Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. V,    No. 4      February 27- March 5, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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Is GMA Provoking MNLF-MILF War?

Is the Macapagal-Arroyo government trying to pit the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the ongoing war in Sulu, an island province in southernmost Philippines?


UP Prof. Julkipli Wadi, MNLF liaison to the OIC Dr. Abdulrakman Amin, and Moro-Christians People's Alliance secretary-general Cosain Naga, Jr. at the forum on the Sulu conflict, Feb. 21 Photo by Arkibong Bayan
                                                                     PHOTO BY ARKIBONG BAYAN

Is the Macapagal-Arroyo government trying to pit the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the ongoing war in Sulu, an island province in southernmost Philippines?

This angle surfaced following a statement by a specialist in Moro studies who linked the Sulu conflict to the current peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the MILF.

In a forum at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City Feb. 21, Dr. Julkipli Wadi, a professor of Islamic Studies in the same university, suggested that the current conflict in that southern island province may have something to do with the peace negotiations between the GRP and the MILF.

Wadi said that the GRP may be intending to offer the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the MILF. “Without the ARMM,” Wadi said, “the government has nothing to offer.”

The UP professor added that the government may be attempting to marginalize the MNLF, which now administers the ARMM, in preparation for this.

Bulatlat tried a number of times to contact Wadi for an interview to follow up on this issue but could not be reached.

Protestant pastor Absalom Cerveza, spokesperson of the MNLF peace panel, sees Wadi’s view as plausible. He even sees the GRP-MILF negotiations as headed for failure.

“They will fail at some point,” Cerveza, who was interviewed together with Amin, told Bulatlat. “Because the government has nothing to offer the MILF except the ARMM. What will the government offer them, autonomy? The ARMM is now covered by that.”

Cerveza was interviews by Bulatlat together with Dr. Abdulrakman Amin, MNLF liaison to the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). Amin spoke in the same UP forum.


However, Cerveza said that offering the ARMM to the MILF could not be done legally because jurisdiction over the region is provided for by the 1996 peace agreement. “Unless they want Muslims to fight Muslims so that they could once again control the whole of Mindanao,” he continued.

Amin and Cerveza share Wadi’s call for a review of the 1996 peace agreement. The said pact, to Amin, is the key toward a peaceful resolution of the current conflict.

However, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been giving free rein to the military’s hard-line stance on the Sulu war. Does the MNLF really see the possibility of a peaceful resolution of the current conflict?

“Of course,” Cerveza said. “Because various sectors are calling for peace, and if the president does not want peace, they can remove her.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Amin, in the same forum said that the Sulu war could force the two Moro groups to enter into a tactical alliance.

Quoting Amin, Pinoyweekly, an independent newspaper, revealed that a top MILF official recently asked him about the possibility of forging a tactical alliance against the government.

“This is a matter that needs to be studied well,” Amin told the UP forum.

Roots run deep

Amin said the immediate trigger of the current conflict in Sulu between the MNLF and government forces, which broke out Feb. 6 after MNLF forces attacked a military camp, was the massacre of the Padiwan family on Feb. 1. But the roots run deeper, Amin and Cerveza told Bulatlat.

At about 6 a.m. Feb. 1, the 53rd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army reportedly massacred the Padiwan family in sitio (subvillage) Banauice, Maimbung, Sulu, Dr. Abdulrakman Amin, MNLF liaison to the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) told a forum at the University of the Philippines (UP) on Feb. 21.

Killed were Tal Padiwan, a village councilor; his wife Sidang, their relative Salip Faisal Salim, and their son Aldasir, 13. Their other son, Almujayal, 7, survived but was wounded in the right thumb.

Military spokespersons have given at least two varying accounts of the incident. One is that the Padiwans were caught in a crossfire between the 53rd IB and the bandit Abu Sayyaf group. Another account, the more recent, has it that the 53rd IB soldiers had stopped by the Padiwans’ hut to ask for drinking water, to which Sidang responded by drawing a gun, thereby provoking an exchange of fire.

“I was not there, and I think no one among us was there,” Amin told the forum audience, “but for a pregnant woman to fire a gun at a group of soldiers – that is a big question mark.”

On Feb. 6, MNLF forces led by Ustadz Habier Malik launched an attack on an Army outpost in Panamao, Sulu. “It was not in their plan to attack the Army outpost,” Amin told Bulatlat. “That was in retaliation for the massacre of the Padiwan family.”

Since then, there has been continuous fighting in the island province.

Just the latest

However, the Padiwan massacre was just the latest in a series of human rights violations committed by the military against the people of Sulu, Amin told Bulatlat.

It may be recalled that there had been an outbreak of hostilities in Sulu in October 2001. That year, the military was in hot pursuit of Abu Sayyaf bandits who had abducted tourists in Sipadan, Malaysia. At one point, the military had announced the defeat of an “Abu Sayyaf” contingent in Talipao, Sulu.

The MNLF, however, said that it was its guerrillas, not Abu Sayyaf bandits, who were killed by the military.

The massacre in Talipao led the MNLF, just five years after signing a peace agreement with the government, to once more take up arms. According to MNLF leader Nur Misuari, a former political science professor at UP who was then ARMM governor, the Talipao massacre was a “violation” of the 1996 peace agreement.

Misuari, who was then in Malaysia, ended up being arrested and subsequently detained in a military camp in Sta. Rosa, Laguna (38 kms south of Manila). He has since been deprived of access to the media, and has recently been prohibited from using a mobile phone.

Since 2001, military operations in Sulu have been continuous. Bulatlat

Sulu and the Moro Armed Struggle




© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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