The GPH talks whether with the MILF or with the NDFP remain bogged down until today, mired as these are in the GPH’s efforts to “box it in its counter-insurgency program called Oplan Bayanihan.” – Satur Ocampo of Makabayan
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The script and the action do not match. The Aquino government flaps its wings like a dove but its actions remain even more hawkish.
These, in a nutshell, are the reactions of various progressive peoples’ groups to announcements aired by President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and his trusted officials regarding peace talks, and this government’s seemingly opposite instructions to its troops on the ground.
“President Aquino has categorically stated that he will not wage an all-out war against the MILF but his ‘all-out justice operations’ have all the characteristics of Estrada and Arroyo’s all-out war against the MILF and the Moro people,” said Antonio Liongson, spokesman of the Moro-Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA), in a statement.
The MCPA describes Aquino’s ‘All Out Justice’ as just “a veiled All-Out War.”
Given Aquino’s “tacit directive” clothed in a supposed all-out justice, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has begun “pursuit operations against criminal elements,” as signaled by massive air strikes in Zamboanga Sibugay in the South.
As of October 25, these “pursuit operations” have driven 2,900 families, or about 16,000 individuals, to flee to evacuation centers. The operation is a direct response to the outrage over the AFP’s bungled operations to “arrest” an MILF commander last week in Basilan. The said operation backfired– it is the military troops and not the forces of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) or any of their target “criminals” who suffered more casualties.
The AFP has admitted to sustaining 19 casualties last week in their Basilan operations. Though lapses in their operations are being pointed out and studied now in an investigation at the Senate, an all-out war or military solution has also been pushed more strongly since last week, especially by the followers and loyalists of “two militarist presidents of the Philippines, Marcos and Estrada,” as the MCPA described Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Panfilo Lacson. These two, they said, are “incorrigible fascists and unrepentant human rights violators.”
Women in Mindanao crying over their relatives who are ‘murdered and harassed’ during an alleged AFP operation. (Photo by Karlos Manlupig / bulatlat.com)
As the AFP conducts air strikes against “lawless elements,” MILF officials have vehemently denied that their members are ‘lawless.’
Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice-president, said yesterday that the MILF is willing to support efforts to go after “lawless” elements.” In fact, going after “lawless elements” is one of the responsibilities of the ceasefire committee of the Government of the Philippines (GPh) and the MILF, he said. He reiterated in Filipino that their forces “have complied with the ceasefire committee’s provisions.”
Jaafar urged the Philippine government to implement the provisions of their Adhoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) and the responsibilities of the ceasefire committee. He said that it should be the task of the ceasefire committee, based on their ceasefire agreement, to discuss the pursuit of those alleged ‘lawless elements.’
“The civilians are suffering. They are crowding the evacuation centers and they have been forced to abandon their livelihood,” Jaafar said.
To calls of his allies to abandon the peace talks, President Aquino has responded by saying he would continue the peace negotiations with the MILF. But the interfaith rights group, Moro-Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA), challenged Aquino to “translate his words into action, because his men’s actions on the ground show differently.”
Jaafar still expressed faith on the Aquino government’s “seriousness in solving this (Mindanao) problem,” but he urged Congress, both the Senate and the House of Representatives “to help the Aquino administration.” He also urged the AFP to “follow government policies.”
“As long as resolving the (Bangsamoro) conflict still drags, the MILF is beginning to have problems as some leaders and commanders are losing faith in the peace negotiations. It has been 14 years and no agreement has been achieved yet,” Jaafar said.
But stumbling blocks bigger than simple uncooperativeness of officials surrounding Aquino seem to be stalling the peace talks. The “GPH is noticeably disregarding signed agreements and commitments not only with the MILF but also with the NDFP,” said Jigs Clamor, deputy secretary-general of Karapatan. As one of many examples, he pointed to GPH violations of the terms of reference of its ceasefire agreement with the MILF and Adhoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG).
AHJAG is similar to the Joint Agreement on the Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) between the GPH and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
In previous interviews with Bulatlat.com, the negotiators of the MILF and the NDFP separately but similarly blame the Aquino government for stalling the peace negotiations with its refusal to respect previous agreements signed by its predecessors.
