BASILAN OFFENSIVE: LIMITED POLICE ACTION
OR ALL-OUT WAR IN DISGUISE?
“Limited police action”, that is how the hawks in government and military describes the impending offensive in Basilan to assure the people that it will not lead to another all-out war. We have heard this phrase before.
In year 2000, this was also the phrase used in the aftermath of the Ozamiz ferry bombing. In year 2003, it was again used in the aftermath of the Davao city airport and wharf bombings. And from what transpired in those years, we all know the truth behind that phrase – ALL OUT WAR!
The 2000 and 2003 all-out wars led to thousands of deaths - combatants and civilians alike - and a million and a half internally displaced people. The reconstruction and return of the refugees have not even been completed and yet we are staring at the specter of another all-out war as a consequence of the Basilan encounter between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Front (BIAF).
Therefore, we who come from various sectors and civil society organizations, who represent the true stakeholders of the Mindanao Peace Process, whose voices are drowned by the drums of war and jingoist calls for revenge, declare the following:
1. We condemn in no uncertain terms any and all atrocities and human rights abuses or any failure to respect the provisions of Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions BY ANY SIDE to the Mindanao Conflict;
2. We are disturbed at the attempt to exploit the legitimate outrage over the Basilan incident into calls for all-out war and abandonment of the GRP-MILF Peace Process;
3. We are disturbed at the disproportionate media coverage of atrocities committed by identified as Muslims versus those committed against them;
4. We strongly condemn the efforts to manipulate public opinion into acquiescing to another all-out war disguised as another “police action”;
5. We appreciate and commend the intense efforts of responsible people of both the AFP and the BIAF, as well as the respective peace panels of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and their respective ceasefire committees (CCCH) to defuse the volatile situation. We are aware of their difficult task made more difficult by the noise of the warmongers;
6. We also appreciate and commend the International Monitoring Team (IMT), and members of the international community particularly the governments of Malaysia, Japan, Canada, the United States, the European Union, and member countries of the Mindanao Trust Fund of the World Bank who have joined the calls for sobriety and reason;
7. We call on the Filipino public to educate themselves on the roots of the Mindanao conflict and not to take events into isolation but rather put it into the context of the long history of the conflict. We call on you to exercise your reason and to bear in mind that joining the calls of war will lead to the suffering of millions of people of all faiths in Mindanao;
8. We call on the media to observe the code of ethics of their profession and to be balanced and responsible both in their reporting and editorials;
9. We join the earlier calls of both government and civil society leaders in Mindanao (Mindanao Peaceweavers, Presidents of Catholic Universities and Colleges in Mindanao, Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, ARMM Business Council, ARMM Regional Government) call on the government to refrain from any act that will irreversibly injure not only the peace process but also the welfare of the peoples of Mindanao;
10. We demand from the AFP and the BIAF to strictly adhere to their agreed upon ceasefire mechanisms as the only way to prevent repetitions of the Basilan encounter; and,
11. And we demand on all parties concerned, particularly the GRP and the MILF, to ensure sustainable peace by earnestly addressing the root causes of the Mindanao Conflict.
NO TO ALL OUT WAR IN MINDANAO DISGUISED AS LIMITED POLICE ACTION!
NO TO WAR, YES TO NEGOTIATED SOLUTION OF THE MINDANAO CONFLICT!
RESPECT THE CEASEFIRE MECHANISMS OF THE GRP-MILF PEACE PROCESS!
GUARANTY SUSTAINABLE PEACE BY ADDRESSING ROOT CAUSES OF THE MINDANAO CONFLICT!
Alliance of Muslim Advocates of Law (AMAL)
Assembly of the Dar’ul Ifta
Bangsamoro Lawyers Network (BLN)
Bangsamoro Center for Law and Policy (MoroLaw)
Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS)
Mindanao Interfaith for Human Rights Advocacy (MIHRA)
Mindanao Solidarity Group
Young Moro Professionals (YMP)
BASILAN OFFENSIVE: LIMITED POLICE ACTION
True, the beheading of the Marines is an atrocity that is rightfully condemned. Even the Black and White Movement’s press statement correctly pointed out the mutilation of one’s enemies are proscribed in the Qur’an and, thus, un-Islamic. But while I was quick to join BnW’s statement of condemnation, I was also quick to remind that we must be prepared to condemn any and all acts of barbarity and cruelty. Revulsion at one atrocity while ignoring another will not serve the cause of peace and will only encourage repetitions of such tragic incidents, bearing in mind always that one person’s barbarity may be another person’s revenge.
