COMMENT: A Dangerous Game (IV): Equivocations

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/12 Nov)In a situation-saving balancing act, President Aquino III countered his “no to all-out war” option with “all-out justice” for the 19 SF troopers. In so doing under conflicting circumstances, he equivocated to reassure the majority of the soundness of his leadership – appeasing the angry among them – and to strengthen the morale and loyalty of the Armed Forces. He is up to a “win-win” game.


In effect, the “all-out justice, not all-out war” has become a policy. In his television address from Malacanang last October 24, as culled from reports in OPAPP website, Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star, President Aquino III stated:


The rationality of his option:


We will not pursue all-out war; we will instead pursue all-out justice.  All-out war is indiscriminate and borne out of anger. All-out justice is sober and fair; it is based on the rule of law, and leads to lasting peace.”


The primacy of peace through dialogue and negotiation over all-out war:


“There have been calls to wage an ‘all-out war’ against the MILF. While it is tempting for the government to join the chorus in calling for blood, we believe that such a course of action is not appropriate at this point.  We are not interested in knee-jerk actions that will jeopardize our efforts to address the roots of conflict in the region.”


“It is so easy, out of frustration, to close the door on negotiations at this time. If we go down this path, more innocent civilians will be put in harm’s way.  The difficult peace process cannot be enhanced by shedding more blood and generating more ill will. We have to exhaust all possibilities for attaining peace through dialogue.”


That by all-out justice, the lawless elements will be pursued:


“In line with this, I have instructed intensified operations against all these criminal elements. The mailed fist of the state will be brought to bear upon them so that justice may be served. There is no question that the state will find them; the only remaining question is when. There will be sacrifices in addressing this decades-old problem.  We expect everyone to understand this; and are confident of the cooperation of the citizenry.”

“This is not a purely military or police effort. Our local government and community leaders must assist in our efforts to achieve a holistic solution to the problems of the region. The government will always be mindful of the safety and needs of the people.”

That the MILF rebels are not the target:

“We are not targeting the MILF.  We have sent message to the MILF that we are not out to get them, but if some of its members participate, then there is no exception.”

A reminder to not use the Basilan incident for selfish political interest:

“Let me remind everyone that there are those who will try to use this incident to gain political leverage and further agitate the public. Rash decisions fueled by a thirst for vengeance can only serve to dishonor the memory of the 19 brave souls who died last week, and the many others lost in our efforts to win the peace.”

The justness of the policy is unquestionable. Only the guilty will be punished for the death of the innocent. It has won immediate and resounding acceptance and support nationwide. It’s a “win-win” masterstroke satisfying both the “hawks” and the “doves”.


There are signs the MILF top leaders and fighters are wary. The “all-out justice, not all-out war” is, in reality, a “head I win; tail you lose” or, bluntly, “I win all, you lose all” proposition – the “I” being Government and the “you” being MILF.

Under the policy, military and police operations will only be after “lawless elements”. Who are the lawless elements? They are the Abu Sayyaf, terrorists, kidnappers and those who protect them and other criminals.

Incidentally, the MILF rebels have long been suspected – in fact as claimed, a most positive suspicion – and accused as allies of the Abu Sayyaf, protectors of foreign terrorists identified with al-Qaeda, and coddlers of kidnap for ransom gangs. Under this premise, the MILF rebels identified with lawless elements are classified as “rogue MILF”; by inference, the MILF rebels are either “good” or “rogue”.


Paradoxically, “all-out justice” as a policy or the universal precept “justice for all” is not for the MILF or Moro. In reality, it is so equivocal an order for the military to pursue MILF rebels if in their thinking the MILF rebels are “lawless elements”. In referring to “lawless elements” as “decades old” problems, the President is – by slip, design or intent – referring to “Moro problems” of which the MILF rebellion is identified.


In fact, the history of the war against the Moros illustrates the equivocation. If the Moro rebels are routed, the soldiers or police are promoted; otherwise, the rebels are condemned as murderers. When Moro rebels raid Christian villages, they are hunted in justice to the Christians; but when the military bomb or shell Moro villages in “all-out justice” after “rogue MILF” rebels the destruction and deaths – collective punishment of the Moros — are collaterals of “war” – not injustice.


