Terrorists for war, not peace

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces () - August 23, 2008 - 12:00am

We are saddened by the headline news early this week that the MILF, the strongest Muslim rebel group in the country with 12,000 members, has again taken a combative stance against the government even as the MILF Vice-Chairman for Political Affairs Ghazali Jaafar denies that the MILF leadership gave orders for the recent attacks. They vented their anger on the towns of Kolambugan in Lanao del Norte and in Lanao del Sur and before this, several towns and villages in North Cotabato were also terrorized and occupied by the rebels, displacing the residents living there.

The MILF spokesman himself, Eid Kabalu, admitted that the attacks that were launched by the MILF rebel leaders were in retaliation for the government’s recent failure to sign an agreement with the government. Considered as Muslim fundamentalists who digress from the overall MILF objectives, the Muslims who led these attacks are apparently fighting against the peace process that the MILF has entered into with the government and that they were uncontrolled by the MILF. But this is double talk meant to mislead government. And from what they have done so far, we can see that they are not after peace for they are sowing terror. What is unfortunate is they are venting their anger on the poor and innocent civilians. The rebels even used civilians, mostly children, as human shields to prevent the government soldiers from attacking them. Stores, banks, pawnshops and even houses were raided and looted. Houses were burned, land mines were planted to prevent refugee-families from going back to the occupied villages, soldiers were ambushed and civilians killed in cold blood.

These acts are inconsistent with the aspirations of peace supposed to be expressed in the long-standing peace process between the government and the MILF. These are terrorist attacks. The goal of the government has always been to bring lasting peace to Mindanao. But it should know by now that this is not as simple as “coming into terms” with the Muslims, all because they are also Filipinos. The last peace agreement that was signed in 1996 gave predominantly-Muslim areas a certain degree of self-rule and these areas are what is now known as the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). But autonomy for certain areas is not enough for the Muslim rebel groups. To my mind, this was merely a concession, part of an overall plan of securing ancestral domain over large tracts of land and finally achieving independence from the Philippines.

Government must rethink its objective and strategies in negotiating for lasting peace in the South, apart from the traditional role it has played many times in the past. It must not forget that Muslim separatist groups in the Philippines have evolved long ago to conform to the vision of international extremist groups like Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. The MILF, a splinter renegade group of the MNLF, has provided sanctuary to Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists responsible for several deadly bomb attacks from Metro Manila to Zamboanga since December 2000. For this fact alone, we have no business sitting down with them to discuss and negotiate.

Peace means not only cessation of war but the presence of justice. Unless both camps think of the common good, no peace can ever be achieved. We can only pray for wisdom and guidance for our government leaders as they resolve this difficult task for the overall benefit of the nation and its peace-loving people.

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