The Devil is in the Details

by jun asuncion

The MILF’s walloping of the AFP last October that killed 19 marines and wounded many  has sent a shockwave to global Filipinos. It was such a lamentable loss should not really  happen in modern warfare. This carnage showed us again the loopholes in our armed forces and government and that modernization is badly needed in the whole country – not only in the armed forces.

Peace talks and law enforcement? That’s music to our ears.  But if two notes collide at a given space and time in this music, for which note would you decide? I would opt for  law enforcement. Peace talks can be very broken-sounding.

This dilemma has exposed a certain weakness  in President Aquino and his political, security and communication advisers. No doubt, P-Noy is performing well in his anti- corruption campaign but he appears to be sailing on stormy waters when it comes to armed conflicts. The Luneta hostage crisis has already given us an inkling in this direction.

Appearing before the media after the Al-Barka massacre, he stressed  that he would continue with the peace talk and that he was against the idea  of an all- out war  against the MILF. He sounded broken and ill-advised and so was his adviser Mr. Leonen who described the massacre as “isolated” case, hence, negligible. It seems that too much diplomacy has robbed these two men of their manhood.

This all-out justice method should have been Pres, Aquino’s very first word.

Thus, his reputation suffered a blow, for he projected weakness and  more of saving his political face and of siding with the MILF than with his fallen soldiers and their aggrieved  families. He appeared in the first place as to be more concerned about  defending his politics and of begging the MILF peace panel not to walk out and start attacking villages again.

In times of crisis and real pains, the people need to feel the sympathy of the leader –  and real action. It was such a great loss and a heavy insult to the AFP, hence the people  and the military expected some hardness to come out from his mouth. But P- Noy missed that moment.

But a day or two after came out his concept of all-out justice and  the government forces started with counter attacks against the devious MILF.

This  all-out justice was a compromise with a face-saving value for P-Noy. He then learned that the people wanted vengeance. Employing the strength and touch of strong retaliation contained in the phrase “all- out” and replacing  the word “war” with the more civilized word “justice”,  this seems to have  appeased the people and the MILF peace panel. But this is in theory, in practice, it’s the same more or less- that of pounding the  MILF’s position with minimal civilian damage and of capturing or killing their leaders.

But the Aquino administration was wounded already.  The rumor of destabilization – true or just a product of fertile minds – was  born out of Aquino and Co.’s “amateurish” and “bookish” – according to Escudero-  handling of this entire peace negotiation and business with the MILF.  As if it were not enough, the public has learned  that Aquino had authorized the giving of PH 5- Million aid to the MILF and about Ph30-M  to another break away leftist group. This added more fuel to public dissatisfaction and demoralization… And what about the MILF’s  ATS? (Area of Temporary Stay)? This is a big disappointment for  Filipinos who recognize the territorial and political integrity and sovereignty of the Philippine nation as defined in its constitution, that there is only one Philippine government, one constitution, one territory,  one armed forces and one commander-in-chief. Those militant subgroups (such as the MILF, Abu Sayyaf  and even the NPA) who don’t call themselves Filipinos and don’t obey the laws of the land and use violence against the state and its  citizens are simply criminals and enemies of the state, their acts of violence be suppressed and their secessionist political agenda be given no support whatsoever.

But listening to the ongoing discussions one gets the impression that some Malacañang officials seem to be treating the MILF as a separate and recognized government already, nurturing it and even giving it a cash advance of PH5 million for the education of its future leaders. By definition, the MILF is a militant group, a “Liberation Front”, hence, leadership training is  understood in the first place as  military training, of training their fighters to fight in front to liberate themselves and parts of the southern Philippine territory. Government aid of any kind should take place only when the MILF (or any terrorist group) has surrendered its arms and has vowed to cooperate. Used or not used for ammunitions that killed our marines in Al-Barka, the truth is that the government will never get this money back, and if the MILF doesn’t get what it wants from these peace talks and leaves the table disgruntled, then you know already what it will do with this money and with our soldiers in Mindanao.

