The year 2005 is most likely one of the worst years in Bangsa Moro history. It was a year of false hopes for peace amid an escalation of a centuries-old strife. If anything, the year 2005 will be remembered as the year peace in Mindanao appeared near enough but was driven farther away.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
The year 2005 is most likely one of the worst years in Bangsa Moro history. It was a year of false hopes for peace amid an escalation of a centuries-old strife.
At the opening of a two-day consultation among its leaders and members, Al Haj Murad, chair of the revolutionary Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said that peace in Mindanao is no longer a pipe dream.
“Today is the day we can tell the Bangsa Moro and all peace-loving people of our homeland that just, honorable and lasting peace is partly at hand,” Murad had said. “Today is the day the next generation of Bangsa Moro will remember as the day the MILF and the Philippine government announced to the world at large that it is not impossible to solve seemingly irreconcilable issues as long as negotiating parties approach the table with open mind and sincerity.”
The MILF, which has been waging an armed struggle for an Islamic state in Mindanao, signed a ceasefire agreement with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) in 2001 and is currently in the thick of peace negotiations with the latter. Both the GRP and the MILF declared the peace talks to have reached a breakthrough in 2005, but neither party divulged to the public any details.
However, this breakthrough is in serious danger of being compromised due to the military’s accusation in mid-December that the MILF violated the ceasefire agreement. The military has threatened to file a protest with the GRP peace panel on the matter.
“We maintain what we say and we have documents to back our reports about the MILF violations of the ceasefire,” said Col. Domingo Tutaan, chief of staff of the military’s Southern Command (Southcom). “They continue to recruit and train rebels in Mindanao.”
“We continue to observe and support the primacy of the peace process,” Tutaan continued, “but the military also has to perform its mandate for the conduct of internal security.”
Southcom chief Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan, citing intelligence reports, said that the MILF
recruited as many as 8,000 fighters in eight provinces in Mindanao.
The military also said that the MILF has links with the terrorist Jemaah Islamiyah and al-Qaeda groups.
The MILF – whose operations cover the provinces of North Cotabato, Maguindanao, and Sultan Kudarat – has denied the accusations and stated in various media interviews that the military is trying to scuttle the peace talks, which they describe as now being in its final stages.
It was a precarious breakthrough to begin with. As Islamic Studies scholar Dr. Julkipli Wadi told Bulatlat in an interview last June, “The key word there is ‘partly.’ Peace is partly at hand, but there is still a long way to go. They have not started to talk about the most crucial issues yet.”
When Murad made his declaration, the two parties had not even begun to talk about governance which Wadi described as the most crucial issue in the negotiations since it is where the GRP would have to lay down what it has to offer the MILF.
And the GRP had nothing to offer the MILF except the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), as Wadi and Rev. Absalom Cerveza, spokesperson of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) peace panel, said in separate interviews with Bulatlat.
The ARMM – which includes Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, and Maguindanao – is a product of the 1996 peace agreement between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the GRP, which sought to end the MNLF’s 27-year armed struggle for a separate state.
During the presidency of the late Diosdado Macapagal (1961-1965), Sabah, an island near Mindanao to which the Philippines has a historic claim, ended up in the hands of the Malaysian government.
During his first presidential term, the late Ferdinand Marcos approved the recruitment of between 28 and 64 Moro fighters to occupy Sabah. The recruits were summarily executed by their military superiors in 1968, in what is now known as the infamous Jabidah Massacre. According to Moro historian Salah Jubair, this was because the recruits refused to follow orders.
The Jabidah Massacre triggered widespread outrage among the Moros and led to the formation of the MNLF that same year.
The MNLF entered into a series of negotiations with the GRP, beginning in the 1970s under the Marcos government. The implementation of the Tripoli Agreement signed in 1978 led to the breakaway from the MNLF of a group led by Dr. Salamat Hashim which eventually became the MILF. In 1996, the MNLF signed a Final Peace Agreement with the GRP which created the ARMM as a concession to the group.
Wadi and Cerveza said that the government seems bent on removing MNLF presence in the ARMM so that it can give the area to the MILF.
A peace violated
Indeed, there was an outbreak of hostilities in Sulu in October 2001. That year, the military was in hot pursuit of Abu Sayyaf bandits who abducted tourists in Sipadan, Malaysia.
At one point, the military had announced the defeat of an Abu Sayyaf contingent in Talipao, Sulu. The MNLF, however, said that it was its guerrillas, not Abu Sayyaf bandits, who were killed by the military.
The massacre in Talipao led the MNLF, just five years after signing a peace agreement with the government, to once more take up arms. Misuari, who was then ARMM governor, said the Talipao massacre was a violation of the 1996 peace agreement.
The MNLF leader, who was then in Malaysia, ended up being arrested and subsequently detained in a military camp in Sta. Rosa, Laguna (38 kms. south of Manila). He has since been deprived of access to the media, and has recently been prohibited from using a mobile phone.
Since 2001, military operations in Sulu have been continuous.
The massacre of the Padiwan family in Maimbong, Sulu in March 2005 and a military bombing just 500 meters away from the official residence of MNLF state chairman Khaib Ajibon in November 2005 triggered an escalation of the fighting. Both operations have been defended by the military as having been carried out in pursuit of Abu Sayyaf bandits, even as the MNLF has vehemently denied coddling any bandits or terrorists.
Between the massacre of the Padiwan family and the November attack near Ajibon’s camp, there was also an unfortunate incident that did not help the Macapagal-Arroyo government convince the Bangsa Moro of its declared sincerity in finding a peaceful resolution of the Mindanao conflict.
On March 15, 27 inmates of Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig, Metro Manila died in what the Philippine National Police (PNP) described as an shootout triggered by a jailbreak attempt by prisoners belonging to the Abu Sayyaf.
But one of the prisoners, who spoke to Bulatlat on condition of anonymity, said that only six of the 27 casualties were armed. This gave rise to suspicions that what happened was not a shootout, but a rubout of Muslim prisoners – many of whom had been arrested on mere suspicion of maintaining “terrorist” links.
Still far off
If anything, the year 2005 will be remembered as the year peace in Mindanao appeared near enough but was driven farther away.
The GRP’s tactic of trying to pit the MILF against the MNLF to win peace with the former is not working. Instead of being cowed, the MNLF has been fighting back with a vengeance. Meanwhile, the MILF is getting wary of the government’s actions – which could lead to a total loss of faith, on its part, with the peace process.
The Macapagal-Arroyo government is thus creating more instead of fewer enemies in Mindanao. That Muslims have been suffering increased discrimination amid the U.S.-led war on “terror” is not helping the government any.
Because of these, peace in Mindanao – which has eluded the Bangsa Moro since the advent of colonialism in the Philippines – remains elusive. Bulatlat.com