A related incident that has not been getting as much media and public attention – in fact belated and minimal – as the be beheading of the Philippine Marines is the reported mutilation of an Imam in the same village earlier on the day of the encounter. How we react to both incidents or ANY incident involving violations of rights of ANY person coming from ANY faith will determine if communal relations between Muslims and Christians in this part of the world can look forward to a positive future.
I have had many instances to share with Muslims and Christians alike my thoughts on inter and intra communal dialogue and how it is impacted by the issue of "terrorism". The argument I have always put forth in all my private and public statements is that awareness by Filipinos of what Moros are doing to ostracize those who would misuse Islam may perhaps reduce the resentment arising from the perceived acquiescence of the latter to atrocities committed in the name of Islam. That awareness in turn may move Filipinos to join the Moros' calls for respect for their rights and reduce their resentment at the former's perceived acquiescence to violations thereof.
A common statement among Moro human rights advocates is that if the national public devoted as much news coverage and op-eds to atrocities committed against them, the pages of all the broadsheets from front to back will not be enough. For instance, the kidnapping of Fr. Bossi in Zamboanga Sibugay has been occupying the front pages for weeks now and has been rightly condemned by people of all faiths. But for years now, Imams and Ustadzes from Zamboanga Peninsula to Davao Peninsula have been "disappearing" with nary a footnote in the national consciousness.
In an online discussion forum made up of members of Mindanao’s civil society, I wrote:
"For example, when Christians like Manong Pat ask ‘if the Philippine government will propose a similar plan to isolate and contain the Abu Sayyaf, will Filipino Muslims toe the line?’, wouldn't it be good to let them know what steps are being taken by their Moro activist friends to help ostracize religious extremists and expose them as religious frauds? Imagine yourself as such an activist trying to convince your own community to stand up to terrorists and be more outspoken. Given that most people at the grassroots see themselves as victims of both the ASG and the AFP, generating the right response is not as simple as it seems. Still, eventually one notices the Dar'ul Ifta issuing statements of condemnation, even Khutba. Radio talk shows in the vernacular start talking about the evil of indiscriminate violence, especially if religion is used as an excuse. We also see the liberation fronts not just being outspoken but actually cooperating in operations. Perhaps if more Christians knew of all these steps being taken by Moros themselves, then there might be less resentment for the latter's perceived acquiscence to ASG atrocities. And then, in turn, perhaps more Christians would join Muslims in calling for the AFP to respect the human rights of Moros who would also feel less resentfull at the seeming indifference to violations of Moros' human rights in the course of counter-terrorism." Though clearly tragic, the latest Basilan incidents offers us another opportunity to look at the larger picture, examine the roots of the conflict in Mindanao, instead of taking the beheading of the Marines in isolation from all the incidents of physical, political, economic, and cultural violence during the 100 years of the Moros' incorporation in the Philippine republic. Incidents of atrocities are part of the much larger conflict that has been going on for centuries. Sadly, it is these type of incidents that are given prominence (and only those that are committed by Muslims and not those which are committed against them) and not the earnest efforts of people to settle the conflict via peaceful means.
Incidentally, Cito Beltran in his July 13 column asked "how much longer before those who mourn (for the Marines) will turn against the 'Muslims' in Metro Manila?". Such a rhetorical question as well as the strong statements that came from some of our honorable congressmen and senators forebodes of a slippery slope and the only way we can prevent it is if we are able to look at the Basilan incidents in the context of the totality of past and present events in Mindanao.
For the longest time, Metro Manila saw no need to examine the conflict with a critical eye and read between the lines of events in Mindanao as reported. It is high time it does so. Of course, I may be preaching to the converted here. Perhaps, we just need to spread that message.