Position of strength

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag - The Freeman

I find the gall of Ghazali Jaafar truly incredible. The vice chairman of the MILF said he was deeply hurt by the description of the Islamic separatist group as an enemy. Just how does Jaafar want the MILF called? Just because the MILF is in peace talks with government does not necessarily entail a revision of the distinction between enemy and friend.

For as long as the MILF does not lay down its arms, it cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called friend. It will forever be known as the enemy for as long as it does not renounce armed rebellion as the way to lasting peace in Mindanao. It may be that the government and the MILF have agreed to talk and stop shooting at each other while talking. That does not make them friends.

What it is is that they have simply chosen to stop shooting while talking. Period. So I do not see where Jaafar is coming from, unless he is just trying to play with words, in which case he still would not win. Again, whether spoken or not, whether spelled out or not, the MILF will continue to be the enemy for as long as it refuses to lay down its arms.

If the MILF was labeled as the enemy in a recent raid by Philippine National Police Special Action Forces that ended in the tragedy that is now the Mamasapano Massacre, it only had itself to blame. After all, the MILF was coddling and sheltering two wanted terrorists in its camp. Fighting terrorism is a matter of policy of government and anyone who coddles a terrorist cannot but be the enemy.

Indeed, it was a matter of treachery and duplicity for the MILF to harbor terrorists while it was talking peace with government. The MILF cannot pretend it never knew of the presence of the two wanted men in its midst. To insist on ignorance is to admit unthinkable security lapses on its part, something that just cannot happen, especially for a separatist groups that has waged war for years.

Contrary to what Jaafar seems to be suggesting, the MILF itself only very recently said outright that it continues to be the enemy. MILF chief negotiator Mohaghir Iqbal himself said that for as long as the Bangsamoro Basic Law remains unrealized, the MILF will continue to be a revolutionary group. But that is saying it in so many words when it can be said plainly that the MILF will continue to be the enemy without the BBL.

Filipinos certainly long for peace. But peace cannot be handed to the MILF on a silver platter. Just because we want peace doesn't mean we submit to everything the MILF demands. The Philippine government cannot negotiate with the MILF as if it owes the MILF dinner. The government does not owe the MILF anything. It was the MILF who took up arms and disrupted the peace. It was the MILF who proclaimed itself the enemy.

If the sought-after peace has to take place, it has to be because the MILF wants peace. The government cannot bargain as if it has a debt to pay or obligation to meet. The country was living in peace when disrupted. It cannot be held to account for something it did not break. It is, so to speak, the offended party in this case, so if the MILF wants peace, it must sue for it.

But for peace to be attained and succeed, the one suing for it must be trustworthy and must prove to be sincere. But how can the MILF be sincere and worthy of trust when, while it was suing for peace, it was at the same time coddling terrorists. And when its coddling of terrorists was discovered, how can it be sincere and worthy of trust if it starts blaming government for calling it the enemy.

Painful though it may be, it is good that the Mamasapano Massacre happened because it exposed so many things that had been glossed over by a government peace negotiating panel that was acting like it was working only for the interest of the MILF. It is good that the rush to give the MILF all that it wanted has screeched to a halt.

Truly, God works in mysterious ways. It had to take the supreme sacrifice of 44 Special Action Force commandos to prevent what would have amounted to giving up a large portion of the country's patrimony to a group that cannot even enjoy peace with its own fellows. It had to take God to point out the folly of this government's headlong rush to destroy the country's sovereignty.

If the peace talks have to proceed at all, the government should demand more of the MILF. It should reorient its negotiating position and start bargaining from a position of strength. Instead of the MILF telling us it will continue to use arms unless we give them what we want, we should be telling them to lay down their arms first before we even start talking again about giving what we want to give them. That should have been our position as a self-respecting nation from the start.

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