By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The Aquino government, and the media have been declaring that it is committed to peace, especially after 19 soldiers were killed in a firefight in Albarka, October 18, and another seven more soldiers and policemen two days after in Zamboanga, Sibugay. Despite the calls from the hawks in government – remnants of the Marcos dictatorship and the Estrada regime, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) – President Benigno Aquino III has asserted that his government is committed to the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, adding that an “all out war” would be costly in terms of lives.
However, President Aquino, instead of taking up the call for an “all out war” declared an “all out justice,” the difference of which is barely discernible as both involves military operations. Perhaps, the only difference is that instead of attacking the MILF on all fronts, the AFP would concentrate its operations in Basilan and Zamboanga, Sibugay.
Even this is not surprising nor does it demonstrate the Aquino government’s commitment to peace; it is merely consistent with the counterinsurgency strategy of the Aquino government dubbed as Oplan Bayanihan of dangling the prospect of peace to some while attacking those who still choose the option of armed struggle (a classic tactic of divide and rule). Thus, while peace negotiations and a ceasefire with the MILF are still ongoing, so are the pursuit operations against former MILF commander and founder of the Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Fighters Umbra Kato. In fact, this was what put the Aquino government in this situation in the first place: it was purportedly going after “lawless elements,” including a former MILF commander within an MILF area.
For the government, the line between military and police operations, especially in rural areas, is very thin, and both fall under maintaining “peace and order.”
If the Aquino government is really serious in achieving peace based on justice in Mindanao, it should focus on the peace negotiations instead of its “all out justice” operations. The deeper reason why armed confrontations do not abate – aside from the continuous military operations – is that the peace negotiations are nowhere near a settlement. In fact, it is in an impasse: with the government rejecting the proposal of the MILF for a “sub-state” and the MILF rejecting the former’s counterproposal.
History has shown that without granting the right to self-determination of the Bangsamoro people, the Moro rebellion would not cease. In the first place, the MILF is a product of the “settlement” between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front in 1996.
Neither does corporate media show a genuine desire for peace based on justice. Since the October 18 armed confrontation between the AFP and the MILF, all corporate media reports were focused on the bungling of the AFP operations, the P5 million the Aquino government gave the MILF, the calls of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and former president Joseph Estrada for an “all out war” against the MILF, and the statements of President Aquino.
Even the photos and video clips being shown by the media are revealing. It portrayed government troops carrying their wounded; the coffins of dead soldiers; and the military truck being loaded with the dead and the wounded. It is as if even the corporate media is priming the public for an “all out war” against the MILF, no matter how it is called.
Read the editorials and commentaries. All one could read are criticisms on the AFP for bungling the operations, and on the MILF for its failure to rein in its commanders, as well as go after “lawless elements.”
There were no interviews on the ground to get the testimonies of people living in the area where the clashes took place, and statements from and reports about the MILF’s version of what happened do not get a prominent position. Worse, there has been no report so far explaining the status of the peace talks, and the proposals of the government and the MILF, including the points of disagreement.
If one wants to get to the root of what happened and to push for peace based on justice, these should have been the focus of the reports.
Corporate media seem to be content with getting the side of the government and taking it as gospel truth. They have been doing this with the MILF and so with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.