COMMENT: A Dangerous, Costly Game (Part III: Divided)

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/9 Nov) – President Benigno S. Aquino III thumbed down the all-out-war calls. He incurred severe criticism for that. But he held fast with the peace advocates even if outnumbered by the all-out-war radicals – Senate leaders among them. In an ambush interview at the MacArthur Memorial Park in Leyte last October 20 [posted in Official Gazette], he stated the position that must have incensed his critics:


He admitted having received a report: “Binigyan tayo ng preliminary report so hindi pa kumpleto. Magkakaroon kami ng command conference bukas sa [Camp] Aguinaldo ng hapon para nga mag-report sila [tungkol] sa buong operation: ano ba ang pakay ng operasyon? Ano ba ‘yung plano? Para maraming detalye na gusto kong talakayin sa kanila.” [He wanted to know more: What was the purpose of the operation? What was the plan? I want to discuss many details at the command conference.]


To a follow-up question, he retorted: “… are you advocating let’s go on an all-out war, and that redounds to an improvement of the situation? … Giyera, walang nakikinabang. [No one benefits from war. He suggested one incident did not make all MILF that bad.]


He reiterated: “… Maganda nga imbestigahan muna natin kung ano ang nangyari. Sino ang may pagkukulang? Sino ang mga nang-abuso, et cetera. … ‘Pag nakuha mo lahat ng detalye, ‘yun ang magsasabi sa’yo ng course of direction. Pero [kung] magtatalun-talon tayo kaagad na may conclusion, walang facts, eh napaka-iresponsable n’on. [Investigate first. Who are at fault? Who are abusive? Et cetera. It is irresponsible to jump right away to conclusions without knowing the facts.]


“No-All-Out-War” Supporters


Supporting President Aquino are peace advocates, peace groups crossing religious lines – Muslim, Catholic, Protestant – Progressive Members of the House of Representatives, Government Peace Panel and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. While they mourn for the death of the 19 SF troopers and six MILF rebels, they are one with the President that all-out-war will not solve the Mindanao problem; on the other hand, it will only bring about destruction and suffering.


The Philippine Daily Inquirer and two of its columnists supported the President “no-all-out-war” stance. In its editorial, “Peace, not War”, PDI praised Aquino for choosing “not to wage an all-out offensive” knowing “that an all-out war would hit hardest the most vulnerable and weakest sectors of society in Mindanao – the non-combatants, the women, children and old people … who are displaced, dislocated … will lose their means of livelihood …”


Conrado de Quiros (There’s the Rub), said in his October 24 column, Tough”: “War is the last resort, not the first. All-out war is a thing devoutly to be shunned, not a thing devoutly to be wished. Whether among individuals or among nations, utak pulvora is never tough … Clear thinking is” – meaning Aquino is “tough” for his “clear thinking”.


He followed this up in another column article, “Still, Tough”, likening the “all-out-war” war hysteria to the US-led anti-terrorist war after 9/11 – the Twin Towers disaster.


Randy David (Public Lives) criticized the all-out-war radicals for not seeing “Mindanao from Moro eyes” – also the title of his column article. His major premise: “A useful starting point for any analysis of the problem in Mindanao is the recognition that the Philippine government is not, and indeed has never been, in full control of Muslim Mindanao.” He continued to explain the complexities of the problem. The Moro rebellion – the subject of “all-out” war – is the offshoot of the complexities.


To conclude his column, he asked: “Can we even imagine the scale of humanitarian disaster that will result from a total war in Mindanao?” The answer: “No, because the arrogant voices that call for total war are typically the ones who do not know that the Philippine state has never effectively established itself in Muslim Mindanao. They remain ignorant of the historic injustices that have been committed against the Moro people. They see only the death of Filipino soldiers, not the pain of people who have been stripped of their lands.” [Bold supplied]


Implicitly, David is lauding Aquino for seeing Mindanao – in his “no-all-out-war” stance – as the Moros see it.


