By Gel Santos Relos
"All-out justice, not all-out war." President Aquino said it is tempting to pursue an all-out war against the Muslim secessionists especially because 19 soldiers had been sacrificed in last week’s attacks in Basilan. But the Commander-in-Chief said this sentiment is born out of anger and backed only by individuals who want political leverage.
“We will not pursue an all-out war but an all-out justice, which is more sober and fair and based on rules.” While still remaining firm in his resolve that peace talks would still be the best way to solve this long-standing problem in the South, the manhunt for the perpetrators had been ordered.
It was indeed heartbreaking to hear the bereaved families pour their hearts out for losing their loved ones to the tragic encounter that happened recently in Basilan. These widowed women, orphaned children, and agonizing parents give face to the brutality of war.
Last October 18, 19 brave men of the Philippine military were killed by the heavily armed Moro rebels in Al-Barka, Basilan in Southern Philippines. This happened despite peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) .
When he was elected president, Benigno S. Aquino III reopened talks with both the Moro rebels and the communist New People's Army to give peace a chance. This, despite opposition from some of those in government who had been tasked to deal with these rebel factions in the past. And even after the bloody massacre, Aquino said the use of an all out war against the MILF is off the table. Peace talks, he said, would still be the best way to resolve this long standing problem.
Representative Rodolfo Biazon, chairman of the committee on national defense of the House of Representatives and former chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, advocated for an immediate suspension of peace talks with the MILF. He said the government should instead concentrate on hunting down those involved in the Al-Barka clash.
This position was likewise expressed by Army spokesman Col. Antonio Parlade, who said in a radio interview, “If I were asked for my opinion, it’s very clear that we need to pursue the MILF (perpetrators), by temporarily suspending the cessation of hostilities specifically in Basilan.”
Parlade added, “I am sure this will not be the last time or last incident that such will happen. I think this is the eighth or ninth time that every time we engaged Abu Sayyaf, suddenly there are MILF rebels in the area.” Parlade is also a member of the Army’s elite Special Forces.
In an ABS-CBN report, Estrada said his administration was able to capture the main MILF headquarters Camp Abubakar, along with 13 major and 43 minor camps, when he declared an all out war against the MILF in 2000. His son, Senator Jinggoy Estrada, said the MILF should be given a deadline to forge a lasting peace agreement or suffer the consequences.
Senator Panfilo Lacson,through a text message sent to the press said, "It's time for PNoy to do an Erap. Peace in Mindanao cannot be achieved unless a tactical victory is attained first by the AFP” (Armed Forces of the Philippines). Lacson was a former National Police chief during President Estrada’s administration, and is the current chairman of the Senate defense committee.
Lacson argued that it is time to "untie the hands" of our soldiers and authorize them to fight the MILF on equal terms and not "handicapped" by the peace talks "characterized by treachery and deceit."
Through its peace talks with the Aquino administration, the MILF made public its demand for the establishment of a Moro sub-state. In the official website of the MILF Central Committee on Information, the rebel group likened the proposed sub-state to self-governing states under a federal system of government.The MILF insists the proposed sub-state is not an independent entity and would still form part of the Philippines. It will have no army, only police and internal security forces. (ABS-CBN News)
Meanwhile, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal reportedly said the encounter in Al-Barka showed that the military had no regard for the peace process and the agreement on the cessation of hostilities which the Philippine government and the MILF have signed.
“We were the ones attacked and the Special Forces, who are highly-trained, were in full battle gear and their mission was to kill as many MILF forces including Commander Dan Laksaw Asnawi. We were only very lucky, because we have received an A-1 intelligence report earlier from our agent in the military that they are going to attack us that very early morning; so we prepared ourselves.”
On the other hand, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) head Lieutenant General Raymundo Ferrer said the military was not at fault and that the MILF should be held liable for the bloodbath. He pointed out that the encounter took place outside of the MILF's "area of temporary stay".
ABS-CBN news reported that President Aquino said he wants to get to the bottom of the investigation regarding the operation, and wants to determine the truth behind the MILF's claim that its spy in the military tipped the rebels regarding the Special Forces operation.
ABS-CBN News reported Former President Fidel Ramos also rejected such proposals to declare all out war against the MILF. Instead, he advocated for “a select military strikes against so-called lost commands and criminal elements but not an all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Ramos said an all out war could lead to massive internal deplacement among non-combatants in the South.
"Alam niyo, yung mga sundalo katulad namin na beterano at yung nasa field ngayon, they are the persons who want peace. Lalong lalo na ang mga pamilya nila, hindi dahil sa takot sila sa combat. Hindi. Combat is to build peace," Ramos said in an interview with radio dzMM.
Ramos, a former soldier and Defense Secretary also added: "Combat is to carry out the instructions of the government but the outcome is enduring peace and sustainable development. I hope they don't forget that because a lot of people now are calling for war. They think they're in a movie."
Senator Francis Pangilinan said, "History hs taught us that a military solution in Mindanao hs failed time and time again while the Ramos administration's aggressive peace efforts in the 90s helped create the window of opportunity that laid the foundations for economic progress in cities like Gensan, Cagayan de Oro and Davao."
Pangilinan, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Social Justice and Rural Development added, "In the Mindanao experience,war has brought only misery and more poverty while peace effort have brought real, tangible progress and development in these areas."
Despite his position in support of the peace talks, however, Pangilinan advocated for the government to show no mercy for the murderous lost commands. “We trust that the MILF will agree that these lost commands should be dealt with the full force of the law."
UP College of Law Professor Harry Roque told Move.Ph, “Let us not allow them to get away with their criminal acts”. He explained that killing of detainees under custody is against international humanitarian law. Roque said the Philippines should instead bring this matter up to the International Tribunal to negotiate with rebels instead of the Philippine Courts.
Many kababayans from Mindanao and elsewhere in the Philippines believe war is not the answer to the long standing conflict in the south. Concerned about the growing number of Mindanaoans displaced by war, they say there are a lot of Moro civil groups who still want to push for peace process.
Some, however, argue that it is no good negotiating with the enemies. They say the only way to give justice to the more than 120,000 lives lost in the past 40 years of MILF’s fight against government troop is for the Aquino administration to use its full force and authority through the unnecessary evil that is an all out war.
In a press briefing after Aquino talked to the families of slain soldiers last Friday, he said he awaits the results of the investigation regarding the operation. He said the military should learn from the incident. "Iyung mas maganda po, iyung susunod na mga operasyon, mas talagang pinaghandaan."
The President told reporters, "Magandang headline natin ngayon, anong presyo sa dugo ng ganyang mungkahi? Sugod tayo agad sa MILF? ..Hindi puwedeng haka-haka. Dito, pag sinugod natin lahat ng MILF, obligado silang lumaban.. Kapag lumaban sila lahat, na karamihan na sa pananaw sa akin sa ngayon ay nananahimik...ay tuloy-tuloy na naman ang bakbakan. Marami na namang sibilyan na madadamay."
In a televiseds statement on Monday, President Aquino said it is tempting to pursue an all-out war against the Muslim secessionists especially because 19 soldiers had been sacrificed in last week’s attacks in Basilan. But the Commander-in-Chief said this sentiment is born out of anger and backed only by individuals who want political leverage.“We will not pursue an all-out war but an all-out justice, which is more sober and fair and based on rules.”
Aquino said he has already ordered the soldiers to hunt down these criminal elements, led by Ibrahim Malat Sulayman and the Asnawis, some of whom are supposedly protected by MILF soldiers.
President Aquino expressed faith that MILF’s intentions for peace are clear, although acknowledged that some members are not supportive of the idea. The Commander-in-Chief has signified his willingness to engage the MILF in the process but warned, “Those who will be assisting them will be treated as criminals. We’ve already set a message that we’re not out to get them. But if they participate, there will be no exception.”
What are the demands of the MILF?
The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, is unlikely to sign a peace deal with the Aquino government unless its demand for a sub-state in Mindanao is granted. ...(Read more...)
Background on Moro Islamic Liberation Front:
Charter Change needed for MILF Sub-state:
(Photo Credit--coming home of fallen soldiers--Philippine Inquirer )