COMMENT: A Dangerous, Costly Game: Part III: (Continuation: Stop Peace Negotiation)

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/10 November) — The call to stop Government and MILF negotiation unless MILF surrender their “rogue commanders” who with “criminals” they coddle “slaughtered” the 19 SF troopers and to review — better disregard or scrap — the ceasefire agreement is ridiculous.


MILF top officials admitted their forces battled the government troops. Dan Laksaw Asnawi is the deputy commander of their 114th Base Command; they maintain he had been unjustly arrested and detained for the beheading of the Marines in 2007 – a charged he had been cleared from.  MILF will never surrender Asnawi and his men even if they had been labeled as “rogue” and “criminals”.


Will the negotiation be better stopped?  Will the ceasefire agreement be better scrapped or disregarded? Or, will it be revised to suit military operations?


All-out war during the 14-year martial law regime and the Estrada government in 2000 did not stop the rebellion. It was the negotiation by President Ramos that demobilized the MNLF; it was the negotiation he initiated that tempered the MILF. It has been proven worldwide that negotiation is the best approach to attain peace and reconciliation – the latest of which was the political settlement of the long and atrocious rebellion in Sudan.


Rule of Law


In the wake of the killing in action of the 19 SF soldiers, there is a nationwide call for the rule of law. The 19 SF soldiers were not considered casualties of war but murder victims of Moro savagery.  So their killers will be hunted as criminals and charged with murder in court. Is the call the right call for the rule of law in a just rebellion?


When Philippine Government agreed to negotiate a political settlement to end the Moro rebellion – starting from Tripoli in 1976, then Mindanao in 1987, Jakarta in 1993-96, again Mindanao in 1997-2000 and Kuala Lumpur in 2001 to the present – it recognized the Moro rebellion as just. With the engagement of foreign governments as mediators or facilitators, the negotiations had been recognized internationally as legitimate.


Just wars are governed by international agreements and conventions, like the Geneva Convention as the bases of rule of law in war. After wars, violators of the conventions have been tried in international or special courts and punished for war crimes.


In the case of the Moro – MNLF and MILF — rebellion, the ceasefire agreements signed for the duration of the peace negotiations were the bases of the rule of law. MILF has long invoked the Geneva Convention. The GRP-MILF Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities defines lawful and unlawful acts for the parties and provides procedures to apprehend criminals in conflict areas; it has set up mechanisms for implementation.


The involvement of the International Monitoring Team and the International Contact Group validates the distinction of the GRP-MILF Ceasefire Agreement from Philippine Criminal Law. The problem is not with the ceasefire agreement and the implementing mechanisms. A  Manila daily has cited the IMT’s observation that the government and MILF forces have not been coordinating properly as agreed.




What’s disturbing is the seeming impertinence of the Senate. From 1997 when Ramos brought MILF to the negotiation table through the nine-year Arroyo presidency, the senators rarely took notice of the negotiation and the ceasefire agreement. Now leading senators are calling for a review and revision of the process and mechanisms. Funniest of all [I call it funny!], the senators are pouring their ire on Secretary Deles.


Senate President Enrile is demanding that the negotiation be in the Philippines. This was held originally in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. Why did he not object when President Arroyo requested in 2001 Malaysia to facilitate and host the negotiation?


In arguing that the Moro rebellion as an internal problem must be negotiated without foreign intervention, he is conveniently forgetting history and his own part in it. He knows that negotiations with MNLF had all been held abroad with the Organization of Islamic Organization mediating.  He knows that in 1977, as Defense Minister he was in the Philippine panel that shocked the OIC panel by rejecting its demands to implement the Tripoli Agreement in the way it wanted.


The Senate – regrettably, Congress as a whole – has been oblivious of the lack of a sound policy for Mindanao. The Moro problem now started with the American conquest. The Philippine Commission and the Philippine Legislature passed laws oppressive and unjust to the Muslims. The Philippine Congress, starting with the Commonwealth Government, instead of setting a policy to rectify past wrongs, instituted development programs for Mindanao prejudicial of the Muslims. A sound policy could have restored justice.


The senators and radical critics of the ongoing peace negotiation with MILF and of the GRP-MILF Ceasefire Agreement — in knee-jerk reactions to the tragic military operation in Basilan last October 18 — are playing a dangerous game.  That can be more costly.


(Next: Equivocations)

[“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at [email protected].)