Aquino’s Burden


As reported, the call for all-out war was spread by text messages to support indignant, anti-MILF voices from the Senate, the national media and motley leaders and feed the anger of Filipinos ignorant of Mindanao issues. In reality, the Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay latest hostilities stoked undying embers of fears, biases and prejudices associated with Moros and their liberation movements from historic injustice.


The outcry is for the Aquino government to stop negotiating with MILF; to explain the “ATS” (Area of Temporary Stay) that together with the ceasefire agreement has made the MILF rebels “untouchable”; and to account for the P5-million fund the government has given to MILF for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI). For these, the Aquino government is accused of coddling the enemy.


The outcry is loudest in the Senate. However, from their statements [foremost among them: Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Panfilo Lacson, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Gregorio Honasan, Antonio Trillanes III and Francis Escudero] they appeared to be ignorant of or ignoring the facts and to be consumed by anger and political arrogance. [As seen in various reports of]


Santiago warned against the abuse of ATS by MILF and its dire implication; Lacson and Trillanes traced the origin of ATS in agreements of MNLF with the Ramos and of MILF with the Arroyo governments; Escudero likened ATS to MOA-AD that would lead to an “MILF sovereign state”. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 26 and 28, 2011] How senators can alarm the government and country with their ignorance is most alarming.


What “ATS” Is


Here’s what “ATS” is. They could have clarified instead of presuming to know.


MILF Peace Panel Chairman Mohagner Iqbal explained: “ATS is not part of signed documents of the negotiating peace panels. The term was and is being used by the parties to designate a temporary area where as early as 2004 MILF forces converged for IMT visitation, or where peace advocacy activities, as in the case of Zamboanga Peninsula, are held. However, in Basilan, ATS was an area where MILF forces used to stay while the AFP conducted operation against Abu Sayyaf.” [Response to Author’s email inquiry, October 28.]


ATS is designated by CCCH (Coordinating Committees on Cessation of Hostilities) and AHJAG (Ad Hoc Joint Action Group) in coordination with AFP and MILF. As seen in the Staff Report of Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces concerning the Basilan encounter last October 18, there was no ATS in existence that included Sitio Bakisung at the time of the attack. The military had not coordinated with CCCH and AHJAG.


Of the neighboring barangays – Cambug, Guinanta, Magcawa, Makalang, Danapa and Linuan all of the municipality of Al Barka – involved in the more than eight-hour battle, including air and artillery bombardment, it was Guinanta that from May to July 2008 was identified ATS to give way to the operation of the AFP against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the municipalities of Tipo-Tipo, Al-Barka and Ungkaya Pukan”. That was three years ago. [From: BIAF GENERAL STAFF REPORT published in Luwaran, October 28, 2011]


Incidentally, although coming not so early as it should have been, an explanation of what ATS is came out in Philippine Daily Inquirer of October 29, 2011 with MILF’s Peace Panel Chair Mohagher (MILF: ATS only incidental, there’s real issue) and AFP’s Col. Dickenson Hermoso (AFP: No more ATS; last was in Al-Barka) as the sources. This should have straightened out all references to ATS. Hermoso related many ATS sites before Guinanta in 2008 that elucidated Iqbal’s explanation to us. Yet, the military has kept on making wrong references.


P5-M BLMI Fund


The P5-million assistance to the MILF for the establishment of BLMI is really a sensitive issue. Not properly understood, the giving of that money by Government to MILF is viewed as treason.


The purpose is most laudable – training future Bangsamoro leaders. BLMI is legal; it is registered with the Security and Exchange Commission. It was technically assisted by the Development Academy of the Philippines and initially funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency and Asia Foundation. If BLMI were under the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, there would have been no misunderstanding.


As it is now, the P5-million assistance has scandalized senators and many others into suspecting that MILF could have used the money to purchase arms. This bares one big root of the Mindanao problem: The MILF and other Moro rebels are eternal enemies; the Moros are never trusted. The ultimate purpose of the assistance to build confidence is incomprehensible. That the government now obviously looks at the Moros as a wronged people to reconcile with and to merit amends is unthinkable to many Filipino leaders.

(To Be Continued)


(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently 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])