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Unleashing the Dogs of War
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|Mindanao Series IV
Unleashing the Dogs of War
by Said Sadain, Jr.
THE RECENT rise of violence in Mindanao is cause for great concern, not only for the people of Mindanao but for the entire country as well. The recent turns of events present a situation that, if not properly handled by saner and sober minds, can lead to a point of no return whose only solution is the breakup of the country into a Christian republic and a Muslim state.
And the Estrada administration will only have itself to blame for this.
At present, Mindanao is wracked by the twin phenomena of Abu Sayyaf terror in southwestern Mindanao and by the flaring up of an all-out war situation between government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces in Central Mindanao.
Regardless of the roots of these problems, the Estrada administration's handling of, and posturing on, these issues speak much about why these problems have actually exacerbated and have become more threatening than before.
The government's most recent response to these situations (which accordingly emanates from the Cabinet Cluster E team that advises the President) indicates either of two things: the administration's total lack of knowledge about the nature of problems in Mindanao; or, such determination to knowingly muddle the issues, at the risk of spawning a more debilitating conflict, that one can only conclude that the administration is not, in any way, capable of leading a nation that includes Mindanao Muslims.
IN THIS RESPONSE --''laying down of arms'' and ''the release of all hostages'' made in one sweeping breadth--the government indiscriminately lumps the outrageous demands and actions of a terrorist band holding hostages for ransom and the valid issues of a grassroots rebellion demanding a sociopolitical solution to the festering problems of poverty, discrimination and neglect.
Amazingly, this government seems to view the Mindanao problems as nothing more than a simple dog day afternoon, a bad day in the life of a despondent person who suddenly decided to hold some people hostage in a movie.
I can almost see in my mind the image of President Estrada blaring from a bullhorn: ''Sumuko na kayo! Napaliligiran na namin kayo (Surrender! You are surrounded.)'' while siren lights flash around a house in suburbia.
I have before written about the sad and chaotic situation in Mindanao as having virtually gone to the movies, and a few days back, an admired columnist, Conrado de Quiros, also pointedly wrote about the movie having ended with the cold awakening to a very harsh and deadly reality. Of course, all these have never been a movie in the first place. It was all through and through hard reality, where real people get killed, real lives destroyed and real ideals mangled.
The most disturbing part about all these, however, is that the President and his administration is, in fact, applying movie-like solutions to this reality--a simple-mindedness that can only spell trouble. This seeming idiocy is either the true face of this administration or is indicative of something more sinister.
For why can the Cabinet Cluster E team -- consisting of presumably educated and responsible government officials who must have the responsibility to educate themselves about the Mindanao problems if they are going to make the correct decisions for Mindanao -- determinedly associate the reprehensible Abu Sayyaf ragtag band with the structured MILF hierarchy?
These decision-makers surely are not that ignorant, which leads us to believe that there is, indeed, truth to speculations that the Abu Sayyaf activities are, in covert ways, being deliberately encouraged by this regime, precisely to discredit the growing strength of an MILF that it cannot even seem to handle on the negotiating table.
Abu Sayyaf factor
THE ABU SAYYAF GROUP (ASG) is acting no more than bandits and terrorists long used to extortion and kidnapping to raise money, a group whose allegiance to any noble cause is dubious, and whose only consistency is its determination to terrorize people.
It is known to have been infiltrated by ''military assets'' and even to have been supplied with firepower, at one point or another, by elements in the Philippine military. Some claim that it is a creation of the US Central Intelligence Agency that has grown to become a Frankenstein .
Any legitimate Moro rebel movement in the South will never jeopardize its link with the Malaysian people and authorities. The sea routes between Malaysia and southwestern Mindanao are one of their major lifelines to the survival and sustenance of the movement. So why the Sipadan Resort Island kidnapping?
Any legitimate Islamic movement will also not use children and women as objects of terror to advance its cause. So why the Basilan hostage taking?
These kidnappers cannot even be clear with their demands. Even when they did manage to spell out some of these demands in Basilan, these were so bizarre that they themselves should have known these will never be granted.
The ASG is just out to create havoc and confusion, to get all media mileage and, most importantly, to create such a high revulsion and negative public opinion for what it claims to be ''Islamic'' acts. For what?
Capacity for evil
IF SOME OF US still feel incredulous about all these conspiracy theories, believing that our government and/or military cannot be capable of such machinations, we need only be reminded of the Jabidah massacre to realize the capacity for evil of governments and men.
How about the Enrile assassination ruse that was used as one of the reasons to impose martial law?
More recently, how about a loose-cannon Norberto Manero who went in and out of jail like he owned the place? How many more Maneros are let loose out in the wild?
Is it then coincidental that the ASG outrage should occur at a time when military authorities think that they have already amassed enough firepower around the MILF's Camp Abubakar to quash the rebels in time for a ''June or never'' surrender deadline?
So sure are they that they can drub the MILF down to the canvas that even while peace documents were being agreed on, they should insist on attacking the MILF on some pretext or another? In Fr. Eliseo Mercado's words: ''For a 10-15 km stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere?''
And why is Mr. Estrada so silent on this matter, if he had not already approved of the MILF attack and is bent on seeing this through some calculated conclusion? Is it only because of a new image? Certainly, the President has received some counsel on this and is in on the plan for a military push, wittingly or unwittingly.
How extensively involved he is, we are not sure. How Solomonic the advices were, we are not sure. Certainly, he is in on the plan, among other reasons, for his desire to project a macho image. Like the action movie star that he is, he likes this and he will relish this role.