Giving money to a rebel group before or during the peace talks is a sign of weakness and political incorrectness. I’ve heard of critics accusing P-Noy of buying peace- or of bribing the MILF-  with that money. But how can you buy something from MILF which it doesn’t sell or is not in its assortment, namely PEACE?  The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was the first to separate from the MNLF and for reasons other than peace:   “(1) Bangsamoro Land should be an Independent Islamic State, and (2) the Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters should not negotiate with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines”.

With this in mind, one wonders about the outcome of these peace talks. Peace negotiation is genuine only when the rebel group of any type would surrender its arms to the government and renounces war and all forms of violence  as means to its ends. Without this being done, any peace talk is a calculated talk and  a cover only to build up their fire power and resume violence. In the case of the MILF, its leaders should realize the impossibility of attaining their goal of separating Mindanao or regions of it from the rest of the Philippines and the futility of war for these only  subject their “own” people to indefinite period of  poverty and isolation. Impossible because this is not supported by the majority of the Filipinos who are Christians (80 percent being Catholics). It is true that in a multi-ethnic, multicultural nation like the Philippines, the government must always negotiate in a position of integrity and of strength to prevent the total disintegration of the nation when each minority group would start building  its own armed forces and demanding autonomy or separation.

There are  legitimate grievances and  justifiable historical grounds to demand for autonomy but these should be within the right framework. A unitary form of government like the Philippines is not the right framework for the MILF’s demand for autonomy or independent sub-state. Several sound compromises could be supported in a Federal form of government but even then this demand for an independent Islamic State for the Bangsamoro could not be accommodated in a Federation. And at present, I think the Philippines is ready for everything except for Federalism.

How can a government give such a  dole out using the tax payers’ money to these state enemies who not only terrorize the people but don’t even pay their taxes to the government? President Aquino must be experimenting here with something new  but I doubt if he’s on the right direction. Peace talks and ceasefire with active militant groups have never culminated in a harmonious way as examples in other countries show us- the IRA in Ireland, ETA in Spain, Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, etc.,  as long as they continue to hang on to their secessionist plan and choose to load and sharpen their arms in the midst of peace talks.

The Philippines need peace but peace must be won sometimes and be enforced all the time. Peace, not war, is won in battlefields. It’s not a sign of peace when marines were and are being beheaded inside their own country. It’s not a sign of one country when the armed forces of the Philippines are not allowed to move in some regions to  fight for peace and order. I read PNP chief  Director General Nicanor Bartolome saying  “I think the best way to win a war is through peace,” ….  Well, it’s a wise sounding statement but it needs relativization. Active armed confrontation can indeed be prevented through peaceful means but it depends on the enemies and what’s at stake. The MILF would readily shake hands with us and kiss our cheeks if we  would just acquiese in their demands, if we would just give them the whole Mindanao and wash our hands of it. Giving is holier but one cannot give everything away. From the past till today, peace has been and is being won through wars. It was  only when Japan surrendered and Hitler defeated that peace came to Asia and Europe. A revolution ended recently Gadhafi’s reign of terror in Libya. Government should not trust armed rebel groups for they are devious and treacherous –  and it’s a natural strategy because they are weaker and in the minority, hence, their series of ambuscade, dry-gulching, bombings, kidnappings and other tricks such as peace talks and ceasefire.

Pres. Aquino’s desire to achieve lasting peace in Mindanao is good but it’s an illusion for the devil is in the details. There is a family background to Pres. Aquino’s ardent zeal of taming the MILF when we will recall that her mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, also tamed Nur Misuari- the MNLF commander who caused too much headaches to Marcos- when she talked peace with  him in Sulu which resulted in the passing of the  Republic Act No. 6734 known as the ARMM (Autonomous Region Of Muslim Mindanao) Organic Act  in 1989 as mandated in the 1987 Constitution. But even this, as we can see, did not bring lasting peace in Mindanao. So, President Noy Aquino should rather focus on law enforcement, education and economic programs to end extreme poverty in our nation. Extreme poverty and perceived social injustice are among the major details that make up the devil.