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PEACE, MINDA-BANGSA, AND THE PHILIPPINES (First of Two Parts)


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In times of peace, sons bury their fathers; but in   times of war, it is fathers who must bury their sons.”

– Herodutus (c. 484–425 BC), The Histories

From historical experience, we Filipinos know that peace does not mean merely the absence of conflict.  Peace – if it is to endure – must also become the means of realizing the hopes we share of lifting up the common life and winning the future for every Filipino so that a better quality of life results for all.

Peace And Development Go Together

This was true in the early 1990s.  These days (20 years later) in the second decade of the 21st century, we find this truism even truer than ever before. 

Peace and development, indeed, must go together.  They are the two sides of the same coin.  By the same token, national security is founded – ultimately – on a country’s economic strength, political unity, social cohesion and people’s morale.

When FVR assumed the Presidency on 30 June 1992 from Cory Aquino, our country had just survived nine coup attempts by well-armed groups of military rebels.  Also, secession seethed in the Muslim South; and Maoist guerrillas prowled large portions of our countryside. 

Worst of all, the economy was at a standstill.  Factories were idled and homes darkened by a nationwide power shortage.

The multiple crises we faced cried out for decisive action – and with chosen Cabinet-members and supportive lawmakers, we went to work running, even before the Ramos Administration was sworn into office formally.

Meanwhile, the Military Bases Agreement with the U.S. – upon which our national security depended – was winding down.  The U.S. Pacific Fleet was sailing out of Subic, thereby folding the American peace umbrella that had kept our archipelago secure for decades from external threats.

Nation-Building:  Work In Progress

Our country may have recovered its freedom at EDSA 1986.  However, nation-building – which is the binding of all sectors of our people into one national community – remains still a work in progress.

To the Marcos martial law regime, focused as it was on its own political conflicts, sending the military to Mindanao was the easiest option to do for the President/Commander-in-Chief – but certainly not the wisest course of action. 

Only in the late 1980s and early 1990s did we begin to realize that we could not keep using force to suppress internal rebellions.  Only then did we begin to understand how far these outbreaks are motivated by ordinary people’s frustrations over their lack of autonomy; inability to break through the murky social forces controlling their lives; and powerlessness in their poverty because of economic elites, political power-brokers and rich family dynasties. 

And, in terms of blood, treasure, quality of life and better future, the Mindanao conflict has cost our nation dearly.  From 1969 until the Ramos Government signed the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the MNLF – a span of 27 lost years – the conflict exacted casualties authoritatively estimated at some 120,000 people dead and P270 billion in national (not personal) economic losses alone.

The fighting – much of which took place in isolated barangays, mountain hideouts, farming villages, and coastal communities – also generated a million “internal refugees” or displaced persons who had lost homes, jobs and opportunities.

Ceasefire With The MILF; Peace Dividends

Meanwhile, by mid-1993, or within FVR’s first year, the Mindanao situation had sufficiently stabilized.  Ramos readily obtained the agreement of Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia to the establishment of an East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) that would make Mindanao-Sulu the center of growth within the Sabah-Sarawak, Kalimantan, and Brunei quadrangle.

Immediately after signing the Final Peace Agreement with the “secularist” MNLF on 02 September 1996, our Government began negotiating with the MILF (which had splintered from the mainstream MNLF) with the appointment of a new Peace Panel headed by General (ret.) Fortunato Abat, and assisted by Executive Secretary Ruben Torres.

By mid-1997, we had concluded a ‘ceasefire’ with the MILF that lasted 30 precious months – until FVR’s successor – President Joseph Estrada – unleashed his “all-out war” policy in Mindanao in April 2000.

In addition to BIMP-EAGA peace dividends gained while the ceasefire lasted, the Philippine Government built (at the MILF’s own request) in Camp Abubakar a potable water system for 5,000 families by Christmas 1997, an irrigation network for 2,500 hectares of farmland, and 2/3 of a 15-kilometer concrete barangay road (from the Cotabato City-Malabang highway to MILF Headquarters).

Such infrastructure and social organization projects were, in truth, important confidence-building measures that are always essential components of peace-making.

According to LtGen (Ret) Orlando Soriano, then GRP Chief Negotiator with MILF Chairman Hashim Salamat, these were key indicators that the MILF leadership wanted real peace in Mindanao – because they were already so weary from continuous fighting.

President Estrada’s All-Out War Policy

That widening peace environment so delicately nurtured was tragically shattered by President Estrada’s hot-headed order for the military to assault Camp Abubakar in April 2000. 

His ill-conceived decision was triggered by the kidnapping of tourists of various nationalities from the Sipadan, Sabah diving resort by Abu Sayyaf units from Sulu-Basilan (where the kidnappers and victims eventually sought sanctuary).

The renewed fighting thereafter destroyed mosques; dispersed mujahideen bands to strongholds in other parts of Mindanao; and drove thousands of innocent civilians from their homes to years of suffering.  

The fighting also destroyed the water system and the irrigation network our Government and the MILF had erected together in Camp Abubakar – in our mutual desire to develop trust and confidence. 

Worst of all, Commander-in-Chief Estrada, with crass cultural insensitivity, celebrated the fall of Camp Abubakar by feasting on “lechon”(pork) and beer (alcohol) with his “victorious” soldiers on the ruins of the MILF stronghold.

