COMMENT: Fr. Bossi free; Peace hangs

Negotiated Release

The Philippine National Police said Fr. Bossi’s release was negotiated “by a former town mayor … no ransom was paid” even if there was a demand.  A small amount of “boarding fee” might have been paid.  (INQUIRER.net, July 20). Just like any other released hostage in the past.

The Police must have been constantly in touch with the negotiators since they were able to pick up Fr. Bossi from the spot where his abductors had left him. PNP Chief Superintendent Oscar Caringal, Western Mindanao police director, did not believe Fr. Bossi had been brought to Basilan although the kidnappers had been “very mobile”.

 

That very night, Fr. Bossi was taken to the PNP regional headquarters in Zamboanga City where his regional superior welcomed him.  The good news was immediately relayed to Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and the Pope in Rome and to the Bossi Family in Italy. And, on the next day, Friday, Fr. Bossi was presented to the boss in Malacañang.

 

Caringal, while calling Fr. Bossi’s freedom a negotiated release, said the military and police operations had made it easier to compel the kidnappers to release the priest.  Well, the police and the military might not believe it, but don’t discount the prayers that stormed Heaven.

 

Fr. Bossi’s Account

 

Apart from his ordeal, Fr. Bossi said his kidnappers treated him with respect. They climbed mountains, slept in mosquito-infested forests, were always on the move, ate rice with salt and dried fish and drank river water.  He gave up smoking and lost about 40 kilos.

 

He said his kidnappers identified themselves as Abu Sayyaf from Basilan. He did not know their names but he could recognize them should he meet them again.  At first they were 11 but later only five were left.  From Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay, they took him apparently by boat to Lanao del Norte. They had never left the province. 

 

If allowed by his superiors, he will go back to Payao, his parish.  He wants to see the people of his parish before seeing his family. His sickly 87-year-old mother was celebrating her birthday on the day of his release.

 

Worrisome

 

The happy ending of his ordeal had a worrisome undertone.  His identification of his kidnappers conflicted with that of Caringal, who said that they were members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front led by Command Khidi – the same claim as that of the military despite the MILF’s denial.

 

Right after the kidnapping, the military and the police seized the moment to build a case against the MILF – suspecting rogue MILF band in league with the Abu Sayyaf or the Abu Sayyaf under MILF protection.  Despite the ceasefire and the on-going peace talk, the military has never trusted the MILF and vice versa.

 

At the start, the MILF helped the military search for Fr. Bossi.  But later, the MILF had to pull out its forces from the Lanao joint operation to avoid mistaken encounters. How can there be trust between the two forces eyeing each other behind clouds of suspicion?

 

Black Tuesday

 

Distrust or bad blood came to a head on Black Tuesday, July 10. In an 8-hour encounter — 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. — 14 Marines and five MILF fighters were killed in Ginanta (Tipo-Tipo), Basilan. Left in the battlefield overnight, 10 of the slain Marines were beheaded – suspiciously while in captivity.

 

The Marines, badly outnumbered, accused the MILF of ambushing them while they were going back to base after an operation in search of Fr. Bossi. The MILF denied the charge – ambush implying treachery.  It was a legitimate encounter, they said when the Marines had repeatedly entered their area without proper coordination as stipulated in the ceasefire agreement.

 

In the battle for public mind, the Marines have pictured the MILF as barbarians while the MILF has portrayed the Marines as bullies.  As they talk tough to win minds, they are preparing for a showdown.  The MILF must be digging in; the Marines have massed four battalions in Basilan.

 

Demands

 

As reported, residents in Ginanta and neighboring areas have evacuated.  Peace hangs. An all-out war in Basilan can ignite hostilities in mainland Mindanao.  Then, the on-going GRP-MILF peace negotiation will fall in tatters.

 

AFP Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon has given the MILF until Sunday, July 22, to surrender Commander Abubakar and his men who ambushed and were accused of beheading the Marines. “If they fail, we can take any option,” he said, threatening an all-out war. (INQUIRER.net,July 20)

 

The MILF says “NO”.  Its troops have attacked the Marines defensively but have not done the beheading.  It has done an investigation finding the Marines at fault. If attacked, it will defend itself.  Will the military go and get Commander Abubakar?

It is asking for a fair investigation of the incident by the Joint Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities, the International Monitoring Team, and an international human rights body – implying the UN Human Rights Commission. (MindaNews, July 20) Will the military hold its fire?

Questions

The Marines said they were returning to base after a search operation for Fr. Bossi. But the clash started at 10 a.m. Was that not too early to return to base?

Had military intelligence pinpointed where Fr. Bossi was being held in Basilan?

The MILF said it had been sharing with the military information that Fr. Bossi was not in Basilan. But this had been ignored.  Had this been heeded, it said, the July 10 encounter could have been averted.  (INQUIRER.net, July 20)

The MILF believed that “the military deliberately ignored the MILF information so that it could order troops to operate within rebel territory in Basilan”. The speculation may be wrong.  But if the MILF had really shared the information, why did the military apparently ignore it?

The MILF has a disturbing theory:  A third party is fomenting a big war in Mindanao. (MindaNews, July20) The Basilan encounter was among the signs.  Who is behind the plot? Just a “secret group”.  Could this be true? The clouds over the prospects for peace in Muslim Mindanao are very disturbing.  This calls for the immediate resumption of the GRP-MILF peace talks and the signing of a final peace pact.  But the repeated suspension and the recent change of the GRP chief negotiator are occasions for disturbing questions. (“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." You may e-mail your comments to [email protected]).

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