YEARENDER: Peace advocacy by press release: Aquino’s tack in containing the MILF

So far, the most bitterly criticized euphemism for military solution in the name of Oplan Bayanihan against the Bangsamoro people was the ad-inspired “all-out justice” launched last October. Based on a fact-finding report, it is, in reality, an all-out war.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – If the press projection of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III is the sole gauge and not the actual realities on the ground, his administration would seem and sound pro-peace when it comes to dealing with the Bangsamoro people. Since he assumed the presidency, Aquino has been spouting promises and doing high-profile dramatizations of his government’s supposed adherence to talking peace with Moro leaders. He assured the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) of “fast-tracking” the peace negotiations, which, for the last 14 years before he became president, had been an off-and-on affair.

Amid delayed talks because of issues and technicalities involving the change in the composition of the Philippine government peace panel, mediators and monitoring team, he met with MILF leaders in an unprecedented, high-profile but ultimately fruitless “one-plus-one” meeting in Tokyo. (It became fruitless because it had not hastened the signing of an acceptable peace pact between the two parties; neither did it prevent the negotiations from getting stalled weeks later.) Aquino also refused to declare an outright all-out war against the Bangsamoro people despite the frenzy of the dominant media urging for an all-out war last October. Philippine troops reportedly committed a mistake in launching a military operation in communities where families of MILF fighters reside, thereby triggering a firefight which resulted in a big number of casualties on the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

This prompted the media frenzy and calls for all-out war.

Despite Aquino’s dovish crooning and preening before the cameras though, harrowing details of his administration’s intensifying hawkish approach to quelling the insurgency whether of the Bangsamoro people or of the communists streamed in from various organizations supporting the rights and welfare of the Bangsamoro people, the poor, ordinary Christians and the indigenous peoples living in Mindanao. These hawkish approaches consisted of renamed modes of various counter-insurgency operations, such as implementation of “development projects” channeled to what critics call as spent forces and not real revolutionary forces, and aggressive deployment of troops into communities where MILF fighters live, purportedly in search of “lawless elements.” So far, the most bitterly criticized euphemism for military solution in the name of Oplan Bayanihan against the Bangsamoro people was the ad-inspired “all-out justice” launched last October. Based on a fact-finding report, it is, in reality, an all-out war.

Euphemism-filled military ops, Oplan Bayanihan-style

Based mostly in Mindanao, south of the Philippines, the Bangsamoro people have been waging an armed struggle for self-determination for decades now. The Aquino government reiterated this week, as its way of greeting the new year, its promise that during its term, a peace pact would finally be inked between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF.

The MILF has been bombed and strafed in an all-out war under former president Joseph Estrada; wooed back into the peace negotiations by the former Macapagal-Arroyo administration but eventually abandoned at the negotiating table with an initialed yet withdrawn draft compact, and then shelled and bombed yet again by AFP troops toward the end of Arroyo’s rule after frustrated Moro fighters engaged government troops operating in their areas. Thus, the Aquino government’s early peace overtures were met with guarded optimism.

But after intensifying military operations in 2011, this optimism has been sorely stretched and tested. Between Aquino’s promised peace pact and the current state of peace talks between the GPH and the MILF are too many ‘devils’ or too many details that are the starting point of “real trouble,” the MILF wrote this week in an editorial published at luwaran.com, its official website. The MILF said that in the “very harsh” nature of negotiations, parties can sometimes find no difficulty in agreeing in principles, but it noted that the real problem begins when they start on the details.

It happens because apparently, a “heaven and earth” difference between the peace talk goals of the MILF and the GPH exists, as the chairman of the MILF peace panel Mohagher Iqbal once explained in a roundtable discussion among peace advocates late last year.

The MILF proposes, builds alliances and conducts unification talks also with Christians living in Mindanao to advance their demand for a “substate,” which has territorial autonomy. This has been a step backward from the MILF’s initial position of secession.

The Philippine government, on the other hand, “despite agreeing to the general billing of autonomy, is still glued to its 3-in-1 formula, which, in essence, is autonomy by name but with integration as the operational mechanism and pursuit,” the MILF said.

Because of this starkly contrasting positions, the Aquino government’s promised “agreement” to be signed this year failed to stir up even a modicum of guarded optimism from the MILF. They explained that if the Philippine government insists on its approach, which is “autonomy by label and integration in content and operation, then no signing will ever happen even after March.”

Less than two years in power, the Aquino administration’s deceitful handling of peace talks cum sugar-coated counterinsurgency militarization has been exposed to both the Moro people and communist revolutionaries. The “GPH President Aquino constantly talks about peace but does not know how to talk peace with the MILF or with the revolutionary forces under the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP),” the CPP concluded in a statement issued late last year. It noted that “Aquino and his spin-masters’ expertise lies in using peace negotiations for political gimmickry instead of addressing the serious issues of national self-determination that lie at the core of the Moro people’s revolutionary resistance.”

Various reports also revealed that the US government, which has 600 Special Forces troops deployed in Mindanao in the past 10 years, is also behind some of the moves of the Philippine government in attempting to quell the Moro and communist insurgencies. Not only was the Philippine government’s new counter-insurgency plan crafted under US military guidance, at several important junctures such as when new clashes between Muslim rebels and government forces erupted in Mindanao, a US “expert on MILF” would arrive in Manila. Last October, the US foreign affairs official in charge of East Asia and the Pacific, Kurt Campbell, visited Manila after coming from Jakarta to meet “with senior government officials to discuss bilateral and regional issues.”

According to Wikileaks, Campbell wrote Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Ebrahim Murad in November 2009 to express the US government’s willingness to provide “political and financial” support for the peace process between Manila and the Moro rebels. Shortly after that, the then Arroyo administration offered financial assistance to the MILF.

It was the same offer of financial assistance which the Arroyo government failed to deliver to the MILF that the Aquino government’s peace panel renewed and extended to the MILF in 2011.

Wikileaks revealed also that Campbell had expressed disquiet that, at that time, the MILF “has not completely severed its links with international terrorist organizations.” Campbell had said the US government was asking the MILF to “dissolve those links immediately.”

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