ADVOCACY MINDANOW: Zambo Peace Formula Rejected–VP BINAY

BACOLOD CITY(MindaNews/25 November) —Last Saturday while in Bacolod CityVice President Jojo Binay devoted almost all of his 10-minute brief but inspiring speech on the tragedies and the challenges of Typhoon Yolanda. He was guest speaker during the Jaycees Senate induction of new national President Jorge Lim.

But as soon as he dismounted from the rostrum, his thoughts must have wandered to  far-away Zamboanga because as we shook hands, he briefly stopped, pulled me aside and immediately said: “I saw you on TV Jess and I heard you appealing that they should not resort to military operations in Zamboanga City. I believed that was the best solution, but we were both sidelined.”

I was not surprised by the Vice President’s serious concern on Zamboanga when he called me aside,  although he was strongly appealing for help for Visayas during his speech.    I recall during the early start of the siege by MNLF and there was no shooting or firefight yet, VP Jojo was able to arrange a peaceful ceasefire arrangement directly with Chairman Nur Misuari. His purpose, which I thought was the best way to handle the situation, was clearly to avoid unnecessary loss of lives and damage to property considering that  any firefight would devastate downtown Zamboanga City and result to countless deaths, especially of the innocent civilians. But Malacanang proceeded to ignore and rejected a peaceful formula. It opted for a military option. The rest is history.

Today, the facts stare all of us in the face: many killed, 10,000 houses burned, about 120,000 evacuees, mostly still languishing in the Zamboanga city sports grandstand up to the present. Two months have elapsed since it was declared as “cleared“. But  no deliverance yet for the victims. In the meantime,  Yolanda had overtaken the Zamboanga events.

Unlike the “Yolanda”  which was  well beyond  man’s control, the Zamboanga calamity was clearly something else. And could have been avoided. Or at least minimized.  While Yolanda was nature’s work,  the Zamboanga siege was man- made and was  manageable at the outset. But we all knew what happened. President Aquino and Sec. Mar Roxas wanted to give Misuari and Ustadz Malik  a lesson of a lifetime. And opted not for a peaceful settlement but for a military campaign, thinking that such would   deter similar  “adventurisms” in the future. But at what cost?  Whether the hard-line solution would pay off  in the  long term, we will have yet to wait and see. But now  we see the immediate aftermath.

From the brief chat I had with the Vice President, I could feel his pain and regrets that he  could have helped end the siege early and peacefully. Unfortunately, the judgment call was not his to make.  Not yet at this time, anyway. (Soon?)  I remember he sent a message to the public disclosing his peaceful formula was rejected by Malacanang and he asked for prayers for  Zamboanga  as he flew back to Manila following his aborted attempt to prevent a bloody end.  Soon after he left, the Zamboanga carnage and destruction ensued.

When I visited Zamboanga City and ground zero a few days ago, the misery of the victims, although assuaged a bit, still continued.  I told the Vice President about it and I wished that he would also take sometime to re-visit.

In the meantime I got a call from Fr. Angel Calvo of Zamboanga City inviting me to a Week of Peace Forum there on the situation sometime about a week from now. It will be interesting to know  what are the Zamboangenos themselves planning to do about the still on-going crisis situation.

Surely, Vice President Jojo, although focused on the “Yolanda” interventions, will be interested how he could still be of help in Zamboanga.  I don ‘t think Malacanang should  sideline him this time.

PLAYING GOD?  I recall what Davao MAYOR RODY DUTERTE said  upon seeing the utter devastation of Tacloban, being one of the early responders to visit. Trying to find reason to the disaster,  he mused : “God must be sleeping when Yolanda hit” .

My friend, Businessman CELESTINO ” AL” BARRETTO (of Davao Mitsubishi dealership) who is a  Catholic leader and lay theologian,   has his own  theory on why thousands of lives were lost in the string of calamities that hit the country, including  “Yolanda”.   He said that it dawned on him that perhaps this was God’s way of “retribution” for man’s proclivity to “play god“. He mentioned as an example, the newly- passed  Reproductive Health  law, which is designed to control population growth, which the Church vigorously opposed but was passed by Congress and signed by the President. Al said:    “It’s like God  saying: ‘So, you Filipinos  want to bring down your population huh?    Here it is! Wooooffff!”  In one swath and in a flash,  thousands of lives are taken. So don’t blame God. In reality, we asked for it!

AMERICAN HELP –I got word from Cebu businessman ROBERT “BOB” GO , a Jaycee senator who has some business in GUIUAN, Eastern Samar, the first landfall  area of “Yolanda” about an interesting information, not known to many.

The Guiuan peninsula  which is facing the Pacific Ocean has the best harbor, strategically located with an airport that was supposedly built by the Americans  as early as during the onset of World War II. Word has it, according to BOB that   Guiuan was the “staging ground”  of  US bomber planes which transported and dropped the bombs on Japan’s  Nagasaki and Hiroshima that   brought a sudden end to the war. That part of the Visayas therefore had a historical significance to democracy and peace of the world.

No wonder, US forces quickly responded shortly after “Yolanda”  made its landfall. Their aircraft carriers made U- turns and steamed to the area, helicopters and vessels  with thousands of US soldiers and “mercy workers” were on the ground in no time helping as first responders. I think the Americans, by doing so, is paying tribute to the strategic and heroic importance of Visayas, Guiuan specifically  — and the Philippines as a whole —  in its military history. My guess is that they will help rebuild, with the support of other nations,  the devastated areas in no time.

An example of converting a calamity into an   opportunity. MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews.  Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was Presidential Adviser for Mindanao for former Presidents Fidel V. Ramos and Gloria M. Arroyo. He was also involved in the peace negotiations in the talks with the MILF and the CPP-NPA-NDF and initiated, while Presidential Peace Adviser, the Tripartite Review of the 1996 MNLF Peace Agreement. He is currently President/Chair of the Philippine Press Institute. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW)