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Stop Hostilities For The People's Sake
[Personal and collective privilege statement of Senator Aquilino Pimentel at the Philippine Senate on May 8, 2000]
On May 4, your three
Mindanao senators, Teofisto Guingona, Robert Barbers and I issued a call for a cessation
of the current hostilities in central
We crossed party-lines to issue that call. It was a bipartisan appeal for a ceasefire.
The call is being misinterpreted as naive, pro-terrorist, and one that is reminiscent of Neville Chamberlain's appeasement treaty that he had concluded with Hitler in Munich in 1938.
As a native of Mindanao and as a senator of the republic, I cannot allow the twisting of the meaning of the call for a ceasefire to go unchallenged.
The misinterpretation of the call, if uncorrected, would serve to confuse the fundamental causes underpinning the problem in Mindanao with emotionally-charged side issues and would, thus, allow it to fester longer than it deserves.
But first, some distinctions are in order.
The call for a ceasefire is directed at the MILF and our government troops who were - at the time the call was issued and probably up to this very day - locked in combat in many parts of central Mindanao.
The call for a ceasefire is not intended to interrupt the hot-pursuit by our government troops of the Abu Sayaff.
The MILF and the Abu Sayaff should not be lumped together as if they are one and the same dog wearing different collars.
They are not. The MILF is pursuing a political agenda. The Abu Sayaff is pursuing a purely criminal agenda.
The MILF is fighting to retain their own culture, their own religion, their own identity. The Abu Sayaff is fighting to convert crime into an industry for their group's profit.
The MILF should, therefore, be treated differently from the Abu Sayaff.
The Abu Sayaff should, thus, be hunted down as plain criminals by our troops and punished accordingly. The atrocities they had inflicted upon their hostages in Basilan and in Sulu show that they deserve only the strong arm of the law. Our soldiers are correct in going after them hammer and thongs. The Abu Sayaff cannot flout the law and get away with it.
Incidentally, bits of information are emerging to the effect that the Abu Sayaff was a creation of the C.I.A. I am not sure if this is necessarily true. I have always been cautious about attributing indiscriminately to the CIA any thing that goes wrong in this country. The penchant of some people to routinely blame the CIA for things that our government should take responsibility for makes us sound stridently puerile and irresponsible.
Today, however, I am beginning to believe the information I have gathered about the Abu Sayaff from Filipino sources and from readings of American newspapers mainly through the Internet. Piecing discrete bits of information together makes out a case, at least, pro tanto that the Abu Sayaff might, indeed, have been a creation of the CIA and had been covertly supported by select military officers during the administration of President Ramos.
Summary of Abu Sayaff data
Briefly, the various data that I have gathered about the Abu Sayaff may be summed up as follows:
* Abu Sayaff fighters were initially recruited to be volunteer moujahedeens to fight the American surrogate war in Afghanistan in the early 90s.
* The Abu Sayaff troops were trained in Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan and other remote places in Mindanao by some select military officers of the armed forces.
* The funds and arms of the Abu Sayaff were provided by US covert operators, probably connected with the CIA. Olama Bin Laden could have been the principal courier for either the Abu Sayaff funds or the arms or both.
* Sometime in 1995, the funds either failed to come or did not come on time. Thus, the Abu Sayaff troops raided the town of Ipil, Zamboanga del Sur. Their initial intention was to rob the banks in Ipil. Unexpectedly, however, a group of soldiers -- not belonging to the Ipil command -- who were eating in a restaurant engaged them in a firefight. The shoot-out drew the attention of the local police and military units who had earlier been reportedly ordered confined to their camps and were, thus, caught flatfooted by the Abu Sayaff raid. To divert the attention of the responding police and military units, the Abu Sayaff bandits razed Ipil to the ground.
* Parenthetically, there is a new book, Blowback, by Chalmers Johnson that may justify a deeper study into the affairs of the CIA in our country that have a direct relevance to the problems that the Abu Sayaff is causing us today.
But to go back to our thesis, I submit that there should be a break in the hostilities between the MILF and our soldiers.
Reasons for cessation of hostilities
The cessation of hostilities is indicated by the following circumstances:
* Our soldiers have already shown their capability to push the MILF back to the positions claimed by the latter prior to the start of shooting war on April 28, 2000.
* The MILF declared a unilateral ceasefire May 5, 2000, which they had made effective on the morning of May 6.
* The ceasefire if accepted by the government could lead to a resumption of the peace talks between the MILF and our government.
* Once the peace talks resume, the just demands of the MILF could be responded to in reason by the government.
* It is hard to talk in and of peace with bullets whizzing by and bombs and mortar shells exploding in battlefields.
