Our attention should not only be confined to the 5,000-strong Marines contingent who are poised to conduct offensive operations after Philippine Armed Forces Chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. has given the green light for "punitive actions" against those who killed 14 Marines, 10 of whom were beheaded. We cannot imagine the possible heavy casualties and bloodshed that will ensue on both sides.
But our concern should mainly include the nameless and faceless victims of war: the thousands of children, women, and the elderly. The latest reports from Bantay Ceasefire or Ceasefire Watch, a grassroots ceasefire monitor, put the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) at around 5,000. We cannot help but to be alarmed of the dire consequences on the health and as well as the livelihood concerns of these IDPs.
As peace advocates, we cannot just fold our hands and be indifferent to the situation in Basilan and its implications to the peace and security situation of Mindanao. Let us be reminded that the Basilan tragedy was not just another crime that happens everyday. It has adverse consequences to the on-going peace talks between the government and the MILF, which is about to resume after it was stalled last year over the sensitive issue on ancestral domain. That no matter how tedious and contentious the on-going peace talks, we should learn to appreciate its value and count the blessings of temporary peace it has secured for Mindanaoans.
Therefore, we are asking the government and the MILF to exercise maximum restraint over the situation in Basilan as we recommend the following:
1. For the national government to put on hold its military offensive in Basilan in order to give way to an independent fact finding mission in order to determine what really happened and identify the perpetrators of the acts not acceptable under the norms in the conduct of war. We support the move to immediately create an international fact finding mission as initially agreed through a resolution by the Joint Ceasefire Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities (JCCCH), a body with a mandate to implement the ceasefire agreement. As stated in the resolution, this move is important “to determine the proximate cause of the incident and possible violations of the ceasefire agreement, pinpoint persons responsible for acts of atrocities, and recommend measures to prevent its occurrence.”
2. To provide spaces of peace in areas affected by the military offensive in order to give time for relief and rehabilitation work to be conducted by concerned government agencies and civil society groups. In this way, we can provide aid for the civilians — the children, the women, and the elderly — who are now in very unenviable conditions.
3. For both parties, the government and MILF, to resume the stalled peace talks in order to immediately resolve the crisis in Basilan and come up with appropriate measures so as to prevent the occurrence of the tragic incident in the future and provide added impetus for the pursuit of a principled peace agreement.
We've had enough of bloody wars. It is time to stay the swords and give peace -as always– another chance.
Southeast Asia Global Partnership
for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (SEA GPPAC)
Antonio M. Manaytay
Initiatives for International Dialogue