By AMIRAH ALI LIDASAN
DAVAO CITY — For the nth time, the Philippine government has declared an all-out war against the kidnap-for-ransom group Abu Sayaff. This came about after International Committee on the Red Cross volunteer Eugenio Vagni was released by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu after 60 days in captivity.
Department of Defense chief Gilberto Teodoro Jr. urged residents to ‘stop tolerating the Abu Sayyaf’ as government forces intensify pursuit operations in Sulu. On the other hand, the Red Cross group led by presidential aspirant Senator Richard Gordon and Vagni himself, offered amnesty for Abu Sayyaf members to quell the group’s terrorist activities in Basilan and Sulu. The amnesty offer is even combined with future livelihood projects for the area as promised by Vagni’s fellow Italian countryman.
Having heard these proposals, I wonder how my fellow Moro people would react. The Moro people are known for their pride. The Moro nation where they belong has been the cradle of Islamic and Moro indigenous cultural and political system in the country. They scorn the government’s categorization of their communities as being one of the poorest provinces. The place is rich in aquatic and land resources but the people do not benefit from their produces. Instead, in the case of Sulu and Basilan, their businessmen and landed politicos appropriate the income of the island provinces among themselves, transport the products to Zamboanga and secretly buy properties in Zamboanga and Manila to hide their profits. Nothing comes back to the province.
While majority of the people became poor because of this system, the local government attributes their disadvantaged position to the failure of the national government to distribute the national income to the rest of the country. While this is true, it also hides the fact that allied governors of the national leadership are also
enriched by the funds appropriated by the President through pork barrels and projects. The national government, on the other hand, blames the “terrorist” activities of the Moro armed group in different parts of Mindanao as the reason why development shuns the Moro areas.
Under this political condition in the Moro areas, the two proposals could spell disaster for the people of Sulu and Basilan. The proposal only reinforces the martial law policy of the local government in Sulu and Basilan which has led to reports of abuses by the police, the military and local officials.
On March 31 this year, the Sulu provincial government declared the province under a state of emergency. This is part of the government’s efforts to catch the Abu Sayyaf group holding hostage the three ICRC workers. The declaration justified the setting up checkpoints and chokepoints, the conduct of arbitrary searches and seizures, and “other actions or operations as may be necessary to ensure public safety”. Months earlier, several men were recruited as paramilitary groups to serve as “defense system” in the province.
A Sulu-based civil society group has petitioned for a temporary restraining order against the implementation of the state of emergency on the basis of its unconstitutionality. The group also cited in their petition reports of arbitrary arrests and torture of policemen tagged by the provincial governor as supporters of the Abu Sayaff.
In turn, one of the petitioners, Temogen “Cocoy” Tulawie, former Jolo councilor and known for leading protests against human rights violations in Sulu, was charged as accomplice to the assassination attempt on Sulu governor Sakur Tan on May 13 this year.
We might consider the arrest and detention of the wives and family of Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad as a result of this declaration, giving too much power for the Philippine Marines and provincial government of arbitrarily arresting and detaining without charges. Their remedy, pin the blame of the July 6 bombing in the market town in Jolo on the wives. In the end, the military and local government admitted using the wives as pressure point for the Abu Sayaff to release Vagni.
Basilan in 2001 was also declared under “state of lawlessness” by virtue of a Department of Justice memorandum. This led to more than 500 arrests, 32 cases of torture against the Philippine Army and hundreds of civilians displaced in the course of hot pursuit operations. The Abu Sayaff still thrives. Despite yearly threats of intensified military operations since 2001, minor kidnap-for-ransom gangs in Basilan still were able to kidnap residents and visitors in the area, including non-government workers and poor teachers.