* If the peace talks resume, Congress, particularly, the Senate, could concentrate on revising the Organic Act for Muslim Mindanao, Republic Act No. 6734, in the hope that it can provide as a legal, political and economic framework to address comprehensively the just demands not only of the MILF but of the Moro people of Mindanao as well.
The call for a cessation of hostilities between our government troops and the MILF rebels is, therefore, not naïve at all.
Neither is the call is intended to favor the MILF as some quarters allege.
Sincerity subject to proof
The criticism, however, argues with some reason that the MILF has yet to show sincerity in its seeking of peace. And that a ceasefire will only give the MILF a chance to regroup, rearm and resume hostilities at some future time.
While that analysis may have some semblance of validity, the fact is that the negotiations between our government and the MILF as in all negotiations, for that matter, the sincerity or good faith of the parties is always subject to proof.
Pause worth taking
Despite the difficulty
of ascertaining the sincerity or good faith of the MILF, there is a plus side to resuming
the negotiations. There is the very
The pause may, then, just be worth taking. For the break in the war will provide our government and the MILF with the opportunity to go back to the negotiating table.
There -- over an atmosphere of quiet and reflection -- our government and the MILF may well consider the following:
* Fast-tracking the implementation of the projects -- roads, bridges, electrification, water systems, irrigation systems, hospitals, schools, markets and the like -- that President had agreed to construct within the areas occupied by the MILF. The projects were identified to Sen. Robert Jaworski and me by MILF chair, Salamat Hashim, at Camp Abubakkar. I had submitted the projects to the president sometime ago.
* Implementing the Shariah legal system more fully for Muslims; and
* Laying the groundwork for the eventual adoption of a federal form of government so that the Bangsa Moro may be given a federal state of their own.
Cessation of hostilities favor people
The call for a cessation of hostilities, therefore, seeks to favor not the MILF but the people of Mindanao primarily and the people of the Philippines secondarily.
For if there is a ceasefire - even as the search for a just and lasting peace in Mindanao is pending - the least that can happen is that we in Mindanao can try to go on with our lives in as normal an atmosphere as possible as we have done in the years past.
Without a ceasefire, life in Mindanao would still go on but it would become a more chancy, a more iffy, kind of existence.
No appeasement but just, lasting peace
The observation that the call for a ceasefire is like a "peace-at-any-cost proposal" is too shallow to deserve serious refutation. Suffice it to say that we, the senators from Mindanao, are certainly not the political heirs of Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who tried to appease Hitler with a peace agreement in Munich in 1938 only to have the Nazis attack England later.
We are, thus, not calling for peace at any cost. We are not suggesting that we go into a truce to appease the MILF. We are asking that hostilities cease so that we can resume our conversations for the restoration of peace, at least, momentarily with the MILF and for the attainment of a just and lasting peace in Mindanao and the Republic eventually.
We hope and pray that our colleagues and the people understand the rationale for our call for a cessation of hostilities in central Mindanao.
The call is appended to this statement as an integral part of it.
We suggest to the president that the order of the day calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities between the government and the MILF.
The MILF had unilaterally withdrawn from the peace talks with the government on a few days ago. It has blamed the government for allegedly initiating the hostilities by attacking its positions in Buldon, Talayan and other camps. The government for its part blames the incursion of the MILF into areas not previously occupied by them for the cause of the hostilities.
As a result of the hostilities, several innocent civilian lives, not to mention, the combatants, have been lost. Thousands have left their homes and their farms for safer places. Normal trade, transportation and communications have been disrupted.
To cite a facile example, the roads from Cotabato to General Santos, Davao, Lanao del Sur and Bukidnon, in other words, the major arteries of interaction among the people of Mindanao are closed as a result of the hostilities.
In short, Mindanao bleeds and the bleeding unless stanched by seasonable action on the part of the leaders of both the government and the MILF, the island might just bleed to death and bring the nation, itself, to the edge of the grave.
Rather than engage in finger-pointing as to who is to blame for the loss of lives of so many innocent civilians - Muslims and Christians - in the current outbreak of hostilities in Mindanao, we suggest that the best thing to do is to have a cease-fire with the MILF.
As senators from Mindanao, we feel that we have to suggest a peaceful settlement of the problem posed by the MILF.
The peaceful settlement of the problem cannot prosper in an atmosphere of escalating violence.
Thus, the suggestion for an immediate cessation of hostilities to enable the government and the MILF to consider other options that may well solve the problem with a degree of finality.
**As British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, had caved in to Hitler in a peace agreement with Nazi Germany in Munich on September 30, 1938 in the hope that it would spare England from Nazi attack. The appeasement offered by Chamberlain to the Germans failed to work. It was considered as a sign of weakness and Germany eventually attacked England.
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