War and Peace in Mindanao

I wasn’t able to assess the now shelved Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-DA) between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) yet when discussion of the controversial document was supplanted by the sudden eruption of armed conflict between the two contending forces.

A vicious war is now being fought between guerrillas of the MILF and soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in several parts of Mindanao. I have to say that I was surprised by the unexpected turn of events. I thought a ceasefire period was in effect as part of the conditions for the now scuttled peace negotiations.

Once more, it is the civilians – especially the women and children – who will bear the brunt of the hardships and horrors brought by war. Many families are already caught in the crossfire and many more have been displaced from their homes and livelihoods. More will undoubtedly suffer as the war further escalates.

I will not anymore expound on the recent massacres committed by MILF forces against civilian communities in various parts of Mindanao. I will not also touch anymore whether they were really “lost commands” or enjoyed the sanction of the rebel group’s higher organs. Instead I will ask, what have they gained from the atrocities? Committing human rights abuses in response to the non-signing of the MOA-DA as the MILF leadership itself insinuates is totally irresponsible. If they wanted to heighten the prejudice among the country’s Christian majority against the plight of the Moro people, then they have done an excellent job out of it.

Those actions only serve to further polarize the nation and justify the agenda of accelerating militarization. Already, many are expecting the formation of armed militias and vigilante groups. We’ve seen it all happen before with the Ilagas and the Barracudas and the Blackshirts, etc. engaging in a despicable pattern of massacres and counter-massacres of both Moro and Christian civilian villages.

Here in Cebu, not a few are advocating the formation of vigilantes in Mindanao. Some are supportive of the call for another all-out war. I really cannot blame them. I think it is historically and culturally rooted. After all, the sea lanes around Cebu was once part of the Moros’ slave raiding routes. In fact, this is one of the reasons for the expansion of my ancestors (my father’s side) from their original home in Northern Cebu. Tradition handed down from generation to generation said that sometime in the 1870s, my ancestors – three elder brothers – began a long journey in search of their youngest brother, who while playing in the shores of Bantayan Island, was kidnapped by Moro slave raiders.

I am against such calls for more war simply for the reason that decades of violence in Mindanao has led to the deaths of more than a hundred thousand people. War does not necessarily lead to peace, unless if it’s the peace of dead. Most of the time, it leads to more war.

In the early 1990s, I stayed with my relatives (my mother’s side) in Cotabato City, Maguindanao when a round of armed encounters was fought between government troops and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). As a child between four and five, I didn’t comprehend what was happening around me. But it didn’t take much to know there was something abnormal when one had to stop attending preschool and stay in a basement for days hearing all sorts of booming sounds (rebel mortar fire and retaliating government howitzers shelling rebel positions).

Today, some relatives are still living there but are planning to finally leave for Cebu within the next few months. Classes are, well, occasionally disrupted again. My grandmother, who with my late grandfather was one of the first settlers from Bacolod City who built their homes in Cotabato City, is also leaving Mindanao.

A sense of sobriety and broadmindedness must prevail over an “utak-pulbura” mentality if we are to go anywhere near resolving the ages-old conflict in Mindanao. It will take much more to overcome the sense of panic, grief, fear, uncertainty and animosity that is again pervading the land of promise.

I only hope that the voices for peace from both sides of the conflict can overpower those now beating the drums of war. ■


1 Comment

  1. The Roman Empire, beginning in the 4th century, was losing manpower. It was constantly in bitter quarrels with its eastern neighbor Persia, and there was rebellion from the provinces. Worse, the revolts were sometimes to decide the next emperor.

    With the Roman military becoming weaker and weaker, they employed the “federati”, or German barbarians who would protect the borders in exchange of land. Eventually, it would be the German barbarians themselves who would be the main defenders against fellow German barbarians.

    Rome, of course, lost the provinces anyway… then lost their empire…

    Just a thought.

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