PEACETALK: MNLF siege a year after: The task of peacebuilding

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/07 Sept) — Nobody wins in a war, it has been said. And a year after the shocking attack of Zamboanga City by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) on orders of Nur Misuari, all those involved are still reeling painfully from their respective tragedies.

“One year later and over 26,000 people, mainly from the minority Moro ethnic group, remain displaced from their homes. They live in extremely difficult conditions in overcrowded evacuation centers and transitional sites with limited access to health services or adequate water and sanitation facilities” according to OCHA Humanitarian Bulletin.

So-called home-based IDPs are trapped in purgatories of rented rooms or impatient relatives’ homes, unable to rebuild their comfortable houses or businesses that were burned down.

These thousands IDPs were impoverished by the attack, and many of them will never recover for the rest of their lives – no real recovery is possible if social and economic losses are not restored.

Too, those who suffered direct violence as hostages or injuries or deaths of relatives have not received an iota of justice from government.

The residents of Zamboanga City are living everyday in a state of near-hysteria or paranoia, frequently driven over the emotional cliff by nasty texted alarums.

The military also has to continue to deploy a lot of resources otherwise needed elsewhere to keep the city secure.

The unending humanitarian crisis has drained limited government resources that could have been put to better, more profitable use in urgent programs and projects like poverty alleviation.

The poverty – and ergo crime – situation in the country is spiraling; the highly bragged-about economic growth is after all benefitting only the capitalist elite, those cozy friends and cronies of a conspirating President.

The MNLF lost hundreds of its naive members, now dead and buried in unmarked graves or jail detainees. The foxy ideologue Misuari is still sporting a huge self-inflicted “bukul” on his head for his blood-filled quest of a “Bangsamoro Republik,” which he could have better pursued through extra-legal, civilized means.

Even civil society organizations lost much and continue to lose. Those especially in the mission of peace-building lost in a flash what they had built painstakingly for years to harmonize Muslim and Christians communal relationships. The war shattered those gains, the CSOs are still picking the pieces, but supervening developments like intractable problems in the GPH-MILF peace process and rising worldwide Islamic extremism do not bode assurances of future success.

Within 24 hours from the outbreak of the MNLF attack in September last year, Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ) mobilized its solidarity group and associates including those from Jolo to mediate to peacefully resolve the initial stand-off. Alas, hawks and hotheads in high government very soon unleashed an all-out military counter-attack.

The rest is black history, one that is still in the making. A part of that history was the baring of the weaknesses or vulnerabilities of the security defenses of the city, as well as the poisonous inter-cultural divides and conflicts.

The MNLF invasion was only the second in the entire history of the city, the first being the takeover of Fort Pilar by the Katipuneros led by Gen. Alvarez.

Even in the event of the success of the current problematic peace process that may lead to the establishment of a new Bangsamoro entity, those weaknesses will not automatically disappear.

All this only means that the task of peace-making – from rebuilding inter-cultural and interfaith goodwill to rebuilding the lives of the siege victims to shoring up the security defenses of the city – will continue to be daunting and difficult tasks. (Peace Advocates Zamboanga)