By Luis V. Teodoro
Exactly a month after the January 25 Mamasapano clash in Maguindanao, the usual rites marked the 29th anniversary of EDSA 1, the civilian-military mutiny that overthrew the Marcos dictatorship in 1986 fourteen years after that despot seized power by placing the entire country under martial law.
During this “EDSA month” of February, the Mamasapano firefight during which 44 police commandos were killed by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerillas has led to calls from the (allegedly) Christian majority for summary rejection of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), and hence the scuttling of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF.
The media are at least partly responsible, but so are some of the most clueless politicians on the planet. Ousted President and convicted plunderer Joseph Estrada and his equally clueless spawn in the Senate are the principal advocates of the extremist approach of “total war,” despite its having been tried and found wanting for decades including during Estrada’s thankfully short term in office (1998-2001).
Not to be outdone, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano has not only accused the MILF of terrorism. He has also threatened to “wipe (it) out.” The same Cayetano claimed during the Senate hearings that the late South African President Nelson Mandela did not use violent means in the struggle against apartheid (he did; Mandela helped found the Spear of the Nation, the armed wing of the African National Congress). Cayetano also ignored chief GPH negotiator Miriam Ferrer’s reply that she knew “of no such policy” (in other words, “no”) when he asked her if the government negotiates with terrorists, declaring that “we’re in trouble because our chief negotiator does not know if we negotiate with terrorists.”
The country is indeed in trouble, but not for the reasons that Cayetano claims. Egged on by the inflammatory reports and commentary of unthinking media practitioners, politician after politician has pandered to what they think is popular sentiment against the MILF and even Muslims in general. In so many words have they argued for war despite the human costs of continuing warfare and the decades-long failure of the military approach to “wipe out” armed revolutionary groups—and despite one of the principal legacies of the EDSA “People Power” mutiny to which these worthies pay annual lip service.
That legacy, while not an assurance of a just and lasting peace between the GPH and such armed social and political movements as the MILF and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), consists of EDSA 1’s enhancing the possibility of achieving it.
Although the Marcos regime was involved in peace negotiations with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1976, which resulted in the signing of the Tripoli Agreement, it was only during the post-Marcos period when the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was established.
Marcos had agreed to negotiations because of a domestic energy crisis and pressure from the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), most of whose members were oil-exporting countries. Absent from his perceptions was the understanding that such groups as the MNLF had taken up arms because they had legitimate grievances.
The “protracted armed struggle” launched by the MNLF in 1969 was in response to the killing of some 48 Muslim trainees by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in what is now known as the Jabidah Massacre. But the MNLF was also responding to the decades of neglect, marginalization and consequent poverty of the Muslim communities in Mindanao.
The overthrow of the Marcos regime in 1986 made possible a paradigm shift from the Marcos framework. For the first time, the Philippine government entertained the possibility that the “insurgencies” (the US name for any movement in any country that’s opposed to it, but which every Philippine administration since 1946 has internalized to describe any armed challenge) may have been, and are driven, by legitimate grievances and just aspirations for an alternative political, economic and social order.
The administration of Corazon Aquino was taking much of its cue on domestic and international affairs from the US. But it released political prisoners including leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines not only in recognition of the latter’s role in the “grand alliance against the Marcos dictatorship” (Joker Arroyo). It also implied through that act that some accommodation between armed social movements and the Philippine government was possible. One of the immediate consequences of the rise of Corazon Aquino to the Presidency was a ceasefire, though short-lived, between her administration and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Despite his hawkish declarations during the 1992 Presidential campaign, in a gesture of goodwill —-and a calculated ploy to lure Leftists “back to the fold”– Fidel Ramos had the Anti-Subversion Law (RA 1700) repealed. His administration entered into the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CAHRIHL) with the NDFP, while continuing to negotiate with the MNLF.
Peace talks, though supposedly continuing, came to naught during the terms of Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The latter’s term was particularly problematic, due to, among other factors, her administration’s focus on dismantling the so-called political infrastructure of the NDFP, which on the ground led to numerous extra-judicial killings (EJKs) of political activists, members of the clergy, human rights defenders, reformist local officials, lawyers and judges and other non-combatants.
Negotiations with the MILF continued during the Arroyo term, but did not bear any concrete result. Only during the Aquino III regime was there an agreement in 2012, followed by the signing of the CAB in 2014.
The bloodlust among much of the population– driven both by irresponsible, biased, inflammatory and fundamentally unethical media reporting and commentary as well as by grandstanding politicians with an eye on the 2016 elections — is threatening to trash what little gain there has been over the decades-long effort to end at least part of the conflict in Mindanao. But it is also leading to the enhancement of the equally sanguine, purely military approach to the resolution of other conflicts including that between the GPH and the NDFP, rather than through the forging of agreements based on mutually agreed upon principles and concrete solutions to the social, economic and political grievances that have driven revolutionary groups to take up arms.
Although one of the legacies of EDSA was its making a principled peace between armed social movements and the GPH possible, what we’re seeing today is a direct assault on that legacy, in one more indication of how, despite the annual rites of celebration, what that event 29 years ago meant, as well as what it made possible, have not been enshrined in the collective memory of most Filipinos. Least of all is it valued by much of the media and by most of the politicians.
Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro).
The views expressed in Vantage Point are his own and do not represent the views of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.
Published in Business World
February 26, 2015