The MILF described the Aquino government’s tack in the peace negotiations as “lacking continuity” and “starting from scratch.” The NDFP described Aquino’s peace process as “starting from zero.” Worse, according to an NDFP peace consultant Vic Ladlad in a forum early this month, the Aquino government’s actions are pointing to “a unilateral withdrawal of past (and already signed) agreements.”
Resume the peace talks
The ceaseless military attacks on towns populated by Moros or operated on by the communist guerrillas in Mindanao have, as in the past, “not solved anything.” Particularly in attacking the Moro, “It only fans centuries-old biases against the Moro people,” said Jigs Clamor of Karapatan in a statement.
Some 48 families evacuated from North Cotabato Oct 22, after the AFP reportedly killed a farmer and harassed his family and neighbors in an alleged encounter with the NPA. (Photo by Karlos Manlupig / bulatlat.com)
It also only added up to an already long list of human rights violations. Since Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared Basilan as in a “state of lawlessness” in 2001, for example, 80 of the 500 civilians then indiscriminately arrested and detained remain languishing in jail to this day, Clamor added.
Military solutions like all-out war “has been historically proven to be ineffective and anti-people,” Liongson of the MCPA observed.
To build a “broad constituency for the peace talks among the government and communist and Muslim rebels,” Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño launched a “Yes for Peace” campaign in Cotabato last Tuesday. Casiño was in Kidapawan at the time to attend the funeral mass for Fr. Fauto Tentorio who was gunned down last week by suspected paramilitary groups.
The “Yes for Peace” aims, for starters, to gather 18 million signatures by Feb 25 next year, the 26th anniversary of the People Power uprising.
Casiño called on the AFP to stop the bombing of villages in towns of Mindanao, because it is “no different from the bombings of airports and public places by suspected Muslim terrorists.”
“Indiscriminate bombings of villages and communities affect the civilian population more than the combatants. If there are to be military actions, it should be very limited, targeted and make use of appropriate force,” Casiño reasoned.
Resuming peace talks is also seen as necessary and more urgently needed now, given that only in these talks can the long standing peoples’ issues be discussed and addressed, Liongson of MCPA said. He added that Aquino needs only to look at his 14-month administration’s sorry record so far: 57 extra-judicial killings highlighted by the recent murder of Fr. Fausto Tentorio, the public’s seeming approval of the recent NPA attacks against three destructive mining companies operating in Surigao, and the renewed AFP-MILF armed confrontations in Basilan, Zamboanga Sibuguey and Lanao.
An outwardly pro-peace president such as Aquino, who appears to be earning the ire of some military generals and former defence and police chiefs of deposed strongmen because of it, should have been prompted to take “more decisive steps to resume the stalled peace talks with the MILF and the NDFP,” said Liongson.
The GPH talks whether with the MILF or with the NDFP remain bogged down until today, mired as these are in the GPH’s efforts to “box it in its counter-insurgency program called Oplan Bayanihan,” Satur Ocampo of Makabayan said in a peasant rally last week. He dared the Aquino government to get out of the counter-insurgency mode of treating peace talks, and to try to address instead the root causes of the armed struggles of these rebel groups.
For the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), Aquino’s talks of embracing peace negotiations are just “political gimmickry.” They charged that beyond these gimmicks of Aquino and his spinmasters, it is actually evading “the serious issues of national self-determination that lie at the core of the Moro people’s revolutionary resistance.”
“This is clearly displayed by Aquino’s proposal to the MILF defining the GPH as the sole political authority and reducing the settlement of the Moro people’s aspirations to the provision of funds for socio-economic programs,” said the CPP in a statement. They added that “The GPH has flatly rejected the MILF’s demand for some form of political autonomy and has instead insulted the MILF and Moro people by offering to appoint some of their leaders to the GPH’s Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).”
“By failing to recognize the just and historic political and socio-economic demands of the Moro people, the Aquino regime is bound to fail in its peace negotiations with the MILF,” warned the CPP. They also said that in doing so, Aquino himself is “creating conditions for the warmongers to push for the resumption of all-out war against the MILF and the Moro people.”