Works Two-Way


That is the scenario in Basilan. The military will pursue Ansawi as ordered by the President to give “all-out justice” to the 19 slain SF troopers. To the military, he is “lawless element” to be pursued wherever he goes.  He led the MILF forces that killed the 19 SF troopers.  The MILF admitted this. Ansawi’s two sons who fought the SF platoons will also be hunted – they and their men.  The planned military operation in Basilan will be against the MILF 114th Base Command.


The MILF will cooperate in the hunt of lawless elements according to the May 6, 2002 Joint GRP-MILF Communique on how to apprehend lawless elements in MILF controlled areas, the Manila media reported. At her press conference last November 9, Secretary Deles said, “… make no mistake about it; we will hold them to their words.”


But they will not surrender Ansawi since to them he is not among the “lawless elements” — including his men. Certainly, the MILF in Basilan will not “stand aside” as demanded by the military. They will also hold the President to his words, “We are not targeting the MILF.” Equivocation works two-way. Expect bloody battles should the military push through their plan.  And, you bet, they will!


Not Comforting

“All-out justice” for the 19 slain SF troopers is “all-out” war against the MILF 114th Base Command in Basilan – until Ansawi and his sons are captured or slain – wherever they go and at whatever cost. The latest media mixed reports are not comforting. Reading the headlines tells a lot:


“No pursuit operations against MILF in Basilan; AFP files complaint with CCCH”, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported on October 29; but, “After Sibugay, AFP preparing strike in Basilan,” The Philippine Star, October 29 denied it.


The denial was sustained: “Military preparing to attack MILF in Basilan? MILF told to defend themselves,” Luwaran, October 31; “MILF braces for AFP offensive,” The Philippine Star, November 1; and, “Army augments more troops in Basilan,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer, November 2.


The MILF was warned: “Palace to MILF: Cooperate or stand aside,” ABS-CBN News, November 1; “Cooperate or stand aside: AFP tells MILF in Basilan,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, November 2.  The MILF responded: “MILF: We’ll stand aside,” Manila Bulletin, November 1, 2 and 3; “MILF: We’ll stand aside,” Luwaran, November 3.


At the meeting of the Government and MILF peace panels in Malaysia, “MILF vows to get rid of bandits,” The Philippine Star, November 5. But Asnawi was not included; he is not a bandit. So, the hard stands: “MILF refuses to surrender its deputy commander to gov’t,” The Philippine Star, November 1; “Defense chief vows to get MILF’s Asnawi,” The Philippine Star, November 4.


The ceasefire committees were preparing to investigate: “IMT and GPH, MILF ceasefire committees meet to set date for Al-barka probe,” MindaNews, November 8; but MILF commanders were charged in court by the Philippine National Police:   “CIDG files multiple murder charges vs. 13 MILF commanders,” The Philippine Star, November 9.


To Recapitulate


President Aquino III has laid down the policy: “All-out justice” for the 19 slain SF troopers in Basilan, “not all-out war”. Only the slayers of the 19 SF troopers are the targets; the MILF rebels are not, but if any of them get in the way in any way, they are not exceptions.


The military welcome the policy: Asnawi, his sons and the MILF rebels under them slew the 19 SF troopers; we will get them. The MILF better cooperate by surrendering them or they get out of our way.


The MILF response: We will cooperate; we’ll not stand in the way of the military or the police if they go after “lawless elements”. But Asnawi and his men in our 114th Base Command are not “lawless elements”. We are prepared to defend them in our territory.


In Kuala Lumpur last November 3, the government and MILF peace panels agreed to conduct a formal investigation of the Al-Barka incident. But the PNP could not wait; CIDG, its investigation arm, has already filed murder charges in court against Asnawi and 12 other MILF commanders.  Once the court issues the warrant of arrest, the PNP and the military will serve these.


What’s unfolding is the dangerous game of equivocation; it can be very costly. The Philippine media are just too willing and happy to play the game up. The best solution is peace negotiation; but this, too, has been caught in equivocations. (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” He was conferred the 1st Agong Awards for Journalism by the Mindanao Media Forum in November 2010. You may e-mail your comments to]