LETTER TO THE EDITOR: In response to Abinales

24 August 2010

I have all the respect for Patricio Abinales (and I still do), but his rejoinder to my letter to the editor published in The MindaNews on August 19 leaves me confused. Is he writing as a scholar-historian or as apologist of the military establishment? The two certainly cannot go together. If he is writing as an academician, then no matter how hard to secure or obtain the “facts of situation,” he must do so, lest he will be writing on the basis of perception or speculation. In revolutionary parlance, “no social investigation, no right to speak.” (Well, it is extremely hard when you are thousands miles away from home). If he takes the cudgel for the military, then it is entirely a different story. Better for him – and to us — if he categorically states on which side of the great divide he is speaking for. In either case, let me answer his allegations one by one, not to convince him, but simply to make our side available for the reading public.  (In italics are original formulations of Abinales).

1. Iqbal claims that the AFP’s intrusion into MILF territory was because it sought to continue promoting its “proxy war” by allowing CAFGU units to come to the support of one of the commanders involved in the conflict.

I am so sure Abinales is aware of the 3,000-man private army of Datu Andal Ampatuan which committed that infamous Maguindanao Massacre where 57 men and women mostly media personalities were hacked to death on November 23, 2009. The questions are: Who trained, armed and commanded these CAFGUs and CVOs? Where did they get their high-powered firearms and ammunition, from overseas, or direct from the arsenals of the AFP? The answer is very obvious – and I am so sure Abinales knows the answer. And it is also common knowledge the military used this private army against the MILF for several years. Is this not a “proxy war”? If not, then what is it? This is just one example among the many.

2.      The MILF’s inability to keep some of its commanders from going after each other.

We never claimed that the MILF has absolute control over its military. The facts of the recent fighting between Commanders Adzmie and Abunawas and few others in the past speak loudly for this. But this infighting is not the monopoly of the MILF. Other revolutionary groups, movements, and also states suffer the same crises. How many coup attempts have rocked this country since 1987? How about the hostage-taking in Manila, police versus police, last August 23? Even in a family, brother fights brother, sister fights sister. The MILF is not a perfect revolutionary organization; we are still trying to cleanse ourselves and the society of their filth before we can effectively face the real enemy. And the vestiges of this filth surfaces once in a while. The real test of a real organization is its ability to rejuvenate after it has been hit by a hard fall. The need for discipline or the lack of it is a continuing serious concern of both state and non-state actors.

3. I disagree with Iqbal that the AFP is the biggest stumbling block to the conflict. General Benjamin Dolorfino’s official statements and actions, not to mention the writings of Mindanews columnist Gail Ilagan, suggest that the military has done a lot in keeping war hawks in its ranks under control

Wait! I never said the military is the biggest stumbling block to the resolution of the conflict in Mindanao. Where did Abinales get that information? Better for him to refer to the same letter described above to check on his claim.

The single biggest stumbling to the resolution of this conflict is the “gods in the metropolis,” the decision- and policy-makers, NOT THE MILITARY. The military is just taking orders from the political leadership. Ever since the government has never really tried to solve the Moro Question but merely manages it by unleashing a counter-insurgency approach. In spite of this, there are some military commanders who always tried to find ways to humanize the war in Mindanao. In my opinion, they include Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia, Maj. Gen. Orlando Soriano, Gen. Jocelyn Nazareno, Maj. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, Maj. Gen. Benjamin “Mohammad” Dolorfino, Brig. Gen. Rodrigo Gutang, and Brig. Gen. Jose Torrelavega, to cite a few.

But individual military commanders can create trouble on the ground and impede the peace process, like what Lt. Col. Jonathan Ponce, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, did on June 29, 2009. He branded the internally-displaced persons especially in Maguindanao and Lanao del Norte as “enemy reserve force.” The MILF protested and asked the Arroyo administration to clarify whether such pronouncement is official government policy or a slip of the tongue of the spokesman. No correction was forthcoming except from Amb. Rafael Seguis, government chief negotiator, who said that Ponce’s statement was not government or military policy, which nevertheless led to signing of an agreement in Kuala Lumpur by the MILF and government for the protection of civilians.

4.      The odd thing about Iqbal’s response is he says nothing about their fate, more concerned as he appears to be with keeping the agreed boundaries  separating two combatants preserved. But what of the evacuees’ interests? Is their welfare secondary only to the agreements among those with guns? In face, may I inquire what the MILF has done to ensure the safe return of these 3,500 families?

The 3,500 families have already returned to their former dwellings; thanks to the efforts of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) and the ceasefire committees of the MILF and the government. In our own way, the MILF has directly exerted efforts to return them, because they are our people; it pains us if they suffer. We shed real tears for them, not crocodile tears. Anyway, we thank Abinales for also showing concern for our people!

Without saying, the interest or welfare of the people is above other considerations. But in this particular instance, both the agreements and the welfare of the civilians are important. You cannot choose one to the exclusion of the other. Is he not aware that it is the gun that creates IDPs? If the ceasefire is not respected and observed by both Parties, what will be the consequence? The answer, again, is very obvious.

5. It is next to impossible to know the “facts of situation” behind this recent upsurge in violence within its territory and by MILF commanders themselves! But neither has his explanation that the MILF demanding the AFP not be involved in the conflict a convincing one. For me it simply confirms one fascinating twist in the separatist organization’s colorful history: that for the first time, its internal fissures have become more apparent.

In his own words, Abinales said he has no way of knowing the “facts of situation”. For a researcher like him, who has written so many books, just gave up the fight without trying? He must not be serious! For this reason, may we request the scholar-historian (or AFP apologist?) to just hang up in the meantime and wait for facts to reach him, instead of writing something thousands of miles away?

Moreover, we take the so-called internal fissures as an opportunity to correct and build on our shortcomings; after all, shortcoming is the springboard for success. Every organization, movement, state, and non-state actors have a fair share of these internal problems; some manage to handle or use them constructively, others simply self-destruct.

Lastly, I appeal to Abinales that in case he finds it wanting to write another piece, to state categorically whether he is writing as a scholar-historian or as an apologist of the military. By then, I know what to do. And I do not want to prolong this debate. The most that I can agree to is to have another round; after that I will no longer respond. I have many more urgent and important commitment to attend to.

Mohagher Iqbal
Chief, Information Officer,
MILFChair, MILF Peace Panel (Deactivated)