COMMENT: In the Morning After

Malik might have ruffled feelings in Malacañang but he accidentally won goodwill.

He got the Marines to admit the killing of nine MNLF fighters in a “misencounter” and to exact a P450,000-blood money for the nine.

He prompted the President turn her attention to the 1996 and the case of MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari.

Crisis

 

Before the release of Dolorfino, Santos and their 20-member peace team, Secretary Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on the peace processes, said they were only hosted, not taken hostage. In the morning after, he fumed.

“It was a crisis situation, a serious crisis situation so I handled it on a crisis mode,” the Inquirer.net quoted him in its report last Tuesday. Can “hosting” be a “crisis situation”? Dureza asked Misuari for help but he begged off.

And he continued: “Because of the incident, the level of confidence (in the MNLF) has been eroded. Let’s not fool ourselves. Let’s be frank about it. Next time there will be more precautionary measures to be taken.”

He proposed the disarming of the MNLF as “among the matters to be discussed in the tripartite meeting in March”. Since disarmament is not in the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, Dureza was virtually proposing a renegotiation.

So sensitive to the MNLF is disarmament that this was avoided in Jakarta. To take it up in Jeddah will surely touch off another crisis — a serious one, unless the Organization of Islamic Conference can prevail over the MNLF.

Goodwill

 

On their release last Sunday, Santos said, “I really prayed”, for anything could have happened; but he did not find the 50-hour stressful. Instead, it “gave him a deeper understanding of the Moro struggle in the south”, just “like holding a live-in workshop with them”.

He talked freely with the MNLF commanders. “I realized that these people are willing to lay down their firearms provided their security is guaranteed. They are very willing to leave their firearms behind provided that shelter, education and health care are properly addressed and delivered.”

He won their goodwill; and they, his. And he said, “I want to go back and continue what we are doing. Peace cannot be achieved overnight. I want to return there.”

Dureza while wary, saw the incident the Santos way, “I look at it as an opportunity and a challenge.” What made him see the “crisis situation” the morning after?

Blood Money

 

The insistence of the Marines that the nine MNLF fighters killed in the January 18 clash in a village in Patikul were Abu Sayyaf bandits angered Malik. Detaining Santos, Dolorfino and the entire peace team forced the Marines to admit the misencounter and the government to pay the P450,000 blood money.

Dolorfino called the P450,000 cash assistance for the families of the slain MNLF members “done according to Muslim practices”.

Sulu Gov. Benjamin Loong was to the point, “That was all blood money, and as practiced by every Tausug, we have to pay a certain amount for the death of a loved one.”

The admission and the payment of blood money were humbling for the military and the government. That can have a precautionary impact on military operations in Sulu. A precedent has been set, too. Henceforth, families of Muslims mistakenly killed may demand blood money.

Fast-Tracking

 

Was the President miffed like Dureza? Not at all, if Secretary Ignacio Bunye, the presidential spokesman, is to be believed: Her reactions were positive.

“She has instructed Secretary Dureza to coordinate with the Cabinet to start the implementation of the immediately doable provisions of the 1996 agreement even ahead of the scheduled tripartite meet,” Bunye said.

A woman of action! That was how Bunye portrayed President Arroyo. What an admission from the President that the government, during the last 10 years, has not implemented the “immediately doable”. Is Dureza the cabinet member to lead the implementation?

Bunye, according to Inquirer.net, said that Mrs. Arroyo’s commitment to achieve a comprehensive peace in Mindanao includes the assurance that the rebellion charge against Misuari will be resolved immediately. What? “Immediately” after four years? Misuari was charged in January 2002.

The morning after, President Arroyo suddenly became very much concerned about the 1996 FPA, the peace in Mindanao and Misuari. Why wait for the MNLF to take hostage a general, a cabinet undersecretary and their peace team? What hollow concern!

 

Fear, Hope

A Muslim leader from Sulu, Amina Rasul-Bernardo of the Philippine Council of Islam and Democracy, fears that the already strained relation of the government and the Muslims in the South — particularly the MNLF — will be strained further. She hopes that the “doves” in the government will prevail over the “hawks”.

Rasul’s fear is not unfounded. Rep. Rolex Suplico angrily urged President Arroyo to break all negotiations with the MNLF and MILF, consider them as “bandit groups” and pursue the “iron-fist” policy against them. Is anyone willing to bet? He is not alone.

Rasul is wondering why the government has been postponing the very important tripartite meeting in Jeddah when “the OIC wants the talk, the MNLF wants the talk”. She hopes “that the government is not too distracted by the elections and keeps (sic) postponing the talks”.

The Dolorfino, Santos, et al. incident is a timely reminder for the Arroyo government to examine its Mindanao or Muslim policy and its implementation – whatever it has – and to stop the habit of doing damage control that results in more damages.

("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])

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