Editorial & Opinion

Gov’t has to rethink strategy in Mindanao

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President Aquino and his adviser for the peace process, Teresita Deles, were naïve to think they could bring peace to Mindanao by ignoring the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and forging an agreement with the rival Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Aquino was so excited about the peace process with the MILF that he promised to bring peace to Mindanao during his term and to make it his administration’s lasting legacy.

The promised legacy appeared ready to vanish into thin air with the raging crisis in Zambonaga, just as the “free of corruption” pledge disappeared with the revelation of the P10-billion pork barrel scam.

While the nation was still reeling from the pork barrel scandal, rebels belonging to the Nur Misuari-led MNLF attacked several villages in Zamboanga and Basilan provinces last week, resulting in the death of at least 100 people, the destruction of several homes, and the evacuation of thousands of war-weary residents.

But Aquino seemed unperturbed amid the growing crisis in Zamboanga, even grabbing at a chance for photo-ops while distributing goodies to soldiers. He was smiling in all the photos, seemingly unmindful of the emerging war nearby. If he was thinking the Zamboanga crisis was diverting the people’s attention from the damning pork barrel scam, then there must be a good reason for the smiles.

But Aquino is again wrong to ignore this threat from Misuari’s forces. For months, Misuari has been warning the Philippine government that the signing of a peace agreement with the MILF was a “recipe for crisis” that could lead to war. In July, the MNLF distributed a manifesto declaring the establishment of its own “Bangsamoro Republik.”

Shortly after, Zamboana Rep. Celso Lobregat urged the government to include Misuari’s MNLF in the peace agreement to attain complete peace and avoid a “conflagration of the entire Mindanao.” He said that the mere presence of Misuari in Zamboanga was causing anxiety among its people. For months, there were reports that the MNLF was recruiting fighters in several areas in Mindanao. The MNLF had also threatened to declare the independence of Mindanao, with Misuari directing his commanders to consolidate their forces.

Even Senators Antonio Trillanes and Gregorio Honasan, two former soldiers who fought in Mindanao, warned the Aquino administration to listen to the issues being raised by the MNLF and other rebel groups and not to ignore the MNLF.

But Aquino and his advisers probably thought nearly 17 years of inactivity has weakened Misuari and his men. They continued to ignore him despite his repeated warnings of returning to armed struggle if the government continued to cast aside the 1996 Peace Agreement that the government signed with the MNLF during the time of President Fidel V. Ramos that, according to Misuari, has not been fully implemented.

Misuari has every reason to be angered by the hypocrisy and double talk being shown by the government as far as the 1996 Peace Accord is concerned. Deles insisted that the 1996 Peace Accord is not being ignored. And yet, the peace agreement being forged with the MILF covers the same areas that are covered by the 1996 Accord. She insisted that the MNLF is not being ignored, and yet the government is talking only to the MILF. It is hypocritical to insist that the 1996 Accord remains in place when it is obvious that both peace agreements cannot be implemented at the same time as they cover the same areas.

Now, the “blazing inferno”that Lobregat warned about is burning Mindanao all over again. Aquino and his generals are naïve to think the MNLF would just go away.

The government can go ahead and drive away the MNLF rebels that are raising havoc on Zamboanga and Basilan. It shouldn’t be too difficult with its superiority in numbers and weapons. But ending the Zamboanga crisis should not lull Aquino and his advisers into believing they can go ahead with the peace accord with the MILF and not be confronted with an even more destructive and deadly war in Mindanao.

The government may have to rethink its approach to peace in Mindanao. The strategy is obviously not working. I still believe developing Mindanao and making the Moro people feel they are not being ignored by the central government in Manila are the only lasting solutions to the perennial problem.

 

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