By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The headlines of major dailies trumpeted the symbolic decommissioning of 145 fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the turning over of 75 high-powered firearms. It is supposed to be a positive step toward peace. Also it was used as an occasion by the Aquino government to push for the enactment of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which is still encountering rough sailing in Congress. As sweetener, the Aquino government reportedly agreed to spend P2.4 billion ($53 million) for the decommissioned former rebels.
At the same time, at less prominent sections of some dailies, it was reported that Superintendent Josephine Fadul of the Department of Educatio– Davao del Norte endorsed the closure of Lumad community schools: the Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center (STTICLC) and the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation (MISFI) academy. The closure would affect 3,000 Lumad children who, before the community schools were established, had no access to education. In its stead, Fadul has recommended the setting up of temporary schools with soldiers as para-teachers.
The closure was preceded by harassments of teachers and students by soldiers from the 60th and 68th Infantry Battalions of the Philippine Army. The military has been accusing the schools of being ‘fronts’ of the New People’s Army.
In the case of the MILF, the Aquino government has been pushing for the enactment of the law, which is the culmination of its peace negotiations with the rebel group and is willing to spend billions of pesos for the decommissioned MILF fighters. On the other hand, the government and the Armed Forces of the Philippines ordered the closure of Lumad schools on the absurd accusation that these schools are NPA ‘fronts’.
Doing what? Training guerillas as part of physical education? Shouldn’t the Aquino government be glad, instead, that NGOs are doing what it has been failing to do: to let Lumad children enjoy their right to education?
So is the Aquino government’s peace policy a case of what the left hand giveth the right hand taketh away? Or is it a classic example of using the carrot for those who are willing to submit to its terms and the stick against those who do not?
It still remains to be seen whether the conclusion of the peace negotiations with the MILF, the enactment of the BBL into law, the decommissioning of all MILF fighters and the turning over of their weapons, and the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity would achieve peace with the Bangsamoro people.
After all, the Government of the Philippines signed a Final Peace Agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1996 and the Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities in 1997, and established the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, with MNLF chairman Nur Misuari as governor. After which, the MILF rebellion escalated in 1999 after the Estrada administration declared an “all-out war” and the MILF chairman then Hashim Salamat declared a jihad in return. For as long as the Bangsamoro people do not genuinely enjoy their right to self-determination, the secessionist movement would continue under another group.
While the Aquino government’s peace overtures with the MILF may achieve some measure of peace, albeit temporarily, its closure of Lumad schools do not in any way create the conditions for peace. On the contrary, it stokes the fire of revolution.
Resource-rich Mindanao island has yet to achieve some measure of peace. Perhaps, it is the reason why the Aquino government is in such a hurry to have the MILF decommissioned and its arms turned over to the AFP while employing all means to “strategically defeat” the NPA. Many administrations have tried and all have so far failed because they refused to address the roots of the armed conflict. Its being resource rich is the very reason that Mindanao has historically been a land of conflict.