Whether he realizes the full consequences of all of these is debatable. Whether he thinks, or some of his smart advisers think, that he can rally the majority Christians around him by trumping up the Moro card just as the dictator Ferdinand Marcos did, we are not sure.
But, of course, everyone knows that this administration is unquestionably looking to raise those badly needed ratings points.
What we may not know is just to what extent some people would be willing to sacrifice their countrymen, even the country itself, to further their own political ends.
Another thing is certain: these decisions and actions would have been influenced by generals and officers in the AFP/PNP structure, players who have been there during the Marcos years, those who have gained power and wealth because of the conflict, the same people who were just too willing to speak peace and development during the Aquino and Ramos years.
These people know that any military campaign needs solid public opinion behind it. It is like an insurance basket in basketball that no matter what happens during the last few seconds, they can always be comfortable in knowing that they have the necessary high moral ground to justify their acts.
These people, in fact, like to be comfortable. And the over P4-billion expenditure (according to a report by AFP chief of staff Gen. Angelo Reyes as reported by Manila Times) since January 1999 for this military buildup allows for so much comfort.
Who is paying for these expenses, who is being deprived of these resources that could have otherwise been used more productively, and just how low this will drag the country down the economic ladder are the least of their concerns.
So is it no wonder then that the country's public opinion has to be inflamed against Islam and Muslims while a campaign to crush the MILF is finally set into motion? Is it no wonder then that even while those billions of pesos were spent or are being spent for military might and firepower, the Basilan ASG can slip out of a ''tight cordon'' around its hideout because of, some wise men realize later, rough terrain?
AND WHY ARE THE ROLES of a third party, such as the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the more than willing Indonesian president, consistently rejected, when these were the major elements in injecting sobriety and restraint to secessionist undercurrents in the past, finally bringing back the MNLF to the fold of Philippine laws?
Is it because the government does not want to bestow a status of belligerency on the MILF? What nonsense! What do they call the prevailing situation, thanks to the militaristic stance of this administration, if it is not belligerency at its wildest?
And so what if the MILF is conferred such status, if this will save a lot of lives and property in Mindanao? The MNLF also had that status before and yet opposing parties had been able to find a way to reconcile and agree on a peace plan.
The subsequent manner of the implementation of the 1996 peace plan is something else, but that does not diminish the achievement of the OIC-brokered agreement, and remains to be a solution that needs to be explored.
On the contrary, a full-scale war and a rampage of destruction is one sure way of bringing in external intervention that the government may later find to be uncontrollable.
If at all, the recent clashes in Central Mindanao and the persistent efforts of the government to fan the flames some more in complete disregard to lives and property in Mindanao underscore the need for a third party.
It discredits the government line that it should now be given the observer status slot of the MNLF in the OIC.
At the least, the Estrada administration has shown an ingenuous ignorance of what the OIC has always stood for: a peaceful, just and honorable resolution to the Moro's plight in Mindanao within the context of the republic's sovereignty. In doing so, this government disqualifies itself to represent the Moros in the OIC. It disqualifies itself to even speak for the Moros at all.
The military option, it seems, has always been the weightier cell in the brains of our current policy/decision makers. It is a line of thinking rooted deep in the vacuum of some people's minds and is being exploited to the hilt by the anarchists among them.
Who benefits with this line of thinking in the long run remains to be seen.
Playing with fire
AFTER THE GOVERNMENT'S recent ''dog day afternoon'' response to the Mindanao problem, especially in the light of an MILF offer for truce, there seems now to be no doubt that the Estrada administration is playing dangerously with fire and must be held fully responsible for encouraging the rise of military extremism and vigilantism, which, God forbid, has the potential of engendering a very costly civil war in Mindanao that can only break up the country.
While the rebel movements will have their share of blame, the government, for all its high moral ground, will find no excuse as to why it could not prevent a war with its own people.
War dehumanizes everybody: the combatants, civilians, leaders and followers, the men, women and children. It should be resorted only as a last measure, not as an adventure.
The fact that all peaceful measures are yet to be explored to find a common ground on which to launch constructive solutions to the conflict indicates the incapacity of the administration to lead a nation for all its peoples, like a father who cannot think of a way to control his squabbling children except to grab the nearest rifle and shoot one of them.
By its hawkish bent over the Moro issue, Mr. Estrada and his Cluster E team have shown that it has only war on its mind.
MR. ESTRADA SYMBOLIZES IT ALL in his combat fatigue uniform when he visited Mindanao recently. There is no doubt that he wishes to convey that his administration is tough. He also very successfully conveyed the message that it is not one of peace.
This is an administration who would rather bask in the glory of war, very willing to send its sons and daughters to the slaughterhouse for a notion that ''one country, one people'' must be forged in an archipelago of so many peoples, at all cost.
By encouraging this notion, it has spawned the rising tide of violence that can lead only to a mad urging, even that of genocide.
Some people argue that even the United States had to undergo a most devastating civil war in order to attain a truly unified nation. If the Americans now were to be transported back to that era and given a choice to relive the civil war or to find other ways to get to where their united states are now, they would have adopted a very different approach to their problems.
Unlike the Americans then, our present generation now has the vantage view of such a crystal ball, enough for all of us to think twice, thrice and more, and to step back from the brink.
Or are we so devoid of our senses now as to accept that we are no better than fighting cocks and dogs of war under the madness of drunk and gambling men?
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