War has become a business at the expense of the Bangsamoro people. The Philippine govt and the AFP engender war to obtain a higher budget, treating in the process the lowly soldiers as cannon fodders and the Moro and civilian communities as ‘collateral damages.’
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Moros residing at the Salaam Compound in Quezon City asked President Benigno S. Aquino III recently to put a stop to his ‘all-out justice,’ which, the Moros say is no different from the all-out war waged by previous administrations against the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao.
“There is no truth that there is a difference between all-out war and all-out justice,” Tarhata Lumpingan of Migrante Moro said in Filipino in a press briefing in their community, “Families would be forced to leave their homes; more would be internally displaced. I call on my fellow Moros to unite against this war.”
Migrante Moro is an organization of Moros who had been forced to leave their hometowns in Mindanao and work abroad due to the continuing armed conflict and poverty there.
In 1990, Lumpingan herself was forced to leave her hometown in North Cotabato for a job in Kuwait, as her family and the rest of their community suffered heavily due to the military operations in their area. But in Kuwait, she was sent home eventually because of the war going on there at the time. “From one war to another,” she joked about her personal journey.
The poverty induced by the armed conflict is unimaginable, unless you have lived yourself in a conflict-torn area, Lumpingan said. “It is very tough. Every day, you fear for your life. Children could not go to school and farmers could not harvest their crops.”
She told Bulatlat.com that she had been forced to marry at 15, because her family always feared that soldiers would just “take off with our single women.”
Lumpingan said her decision to leave and find work overseas was the only option that they thought of at the time because “We will die, anyway, either due to war or hunger, or both, if we do nothing to survive.”
She lives now in trepidation over the possibility that more Moro families would be torn apart because of Aquino’s so-called all-out justice in Mindanao, a war to avenge the AFP soldiers who died in a gunfight with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
On October 17, the MILF was accused of having ambushed a unit of the Philippine Army despite a ceasefire agreement in place. At least 19 army soldiers died in the incident. Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of MILF peace panel, explained in an interview with Bulatlat.com that the military’s incursion “was a well-planned raid, considering that the Army Special Forces were involved.”
Iqbal said the armed encounter happened deep in MILF grounds, “meaning the MILF was really consciously and deliberately attacked (by the Philippine Army).” The AFP, on the other hand, eventually acknowledged to the media that their mission was to arrest a criminal, later on identified as MILF brigade commander Dan Laksaaw Asnawi.
As of October 25, under Aquino’s tacit directive to pursue operations against criminal elements, as signaled by massive air strikes in Zamboanga Sibugay in Mindanao, about 2,900 families or 16,000 individuals have fled to evacuation centers. The operation was a direct response over the AFP’s operations to arrest an MILF commander last week in Basilan, which has led to more casualties on the side of the government troops.
The Moro-Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA), in a statement, describes Aquino’s ‘all out justice’ as just “a veiled all-out war.”
Tarhata said it is unfortunate the civilian Moros would have to suffer anew the consequences of being “collateral damage” in the war the Aquino government is waging. “Aquino promised that there would be peace in Mindanao under his administration. Where is it now?”
Colateral damage is unjust
Kawagib, a Moro rights group, said Aquino is “merely continuing and intensifying the wholesale military operations in Moro communities that result in more victims of human rights violations or what the military deems as “collateral damage.”
Khairal Indasan, 41, a former member of the Moro National Liberation Front and the AFP through its integration program, said that he has witnessed firsthand how unjust it is to become collateral damage. In 2005, he said he resigned from the service because he could no longer stand the atrocities being committed by the military.
“There are too much atrocities being inflicted by the government. It would remain unchanged no matter who (becomes the president),” he said in a press briefing.
In an interview, he explained that in an armed clash, soldiers would hit even unarmed civilians. The children suffer the worst blows, he said. “Bullets would rain down on Moro communities, even in areas where everyone knows most civilians reside.”
When asked if he it was difficult for him to take a stand, considering that he used to be a member of both the MNLF and the AFP, Indasan replied that he was not. “I know the tricks played by the military. They engender war,” he told Bulatlat.com, “War translates to budget. If there are no armed clashes, no money would go to their coffers.”
“I also pity the foot soldiers and low-ranking officers because they are treated like cannon fodder while those high ranking officials earn a lot,” Indasan said. While he has no idea how much exactly do the military officials rake in, he said that it most likely runs to millions.
While it has been nearly six years since he was a part of the military, he said that memories haunt him to this day. This, he said, urged him to share his experiences to fellow Moros and the rest of the Filipino people.
“The war has become a business at the expense of the Moros,” he said, adding that “This is so unjust.”
Moros want peace
“We want peace not war. Social justice and not militarization. These are our demands for Mindanao and for our fellow Moros,” the Migrante Moro said in a statement.
“Aquino’s ‘all-out justice’ is a ploy for an ‘all-out war’ against the Moro people,” Ustaja Nujum Jandul, Kawagib vice chairwoman, said last week, adding that this war’s “aim is not really to address the century-long Moro struggle for their right to self-determination but to use the death of soldiers as justification for the war in Southern Philippines.”
Jandul said that even before the October 17 clash, Basilan has long been under Martial Law through the State of Lawlessness under former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. She added that illegal arrests, detention, torture and terrorist-tagging of Moro civilians have persisted to this day as many of the victims still languish in jails for offenses they did not commit.
The recent pronouncements of the present administration to pursue its so-called ‘all-out justice,’ according to Kawagib, exposes Aquino’s “true color” and “insincerity” in his approach to conflict-management in addressing the agenda of the Bangsamoro people.
“This administration is keen on doling out money and so-called development projects in an attempt to win the hearts of the Moro people but it is giving no effort for a political settlement,” said Jandul. She added that the Bangsamoro people’s only demand is for this Aquino government to respect their right to self-determination.