SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: All-out war bound to fail (again)

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/30 October) – Those who favor an all-out war forget or seem to not understand that government is talking peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front precisely because using military means has proved futile after nearly half a century of conflict.

The grief and anger of the widows and orphans of the soldiers killed in the October 18 encounter in Al Barka, Basilan is no reason to abandon the peace process and revert to a failed policy.

Passion, especially if reinforced by self-serving claims of publicity-hungry politicians that the MILF is not sincere in the talks, should not block the path towards a greater political goal.

It’s easy for people outside of Mindanao who haven’t seen what war is like to join the call of mobsters in high government offices for an all-out war against the MILF. They wrongly think that all the armed forces have to do is march into rebel territory, fire their guns, count the dead and wounded and tell reporters it’s all over. This, however, isn’t conventional warfare characterized by fixed-position battles. Moreover, as a struggle for the right to self-determination, the MILF rebellion enjoys the political and moral support not just of the Moro populace but also of some Islamic countries.

The outcome of the Al Barka encounter shows the inherent strength of the insurgency. What the rebels may lack in terms of training and armaments, they compensate with community or mass-base support. Al Barka proved that they have learned how to exploit this built-in advantage with devastating effects on the military side. Note that in an article posted in, the MILF used the term “native defenders” to refer to the elements that engaged the soldiers. Such usage suggests that the government troops encountered not only MILF fighters but probably all other community members who bear arms. I could be wrong of course in my hypothesis that armed non-MILF members may have joined the fray.

In the earlier years of their existence, the Moro rebels foolishly engaged government forces head-on and sacrificed men and material to defend camps and positions, basically the same strategy that spelled doom for the Hukbong Magpapalaya ng Bayan in Central Luzon. Learning from this error, the MILF, like the communist-led New People’s Army, has since adopted a more fluid battle strategy. (Some sources said the MILF partly obtained their training on guerrilla warfare from the NPA). They still maintain some camps, but they would no longer hold on to these positions at all cost, like they did in 2000 when the military entered Camp Abubakar. That’s why I said that ousted president Joseph Estrada has nothing to brag about the capture of Abubakar because it did not mean the end of the MILF.

For their part, the rebels know they cannot win against the Philippine military. Yet they don’t need a decisive military victory to push their agenda. They can win by not losing, by frustrating attempts to decimate their forces by playing cat and mouse with the military. That alone will create headaches for Aquino and his successors.

Forget the unrepentant Estrada. Our current leaders should realize that the war with the MILF cannot be won in the field and that the more prudent option is to go back to the negotiating table. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])