishing their arms while shouting “Allahuh al-Akbar!” — through the main streets of Zamboanga City and hoist the MNLF flag at the City Hall.

This is quixotically quizzical. Misuari is not abandoning the tripartite review. He wants both the independent Bangsamoro Republic and the full implementation of the 1996 FPA. That’s mental dishonesty, if not delusion, calculated to wiggle concessions – a tactical error he will rue and might not outlive. As soon as his fighters had set foot in Zamboanga City, he requested Indonesia for the postponement of the impending tripartite meeting.

Citing a September 12 “Note Verbal” from the Indonesian Embassy, Peace Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, said (“Statement” posted in the OPAPP website last September 13) that the tripartite meeting (scheduled last Monday, September 16 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia) had been postponed — on the request of Misuari “due to the situation in Zamboanga City — to a new venue and date still to be determined by the OIC-PCSP (OIC Peace Committee for the Southern Philippines) chaired by Indonesia.

Misuari’s tactical error is tragic and, at the same time, pathetic. He offered the release of the hostages in exchange of safe passage of his fighters back to Sulu and Basilan. President Aquino III rejected the offer; as of the latest reports, Misuari’s men were being routed and the hostages had been liberated. How much “good will” has been left to push through the tripartite review?

On hind sight, Misuari’s latest tactical error is just a consequence of the Philippine government’s tactical errors starting with the Cory Aquino presidency. After MNLF had splintered into the Misuari, Salamat Hashim and Dimas Pundato factions, President Ferdinand E. Marcos refused to negotiate until they would reunite. Negotiating with one would not yield peace; negotiating with each one separately would be divisive.

Failing in her attempt to negotiate with both the MNLF and MILF separately, President Corazon C. Aquino established the ARMM. Even before the 1996 GRP-MNLF FPA could be signed, President Fidel V. Ramos initiated a separate peace negotiation with MILF. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and President Aquino III have been left to reconcile the irreconcilable.

Marcos must be grinning in his refrigerated mausoleum, “See! I told you so.”

From reports, it seems obvious that the Aquino government will do its best to have some complementary and supplementary provisions of the 1996 FPA infused into the GPH-MILF Comprehensive Agreement. That must be among its reasons for wanting to complete the review soon – in time for the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Will MNLF agree? According to Deles, both the Misuari and the Sema factions of MNLF declined to recommend their representatives to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission when invited by the government. While they are complaining of having been left out in the GPH-MILF peace talks, they refuse to join the drafting of the BBL. Their only option is the “full implementation” of the 1996 FPA.

Will Aquino be able to correct the tactical error of Ramos in negotiating separately with MNLF and MILF, one after the other?

Will Aquino be able to reunite the many factions of MNLF then reunite them with MILF – a bounden task which the OIC, after more than 35 years, is still trying to accomplish?

Will the Zamboanga City “invasion” be the last tragic consequence of the tactical errors of the governments after Marcos?

Marcos might have been right in demanding the reunification of MNLF and MILF before negotiating peace to end the Moro or Mindanao problem. But it should be asked: What options had Cory Aquino and Ramos other than making tactical moves at the risk of making errors?

Blame the Zamboanga City tragedy on tactical errors. But, should Government, MNLF and MILF collectively take the burden of correcting the errors the tragedy will not go for naught. [Author’s Note:  Mind da News, the alternate of COMMENTS, is specifically an opinion on current news. You may reach him at [email protected]]