Amirah Ali Lidasan | How to Do Away with Abu Sayyaf

Military solution only destroys the lives of civilians in these provinces. People who were displaced could not come back to their communities for fear of being included as targets. This destroys livelihood. Innocent civilians who were arrested and detained find it hard to make up for more than three years of being away from their families and innocent children die in the course military operations.

As for the livelihood assistance, the Italian businessman and friend of Vagni should be informed of the intricacies in the dissemination of aids and assistances in the country and their effect on the people in the long term. Any foreign assistance in the form of development aid, relief or projects, does not go directly to the people. In the course of its implementation, the budget gets stuck at the local government level – from provincial governor’s office to the barangay captain’s. In the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, no aid passes through without the regional governor’s perusal. Hence, there’s not much impact on the livelihood of the people, although they enrich some individuals who have access to the funds.

Now we come to the offer of amnesty. I don’t know if the government or the Italian envoys can differentiate an ordinary kidnapper who calls himself Abu Sayyaf from the real Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Basilan. Or an Abu Sayaff from the militant Moro armed groups such as Moro National Liberation Front or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. An Abu Sayaff who has no political agenda is different from the two armed groups who are fighting a war to correct a historical injustice, and who could come up with common talking points for a peace negotiation with the government.

It is confusing for the government to define the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist group and then offer amnesty or initiate talks with them. It only exposes that the military solution is to flush out civilians in communities but not really to bring down the Abu Sayyaf. For the presence of Abu Sayaff in Sulu and Basilan is what fuels the hawks in the government to ask for additional budget for security and military aid from the US government. This will justify the prolonged presence of the US troops and the conduct of US-RP joint military training, and even push for the implementation of the Human Security Act at the national level.

The government and the military have a lot to explain why the Abu Sayyaf and minor kidnap-for-ransom thugs proliferate in Mindanao despite threats and military operations. One cannot help but see the similarity between the Abu Sayyaf threats and the bomb threats in Mindanao for weeks now. They serve the same purpose.

It took four bombings in two days that resulted to the death of a dozen people, including children, and the wounding of a hundred more just to get US President Barrack Obama’s attention. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will be the first Asian President to meet Obama on July 30 in Washington, DC.

The CIA chief’s visit on June 12 in Malacanang was curiously downplayed as part of the CIA chief’s ‘routine’ visit to Asia-Pacific. However, it only increased suspicion that the bombings created a condition for the US government to strengthen ties with the Philippines in the name of quelling terrorism.

We already saw the US soldiers’ involvement in the investigation of the bombings in Cotabato City and Sulu. Since the declaration of the war on terror in 2001, US military and Federal Bureau of Investigation counterparts in the Philippines have been getting enormous amount of training in foiling bombings and terrorism. Yet, mysteriously bombs kept exploding in Mindanao and Manila.

The talks on the streets of Mindanao sum it all – who really benefited from these bombings? Whose agenda fuel the senseless killings of innocent civilians?

Certainly not the Moro people in Mindanao who become the usual suspects every time a bomb explodes. In Manila, Moro men will soon suffer the brunt of military operations as they often are falsely accused, rounded up and detained. Whose communities would be the subject of aerial bombardment and mortar shelling as a result of a military pursuit operation on alleged perpetrators of the bombings?

Since the August 5 botched peace talks after the failed Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain, the Moro people have had no break from the incessant military operations in provinces identified as MILF lair: Maguindanao, North Cotabato, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte and Saranggani. The year-long military campaign has displaced 340,000 families and individuals, an unaccounted number of deaths including women and children who became legitimate targets of military operations.

Curiously, the military campaign justified DND secretary Teodoro’s request for additional funds and troops to Mindanao. It also gave an excuse for local government units to distribute firearms and create its own vigilante groups in the guise of “defense system” against the MILF.

The Moro people have so much to demand from President Arroyo on her last State of the Nation Address. As the people of the world associated the US “war on terror” with former US President George W. Bush, the Moro people associated it with President Arroyo. The worldwide anti-terror campaign has played a big part in buffing up US
military aid and budget to the Philippines to provide for the overt and covert military operations in Mindanao. We, the Moro people, became cannon fodders for the Arroyo government’s bid to strengthen ties with Washington.

(Amirah Ali Lidasan is the national president of the Suara-Bangsamoro partylist group.)

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