To really address the roots of the Moro Question and attain a just and lasting peace in Mindanao, Aquino must conduct a comprehensive and genuine peace policy with the active participation and involvement not only of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) but also of other legitimate stakeholder organizations that include the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Prof. Nur Misuari and the Sultanate of Sulu & North Borneo led by Sultan Jamalul Kiram III. – MCPA
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — For the second time this year after the Sulu Sultanate’s armed attempt to recover Sabah, another armed conflict involving Moro fighters has hit the country’s headlines despite President Benigno Aquino III’s declarations that the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front would be completed this year. Since Monday, Zamboanga City is being broadcasted on nationwide TV as a city crawling with state soldiers armed with high-powered rifles, fortified with armored carriers, and shooting at some targets we could not see. Reports said these soldiers’ “enemies” – fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) – are holed up in the city, keeping at least 200 people “hostage.”
Reports citing military sources claimed the fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front led by Nur Misuari had mounted a seemingly premeditated attack on the city’s seat of government. But Misuari denied the military allegations. Misuari claimed their forces were in fact harassed by the military, resulting to an encounter. (State soldiers reportedly tried to disarm the MNLF forces, who refused to give up their weapons.) There were also reports saying the “hostages” are not really hostages but are just forced to stay where they are for fear of being mistakenly apprehended.
Today, that “encounter” has dragged into a stand off in Zamboanga, as the Philippine government deployed more soldiers who promptly put up checkpoints around the city. Six people have reportedly died.
“The ongoing political crisis in Zamboanga City reveals Aquino’s failure to address the Bangsamoro Question amidst his claimed success in the GPH-MILF peace negotiation,” Antonio Liongson, spokesperson of the Moro-Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA), said in a statement.
MCPA tells Aquino that to really “address the roots of the Moro Question and attain a just and lasting peace in Mindanao, Aquino must conduct a comprehensive and genuine peace policy with the active participation and involvement not only of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) but also of other legitimate stakeholder organizations that include the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Prof. Nur Misuari and the Sultanate of Sulu & North Borneo led by Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.”
“Even the MILF breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) led by Ustadz Ameril Omra Kato, should be considered in the peace talks as this group is fighting for the same legitimate issues of the Bangsamoro,” the MCPA said.
Liongson said all these organizations have been fighting for the Bangsamoro people’s homeland and right to self-determination. That is the same end-goal the current peace talks with the MILF is supposed to achieve. As such, it is not fair nor practical to leave these groups out of the peace process, if peace is indeed the end-goal.
Govt bellitling past accords, sidelining other stakeholders
Peace in Mindanao has proved elusive for its population particularly the Moros who have long been targets of what they variously call as a war of pacification by the Manila government.
After the 1996 GRP-MNLF Peace Agreement was signed, another armed Moro group fighting for Bangsamoro freedom, the MILF, was formed – suggesting that the 1996 agreement had not wholly answered the roots of the Moro conflict. Nowadays, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) is also challenging the supposed gains being attained by the MILF in their ongoing talks with the Aquino government.
Limited though it is, belittling the significance of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement in pursuing a just and lasting peace in Southern Philippines, as Liongson of MCPA said the Aquino government has been doing, would indeed result in a conflict.
“Armed conflict is an off-shot of a divisive peace policy that excludes other stakeholders in Mindanao, like the forces of MNLF Chair Nur Misuari,” Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate said in another statement.
Military approach not the solution
As battalions of Philipine soldiers arrive in Zamboanga City and exchange fire with Moro forces, Bayan Muna Rep. Zarate and Gabriela Women Rep. Emmi de Jesus called for “a totally different approach in resolving armed uprisings.”
“An all-out military approach is not the solution to the current impasse,” Zarate said, warning that such an approach could only escalate to other parts of Mindanao and inflict more violence to hapless civilians.
“If the Philippines is ever to achieve lasting peace, the government and especially Aquino should abandon its carrot-and-stick approach in stamping out flareups like this latest one from Nur Misuari’s Moro National Liberation Front in Zamboanga City,” De Jesus said.
The two legislators from the Makabayan bloc called for a “serious examination and putting to order” of the government’s peace policy in Mindanao. “The peace policy of President Aquino should not be divisive and exclusive. It should not leave out a legitimate group just to appease another group. This is no way of talking peace in Mindanao,” Rep. Zarate said.
“Forcing armed groups with legitimate grievances into rushed peace agreements with mere promises of dividing spoils among its leadership leaves the masses out of the process. That is why the root cause of the armed conflict, such as poverty and injustice, lingers on and causes new grievances to erupt,” De Jesus explained.
The way the Aquino government and the military are handling the MNLF issue, new grievances are being created that may only add fuel to the conflict in Mindanao. According to Liongson of MCPA, this is not the first time the Aquino government’s cavalier attitude toward organizations crucial in addressing the roots of the decades-long armed conflict in Mindanao has resulted in a war situation. He warned against another series of warrantless arrests, forced displacement of thousands of Bangsamoro/non-Moro civilians and loss of lives.