“War,” said former President Fidel Ramos, a retired general, “is never an option.”
But in the post-Ramos era, whenever a negotiated peace between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is almost within grasp, war is not far behind.
That has been the history of the GRP-MILF peace negotiations from 1997 to 2008. At least three wars had been launched on the eve of negotiated settlements: the Estrada administration’s “all out war” in 2000; the Arroyo administration’s Buliok war in 2003 and the most recent and still continuing, since August 2008.
As of the 27 January 2009 report of the National Disaster Coordinating Council, some 314,000 residents displaced by the war, still remain in evacuation centers and camps.
Altogether, some 600,000 persons have been displaced in three months of renewed skirmishes since the Supreme Court afternoon of August 4, stopped the August 5 formal signing of the initialed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD). The high court on October 14 declared the document, which was intended to correct historical injustices against the Moro people, “contrary to law and the Constitution.”
The MILF maintains the MOA-AD is a “done deal,” having been the product of years of negotiation that culminated in the initialing of the document on 27 July 2008. Leaders of local government units whose towns and barangays were listed for inclusion in the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), protested even as the list is subject for approval or rejection by the residents themselves, in a plebiscite a year after the signing of the MOA-AD for the contiguous and predominantly-Moro list under Category A; and for the villages and towns that will be made into special intervention areas under Category B, at least 25 years later. The MOA-AD was supposed to have been the last of major agreements on the three agenda items of the GRP-MILF peace negotiation: relief and rehabilitation; security; ancestral domain. Both government and MILF accused the other of starting the war. The government claims MILF commander Umbra Kato started it with his occupation of some villages in North Cotabato as early as July. The MILF, on the other hand, claims government forces and paramilitary elements started it.
The GRP-MILF peace process had earlier set up mechanisms to address ceasefire violations by either side: the Joint Ceasefire Committees of the GRP and MILF, the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group, the International Monitoring Team.
But the National Security Council met evening of August 6 and on the 7th, Local Governments Secretary Ronaldo Puno, issued a 24-hour ultimatum for Kato to leave by August 8 the villages in North Cotabato that his group allegedly illegally occupied, or face punitive action. Aerial strikes pounded suspected MILF targets on August 10, triggering a mass exodus of civilians on the road to Pikit in North Cotabato.
Soon after, the revival of paramilitary groups such as the Ilaga (Rats), the brisk sales of guns and ammunition, were reported. Evcuees and peace advocates appealed for ceasefire but their voices were drowned out by voices for war.
On August 18, MILF forces launched simultaneous attacks in three towns in Lanao del Norte and in a town in Sarangani, prompting government to intensify its punitive operations against the MILF. On September 3, government dissolved its peace panel and shifted to a new track for peace through “authentic dialogues” with communities and vowed to deal with armed groups only on the basis of DDR (disarmament, demobilization, reintegration).
When the peace talks will resume, no one can say for now. Meanwhile, not one of the MILF commanders has been arrested. Meanwhile, some 300,000 residents continue to languish in evacuation centers and camps. Meanwhile, in other parts of Mindanao, the war against the New People’s Army continues, displacing thousands of villagers, too.
Meanwhile, in the corporate offices and the minesites and other project sites, the war over Mindanao’s rich natural resources, also continues.
Meanwhile, babies in the evacuation centers across Mindanao now will be at least 11 years old by 2020. Today’s Grade 1 student, if he/she goes to school uninterrupted, will be in 2nd year college by 2020. Today’s 1st year high school student will have become part of the new generation of leaders by 2020.
What kind of Mindanao will we have by 2020?