By engaging the MILF in a controversial agreement and now in an escalated armed conflict, the Arroyo government has been diverting the public’s attention from the numerous issues haunting it. It is now making it appear that the most urgent and serious problem confronting the country is the armed conflict in Mindanao and that the villain is the MILF. This is the grand deception that the Arroyo government is trying to make the people believe.
BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
Vol. VIII, No. 29, August 24-30, 2008
The wind has blown in a different direction. After being enmeshed in controversy even among its allies and engaged in a renewed escalation of the armed conflict with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) over the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), the Arroyo government is changing its track from pursuing peace negotiations with the MILF to a policy of disarm, demobilize, and rehabilitate. To put it simply, the Arroyo government is now going to deal with the MILF only if it surrenders and accepts income generating projects from the government purportedly for its reintegration into mainstream society.
Without confronting the issues being raised regarding the MOA-AD, the government is abandoning it completely, giving as reason the attacks perpetrated by MILF forces in communities in North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte. The Arroyo government and its allies are accusing the MILF of deception: of talking peace while engaging in armed attacks. Some quarters are likewise accusing the Arroyo government of deception: of entering into agreements without consulting other stakeholders, such as local officials and landowners in affected communities like North Cotabato.
But let us not lose sight of the most important issues, which are, unfortunately, being buried by these controversies.
First, setting aside religious prejudices and bigotry, and chauvinism against other peoples, the core issue at hand is the right of the Bangsamoro people to self-determination and its struggle against the centuries-old oppression that they have been experiencing. And the fact that in stead of explaining the MOA-AD to affected communities and to the general public, the Arroyo government has kept it a secret thereby provoking protestations shows that it had no intention of implementing it in the first place. If it was serious in its intention to have the MOA-AD passed, it could have exerted efforts to inform and influence the affected communities and the general public about the agreement. But it did not. Now it has found the timing and the justification for abandoning it completely.
On the other hand, the MILF, by attacking not only the encampments of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) but civilian communities as well, has fallen into the trap laid by the Arroyo government.
For it is not the Filipino people who is oppressing the Bangsamoro people, but the few who are benefiting from the Arroyo government, namely national and local government officials, landlords, foreign and local big businesses with interests in the rich natural resources of Mindanao. Look at who are raising the loudest voices against the agreement. It is not the poor farmers who fear losing their land to the Bangsamoro people, if ever the territories defined as being under the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity are really given to the MILF. Poor farmers do not own any piece of land in the first place.
Second, by engaging the MILF in a controversial agreement and now in an escalated armed conflict, the Arroyo government has been diverting the public’s attention from the numerous issues haunting it such as the widespread hunger and poverty, the oppressive VAT and high prices of basic commodities and services, the oil and rice crisis – which have tempered but have kept prices at very high levels, the killings of activists and journalists and the enforced disappearance and repression of the government’s critics, the anomalous NBN-ZTE contract and the numerous corruption scandals the Arroyo family is enmeshed in. The Arroyo government is now making it appear that the most urgent and serious problem confronting the country is the armed conflict in Mindanao and that the villain is the MILF. This is the grand deception that the Arroyo government is trying to make the people believe.
The real and most urgent and serious problem confronting the country and the Filipino people is not the MILF and the armed conflict in Mindanao but the Arroyo government. And it even had the gall to try to perpetuate itself in power beyond 2010 by calling for charter change, using the MOA-AD as an excuse.
So as we call for peace in Mindanao, let us also call for justice. There can be no justice for the Bangsamoro people for as long as their right to self-determination is not recognized.
And as we confront the Arroyo government for its mishandling, or rather its manipulation, of the Mindanao problem, let us also hold it accountable, not merely for not doing enough to address the widespread suffering and poverty plaguing the country, but for its measures, policies, and acts that worsen the burden of the Filipino people such as the VAT, deregulation of businesses and industries and privatization of basic utilities, the neglect of rice and food production and the liberalization of imports that kills local production and industries, as well as the numerous corruption and bribery cases that is being paid for by the Filipino people through their taxes. Let us likewise hold it accountable for depriving us of our rights and denying us justice by its impunity in committing human rights violations and repeated attempts to constrict civil liberties, by its corruption of the judiciary and its twisting of judicial processes, and by its persistent attempts at perpetuating itself in power.(Bulatlat.com)