News Commentary by Paula Bianca Lapuz
You know that things have taken a turn for the better when your president decides against proclaiming an “all-out-war” strategy to resolve an incident like the bloodbath in Al-Barka, Basilan, last October 18, at least from a peace advocate’s perspective.
The Philippine Military’s Special Forces sustained 19 casualties after that encounter with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Reports stated that the MILF fired in response to what they believed was a clear attempt at an assault by the military. The military had vehemently denied the accusation and said that it was the MILF who violated the ceasefire agreement, as the members of the Special Forces were well out of the designated “area of temporary stay” when the MILF attacked them (Alipala 2011).
Five days after the Basilan episode, seven more soldiers were killed in what was again suspected as an MILF attack (Alipala, et al. 2011).
Legislators lambasted the rebel group for its inability to police its rank (Yamsuan 2011). Fuming, Senator Miriam Santiago declared her disappointment over the recent Ceasefire Agreement provision on “areas of temporary stay” which, in her view, severely limited the capacity of the Philippine government to respond to unexpected events, such as the October 18 bloodbath. She also noted that if MILF leaders claim that the assaults were carried out by renegade members, then it would be futile to negotiate with them (Press Release 2011).
Further complicating the issue is the news circulated shortly after the atrocities in Basilan of the government purportedly releasing five million pesos worth of grant to the MILF during the August peace talks, for the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI).
The government admitted that there was indeed a check made for the BLMI and said that such agreements were made during the previous administration and that President Aquino merely honored former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s promise (CALONZO 2011).
All these issues put Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles in the hot seat. Senator Chiz Escudero asks the government to hold Deles accountable, saying that she was and is responsible for the negotiated grant to the MILF because she served the Arroyo administration as well. He also said that there was no proof that the MILF spent the money for its intended purpose (Cruz 2011). Deles, however, explained that the government usually required liquidation of funds only after six or 12 months, following the release of the money.
Former President and retired army general, Fidel V. Ramos agrees with President Aquino against declaring a war in Mindanao. He said that the Mindanao situation should not be likened to a movie because peoples’ lives are at stake. He emphasized that the military is only “carrying out government instructions” to achieve “enduring peace and sustainable development,” and that people should remember this. He likewise mentioned that the all out war launched by ousted president and former action star, Joseph Ejercito Estrada against the MILF in 2000 only displaced at least one million civilians and left families of slain soldiers in grief (Dizon 2011).
On the contrary, Estrada once more defended his decision in several interviews, saying that his action was merely prompted by the rebels’ repeated violation of agreements while peace talks were ongoing during his time. He also reckons that the present administration should do the same, noting that four decades of peace talks has not contributed at all to the resolution of the conflict in Mindanao. He firmly believes that the Philippine government cannot and should not grant the request of the MILF for a “sub-state” (Dizon, ABS-CBN 2011) (Cheng and Hernandez 2011) (Tan 2011).
New developments, on the other hand, suggest that MILF leaders are hesitant to surrender their members who are allegedly responsible for the attacks (Pasaylo 2011).
“If war is your answer, then you probably asked the wrong question,” says the Generation Peace for its “One Million Voices for Peace” campaign which ASSIST took part in. The campaign was launched on September 21, in commemoration of the International Day of Peace. Generation Peace urges the government to follow the United Nations declaration by dedicating the same day annually as a day of “non-violence and ceasefire (Manila Bulletin 2011).”
Weeks after the celebration, however, the Basilan chaos happened. And it all the more showed that there is no perfect formula for peace. Peace and diplomacy can sometimes make it difficult to reach an agreement, but they are the only means we have under our democracy. Guns and violence, after all, are not in any way synonymous to freedom, love or equality.
What is important is that President Aquino is probably using the right framework for his administration’s response. His government’s strategy is on the safe side. It sends out a strong message to the rebels: we will talk, but we should respect agreements.
He has since directed his officials to implement an “all-out-justice” strategy which meant that MILF rogue members will be brought to justice, whatever may be the cost, but peace talks will go as planned (Bordadora, 2011).
While it is important to have an uninterrupted peace process, the way to achieve this can be really challenging, tricky and may even mean damage on both sides. Being outsiders, we can only speculate. We can only hope for a non-violent resolution to the conflict in Mindanao, and not abandon our support for the peace process. After all, wars can only result into deaths and losses to the country and to its people.
Alipala, Julie. Inquirer. October 20, 2011. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/78739/19-soldiers-slain-in-basilan (accessed November 02, 2011).
Alipala, Julie S., Jeoffrey Maitem, Hernan dela Cruz, Dona Z. Pazzibugan, AFP, and AP. Inquirer. October 24, 2011. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/81839/new-milf-attacks-kill-7 (accessed November 02, 2011).
Bordadora, Norman. Inquirer. October 30, 2011. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/85167/how-all-out-justice-call-came-to-be-president-aquinos-strategy (accessed November 02, 2011).
CALONZO, ANDREO C. GMA News. October 27, 2011. http://www.gmanews.tv/story/236743/nation/deles-milf-has-6-12-months-to-liquidate-p5-m-grant (accessed November 02, 2011).
Cheng, Willard, and Zen Hernandez. ABS-CBN. October 21, 2011. http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/10/21/11/erap-still-wants-all-out-war-vs-milf (accessed November 11, 2011).
Cruz, RG. ABS-CBN. October 27, 2011. http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/10/27/11/chiz-raps-deles-milf-ats (accessed November 02, 2011).
Dizon, David. ABS-CBN. October 21, 2011. http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/-depth/10/21/11/fvr-tells-war-advocates-were-not-movie (accessed November 11, 2011).
ABS-CBN News. October 24, 2011. http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/10/24/11/erap-milf-showing-no-sincerity-peace-talks (accessed November 11, 2011).
Manila Bulletin. Manila Bulletin Editorial. September 20, 2011. http://mb.com.ph/node/335046/international-day-peace-2011 (accessed November 11, 2011).
Pasaylo, Jun. The Philippine Star. November 02, 2011. http://www.philstar.com/nation/article.aspx?publicationSubCategoryId=200&articleId=743864 (accessed November 02, 2011).
Press Release. Senate Website. November 01, 2011. http://www.senate.gov.ph/press_release/2011/1024_santiago1.asp (accessed November 02, 2011).
Tan, Kimberly Jane. GMA News. October 21, 2011. http://www.gmanews.tv/story/236121/nation/erap-all-out-war-vs-milf-solution-to-minadanao-conflict (accessed November 11, 2011).
Yamsuan, Cathy. Inquirer. October 24, 2011. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/81849/rejection-of-all-out-war-divides-senators (accessed November 02, 2011).