Just like in the make-believe world of movies and show business, the “bida”(hero) in full theatrical regalia with guns blazing from both hips emerged victorious against overwhelming odds over the “contra-bida”(the villains).

Perspective From Within The Rebels

Among the warrior personalities with the intellectual talent to write a 730-page history of Islamist movements (not only in the Philippines, but worldwide), Noor Lucman records in his outstanding book “Islam War On Terror” (2008), thus:  “PRESIDENT JOSEPH ESTRADA THUNDERED IN HIS NATIVE TONGUE ABOUT HIS POLICY TOWARD THE MOROS IN HIS 1999 STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS:  ‘HINDI BINI-BEYBI ANG REBELDE; PINIPISA!’  (WE DO NOT CODDLE REBELS; WE CRUSH THEM!)

“Almost immediately, heavy clashes between MILF and AFP took place.  After realizing the folly of his SONA address, he sued for a truce and more peace talks.

“From 27 September to 02 October, war broke out in different places in Mindanao specifically Sharif Aguak, Ampatuan, Datu Piang, Esperanza and Talayan – causing thousands of civilians to flee their homes.  More than 100 AFP troops and MILF guerrillas were killed and many more wounded. 

“The MILF held their ground despite massive air and ground attacks.  By 02 October, a ceasefire agreement was signed….  But a ‘No Peace, No War’ condition would prevail….

“Secretary Robert Aventajado had to persuade Governor Zachariah Candao of Maguindanao to talk to MILF Chairman Hashim Salamat into accepting a ceasefire agreement.  As a result, the GRP Peace Panel had to recognize five rebel camps and promised to recognize 46 more camps in Mindanao before Christmas….

“In the same vein, he (Estrada)openly challenged Filipino Communist leader Jose Ma. Sison, whom he personally despised as ‘ugly-looking’ to come home from Utrecht (Holland) and ‘fight like a man!’

“Joma Sison responded by instructing his forces to attack three Luzon provinces and take away police officers as booty.  ‘He is not even up to the waist of Marcos in terms of fighting,’ said Joma.  ‘Pipitsugin lang yan.’  (He is a weakling).  President Estrada was raging mad… but what can he do?....”

Litany Of Crass Diplomacy

Continued Noor Lucman:  “After the MILF-GRP Peace Talks resumed on 25 October, Estrada insisted that the MILF had only the end of the month to sign a Peace Agreement.  A veiled threat.  ‘That’s impossible!’ protested Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF Vice-Chairman for Political Affairs.  ‘We don’t take orders from President Estrada.’  Thus, fighting broke out again. 

“This litany of crass diplomacy prompted one Congressman to restrain President Estrada’s use of threats against the insurgents through the media (which undermined the delicate peace process).  That worthy Congressman noted that ‘the people Erap is warning are battle-tested.  They have been fighting for the cause they believe in for a long time and they will not lose anything if they continue with their war.’

“The uprising, the kidnap syndicates, the economic crisis:  they’re all symptoms of the imminent collapse of the political system.  It is madness without method.  In short, President Joseph Ejercito Estrada single-handedly escalated guerrilla war in the Philippines during his Presidency. 

“We know that Estrada was overthrown in 2001 and jailed for illegal gambling and plunder….  He still believes that the MILF and, by association, the Bangsamoro people can be defeated through all-out wars….  MILF leaders confided to me that their forces are ready for long drawn-out wars against the AFP….”

In his magnum opus, Noor Lucman, worthy scion of Governor Tarhata Alonto-Lucman and Congressman Rashid Lucman of Lanao Sur to whom Noor dedicates thus:  “To my late father Sultan Rashid Lucman, dedicated Freedom Fighter, Martyr of the Bangsamoro People.”  The book may not be easily available, but it does provide much of the written record of Islamist/jihadist movements around the world.

BOTTOMLINE:  WE CANNOT DEVELOP SEPARATELY

NOT JUST IN MINDANAO BUT ALSO IN OUR ENTIRE NATIONAL SOCIETY, NON-INCLUSIVENESS, LAND HUNGER, JOBLESSNESS, AND A PERSISTENT TYPE OF POVERTY HAVE BEEN THE MAIN SOURCES OF CIVIL DISORDER AND SOCIAL VIOLENCE IN THE PHILIPPINES.

OVER THESE PAST 70 YEARS ALONE, AGRARIAN DISSIDENCE HAS GENERATED TWO RADICAL INSURGENCIES – BOTH SOPHISTICATED AND WHICH STILL LINGER IN MANY PARTS OF OUR ARCHIPELAGO, AND EVEN ENJOY MORAL AND MATERIAL SUPPORT FROM ABROAD.

IN OUR HONEST VIEW, THE BEST CURE FOR POVERTY IS STILL SUSTAINED DEVELOPMENT THAT GENERATES DECENT JOBS AND LIVELIHOOD OPPORTUNITIES FOR SMALL ENTREPRENEURS – AND FOR INSURGENCY, THE FORMULA IS STILL ENDURING PEACE THAT IS INCLUSIVE, COMPREHENSIVE AND DEMOCRATIC.

IN SUM, THE PHILIPPINES CANNOT DEVELOP SEPARATELY!!!

KAYA BA NATIN ITO???

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