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Chickens Eggs (25 May 1999) by Said K. Sadain
Lessons To Learn (18 June 1999) by Said K. Sadain
Southern Discomfort (3 July 1999) by Pearlsha B. Abubakar, Youngblood, PDI
The Shari'ah as a Solution to the Mindanao Problem (15 August 1999) by Atty. Mehol K. Sadain

East Terror
(A Look At A Disparate Archipelago)

by Said K. Sadain

When Cardinal Sin was supposedly quoted to have compared and forewarned that the situation in the Philippines could approach that of burning and raging East Timor, a lot of eyebrows were raised, and almost immediately, eyes were turned to Mindanao. That Hashim Salamat of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has also urged earnestly that the plebiscite formula of East Timor be applied to the festering conflicts in Mindanao only serves to further divert people’s thinking into looking at East Timor as no more than a Christian – Muslim issue that turned out to be the worst scenario that one can expect out of such an issue.

But is the rampage in East Timor simply a situation where Christian native Timorese, are killed, maimed and driven out of the land by militias that are allegedly covertly supported by a predominantly Muslim Indonesian Army? When one looks deeper into the East Timor debacle, the religious angle immediately pales against the more cutting edges of the politics and vested interests of the region. And while some parallels can still be made vis--vis the Mindanao situation, albeit in a transposed order - Mindanao being mainly Muslim land prior to the incursion of Christian forces – a more disturbing content can be gleaned from the pages of East Timor’s unfolding book. And one that the Cardinal may have rightfully warned us about.

It is not about religion.

The militias that went on a terror rampage in East Timor, the Aitarak in particular, were in fact mainly Christians themselves. Claims that they were armed by the Indonesian army can only point out to the deep interests of the Army or some people behind the Army to keep the reign of control in East Timor by any means. But those interests are not even Islamic. When viewed in the larger Indonesian history, politics and geography, the case of East Timor is really about a disparate archipelago, consisting of so many varied cultures and peoples, that is trying to hold itself as a nation.

A dominant Java-centered government and society is trying to keep all these heterogeneous members together. Not without great pain. East Timor is not even the most problematic, although it may yet prove to be the catalyst. Elsewhere in the archipelago, Indonesian nationalism is challenged in Aceh, Kalimantan, Irian Jaya and Ambon. Some authors would even claim that the East Timor anarchy may have actually been staged as a warning for other regions similarly inclined, a small sacrifice in the face of more unsettled areas such as Aceh where a Muslim populace is waging a bloody separatist movement.

But for a while, it looks like Indonesia was succeeding in forging forward with a diverse nation of 17,000 islands and hundreds of ethnic and linguistic groups. Succeeding United States governments certainly approved of Indonesia’s direction and even hailed it, at one time or another, as one of the more stable economies of the free world.

Until recently.

The unraveling seems to have been immediately caused by the current economic crisis, which placed the Indonesian government in a very weak position to sustain strong tactics or fend off both external and internal pressures. But beyond this, it should be understood that the economic crisis in fact was made far worse and acutely hurting by the structural and moral defects of a regime that had for so long practiced cronyism and all the corrupting manipulations that came along with it.

A Cental Intelligence Agency dossier on Indonesia, at least the one available to the public, mentions of the challenges for Indonesia to establish a macroeconomic policy framework that addresses longstanding grievances and inequities underlying much of the current unrest in the nation. The International Monetary Fund was more straightforward and demanded reforms of the corrupt practices that had made the Indonesian economy so susceptible to collapse. Elsewhere, other critical authors and magazines are more outspoken about these grievances, inequities and corrupt practices. They write about the wealth amassed by an influential few and about how certain sectors have been brutalized in the interests of big businesses.

Cronyism in Indonesia was such that the divide between the rich and the poor ran wide and deep. It created cracks that ensured the Indonesian economy came crashing down hard at the first rumbling of a financial quake.

In the case of East Timor, what could have been developed and could have been resolved peacefully during the last 25 years of occupation, was actually left to deteriorate some more while its resources, particularly the money that government poured into it and its coffee industry, were taken advantaged of by people of influence. Sounds familiar?

The result was a powder keg of anarchy and violence whose explosion was so fierce even international bodies like the United Nations were caught quite flat-footed and appearing seemingly stupid for being so nave and so amateurish.

Thus, if someone, a cardinal or someone less sober, speaks about situations in the Philippines approaching those of East Timor, it is not without any basis. Cronyism had been our undoing during the martial law years, a time when trapo politics reigned unconscionably, a time which saw the fiercest of the Moro wars re-enacted out. A time when terror was sown, not only in Mindanao, but throughout the land, presumably against Communist and secessionist bogeymen. A terror which only abated when Malacanang residents and their accouterment, cronies and trapos, were dislodged.

Thus, when people see that the same cronyism, the same mindset, even the same faces, are slowly returning back to haunt the landscape, do we wait for that blast of evil to overcome us before we realize how near we are to our own East Terror?



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