|Mindanao is Bleeding
Statements of Peace
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[Here is the full text of Archbishop Orlando Quevedo's May 7 letter. Archbishop Quevedo is also chair of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Phlippines.]
Orlando B. Quevedo
The National Security Council has reportedly decided
a. not to join the MILF in declaring a truce;
b. to consider a ceasefire only if the MILF lays down its arms and surrenders its camps
c. to consider that the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf are acting in concert
d. and to continue artillery operations against the MILF.
As a Christian equipped because of my position as Archbishop of Cotabato, with some knowledge of the various Islamic movements and personalities in Mindanao, I totally disagree with the above decision. I do so from the moral concept of the "common good", which as the Vatican II says is the sum total of all the conditions that enable human beings to reach their full potential.
On the matter of the MILF and the GRP, I run counter to what seems to be the "conventional wisdom" of government or at least to the prevailing political and perhaps, media opinion.
Together with the peace advocates of Mindanao, I urgently and strongly urge the NSC:
- to reconsider its decision to press on with the conflict,
- and instead to call for a ceasefire,
- and to return to the negotiating table
for the sake of hundreds of thousands of people, armed and unarmed, Muslims, Christians, Lumads and other groups, displaced, deprived of security, traumatized by war and dreaming of justice, peace and development.
I truly believe that the NSC must reconsider its decision. The general argument that we must make sacrifices to win the war militarily is not valid.
(a) The MILF did not declare a truce of 48 hours to consolidate its position or to mass its forces against military targets. For these objectives, 48 hours would be hopelessly inadequate. No, the MILF unilaterally declared (it) in order to partially accede to the request of the Independent Fact-Finding Committee. The IFFC had requested both the MILF and the GRP for a 72-hour truce so that the wounded, the dying and the dead, both Christians and Muslims, civilians, fighting units and the evacuees could be taken cared of.
(b) The conditions set by the NSC are an insult to the MILF and an insult to the Muslim people at the grassroots whose aspirations they represent. They are conditions that are imposed only on a defeated enemy. The MILF is NOT a defeated enemy. Its main strength is not how many armed men or guns it has. Its strength lies in the loyalty of hundreds of thousands of Muslims who share its aspirations for a place in the sun, a place assured in freedom, in justice and peace.
It is well known in Cotabato that the MILF commands the loyalty of the Muslim population to an extent that their own elected politicians and the MNLF does not. If war goes on because the call for peace from Muslims and Christians alike is not accepted, there is no doubt that government forces will be able to destroy MILF camps all over the place. But that would not be the end of the war. MILF forces would simply withdraw, break into groups, become anonymous faces among several millions of Muslims in thousands of villages. As histories of war show, including the Vietnam War, from friendly zones of security, they can conduct guerrilla warfare the likes of which the NPA's own protracted war would pale in comparison. And the government military power would not be able to distinguish neutral Muslim civilians from the active MILF civilian mass base.
Certainly, the government and the military know this: that the military solution will not end the war. But why, then, would they opt for the military solution? Therefore, the undeniable question - are there political and military motives not to end the war?
There is an argument that says we must continue the war because we have to be true to our soldiers who lost their lives in the conflict. As a cleric who hears firsthand tales of human anguish and tragedy of every sort, I am deeply aware of the deep and painful suffering of individuals and families in every human tragedy. But the argument does not hold water. If it did, the United States would not have withdrawn from Vietnam. No one would surrender in any war. And the same argument would hold true for the MILF, whose forces have also suffered many casualties. It is basically an argument from the motive of vengeance.
(c) The MILF and the Abu Sayyaf cannot be lumped into one basket as "the enemy". They differ radically in basic motivations, in worldviews, in approaches, in mass-base loyalty, in the conduct of war. The Bishops-Ulama Forum is totally correct in its understanding that we must distinguish between the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf. For Muslims, the MILF is a legitimate organization that carries basic Muslim aspirations. In the minds of a great number of people of Mindanao, the Abu Sayyaf should be treated like other groups that take innocent civilian hostages for ransom and kill them when their demands are not met. MILF officials themselves have publicly condemned such Abu Sayyaf behavior as "barbarous and un-Islamic". Therefore, to lump the MILF and Abu Sayyaf together, is ideologically, politically, psychologically and culturally incorrect. They represent two drastically different religious cultures in Islam.
Unfortunately, we only think of hostages and bombings by both. Therefore, we incorrectly lump them together. But in truth, the abuses of one, from time to time, are simply not equivalent to the very way of life, or culture, and modus operandi of the other.
(d) In the conflict with Muslim groups in Mindanao, military operations are NOT the solution, nor are they the means toward a permanent solution. The lessons of Mindanao history are clear and indisputable on this.
Moreover, the root of the current outbreak of conflict is also clear from the findings of the Independent Fact-Finding Committee which had brokered an agreement between the MILF and GRP on April 27 with regards to the Narciso Ramos highway problem. The IFFC has traced the conflict to the military attacks on MILF outposts along the highway, barely six hours after the singing of the agreement. As usual, action begot reaction, and the conflict understandably spilled to other provinces. Trust, once broken, is difficult to rebuild.
In many cases, the root of dispute becomes unclear in a wave of mutual recrimination that wants to settle forever the inutile problem of which comes first, the hen or the egg. Who broke the ceasefire first? You did. No, you did. And now that the NSC has made its decision, every violent incident reported tends to be attributed to the MILF.
But, we must ask "discomforting" questions:
(a) Whose advantage is it for the war to go on? The MILF? The military? And who suffers most? Whose interests are being sacrificed because of military decisions that are made by both sides?
(b) Are there other parties interested in driving a wedge between the MILF and the government, whether inside or outside the contending parties, for the purpose of using the Mindanao problem as a means of destabilizing the government? Why is it that the reported bombing of a Cathedral and two mosques seems to be concerted? Why is it that bombings in places where the MILF does not keep any military presence are so easily attributed to the MILF?
(c) Does the military want to give the impression that it is solving the conflict when reports say that this or that MILF camp has been ``overrun'' Yet often the simple fact is that the MILF has simply and quietly withdrawn its forces in order to regroup in other places. I recall that after the military took over the main Abu Sayyaf camp in Basilan, one officer boasted, "We have destroyed the enemy". No, the enemy has not been destroyed. It is still capable of taking hostages from other parts of the Philippines.
(d) Who is now making the decision in government regarding the Central Mindanao situation? Is it the NSC or is it the military? Do government and the MILF get any input from people of Mindanao, especially of Central Mindanao, for their decision-making?
(e) Why cannot the GRP and MILF agree on a "working definition" of boundaries and camps for the sake of the peace negotiations, without necessarily solving at the present time the issue of "sovereignty"? The time will come, indeed, to discuss this when other issues in the peace agenda shall have been resolved. And perhaps, by then, the issue of sovereignty would no longer be such an overriding issue. Sometimes, what may be the most important issue need not be resolved first.
(f) Why cannot an objective third party be at least a "goodness observer" of the peace process so that it could provide from a more dispassionate level "breakthrough insights" and alternative opinions that neither the MILF nor the GRP peace panels seem able to see in close quarters?
(g) Will the two-year work of technical committees and the entire peace process itself be thrown out so easily because of recurring problems in the field? Does the killing of people in the conflict serve the cause of genuine justice? Or do justice and peace, as in every war, belong to the victor? Where is the "common good" or the good of all Muslims, Christians, Lumads and other groups in all these?
In brief, I reiterate my personal objection to the decision taken by the government to continue with its military operations. I strongly urge both groups to call a ceasefire and return to the negotiating table.
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