Mar 022013
 

SETTING UP THE MILF

by

Joel Rocamora


Executive Director Institute for Popular Democracy 45 Matimtiman St. Teachers’ Village 1101 Quezon City, Philippines Tel No. +632-9218049 / 4348859 Fax No. +632-9262893 webpage:  http://www.ipd.ph


The MILF is being set up to become the next target for the Americans. A coordinated public relations campaign painting the MILF as “the real terrorist threat” has been going on for a couple of weeks. Indicating the source of the campaign, it began with the American media. The CNN special on Balikatan, the reports of Time magazine’s Anthony Spaeth, the New York Time’s Nicholas Kristof, the Far Eastern Economic Review all spouted the same line.

Targeting the MILF makes sense from the twisted logic of George Jr’s war against terrorism. Less than a hundred hungry, exhausted, surrounded Abu Sayyaf hardly qualify as worthy targets for the world’s only remaining superpower. The MILF is a more worthy target. It has over 10,000 armed guerrillas. It is not just a bunch of kidnappers with a penchant for cutting off heads. It has good credentials as an Islamic movement with deep roots among the Moro people.

The next step in the campaign was to get Philippine authorities into the act. They knew they would get cooperation from the author of Estrada’s total war against the MILF. Then AFP chief-of-staff Angelo Reyes is now Secretary of Defense. Local military commanders such as Gen. Roy Kyamco, commander of the Army 6th Infantry Division, also want a wider war. Local politicians led by the Lobregats in Zamboanga, North Cotabato Governor Emmanuel Pinol, and Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan have all been clamoring for the expansion of the war in Basilan to their areas.

The first task was to link the MILF to the Abu Sayyaf. Various military and police sources claimed that the MILF was cuddling the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan. Others went so far as to say that the Abu Sayyaf was just the fund raising arm of the MILF. More important was echoing the American propaganda line that the MILF was the real al-Qaida link to the Philippines. Government authorities went to great lengths to link the MILF to the Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional Islamic group allegedly behind a plot to blow up embassies in Singapore. Four Arab men arrested in Manila late last year and accused of being terrorists have also been linked to the MILF without the slightest shred of evidence.

The next part of the campaign involved accusing the MILF of violating the August 2001 ceasefire. Talks with the MILF would be suspended, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Gen. (ret) Eduardo Ermita said. Suddenly kidnappings, attacks on military camps and patrols, burning of road building equipment, all regular occurrences in Central Mindanao, became part of a MILF military offensive. One police intelligence report said MILF leader Hasjim Salamat had returned from abroad and ordered a full scale war.

Unfortunately for the military, not everyone in government has been willing to cooperate. “If Salamat had fled the country, then who was the one I have been talking to in the Liguasan Marsh,” Presidential Assistant for Mindanao Jess Dureza asked. Dureza also pointed out that talks cannot be suspended because there have been no talks since October last year. The question is whether to reopen talks. Senator Aquilino Pimentel, a Mindanaoan, has warned against rushing into war again with the MILF.

The MILF has been unwilling to give a war. In Basilan, where the MILF has more men under arms than the Abu Sayyaf, they requested coordination so there would be no accidental firefights. The military arrogantly replied that the MILF should just keep out of the way. In Maguindanao, the MILF called for a formal investigation into accusations they had burned a government bulldozer. Gen. Roy Kyamco said there was no need for an investigation. Ibrahim Murad, MILF military chief says Salamat has not issued a military order in 20 years, he only makes decisions on religious issues.

MILF spokespersons deny links to Abu Sayyaf and al-Qaida. They quickly condemned the September 11 attacks. They have provided carefully argued theological arguments against terrorist attacks against civilians. They have also condemned Abu Sayyaf kidnappings. Far from being a criminal band, they have a social base among the better educated ulama in Maguindanao areas. Their political and economic support comes from identifiable groups in Central Mindanao society. Most importantly, they embody the aspirations of a Muslim population with historic grievances against Manila governments.

The anti-MILF campaign provides a perfect example of the dangers lurking behind Balikatan. The Americans want a more respectable enemy than the Abu Sayyaf. Apart from always being on the lookout for war, an occupational hazard of being military, the Philippine military believes that the bigger the war, the more they will get out of the Americans. Local politicians are either racist anti-Muslims like Pinol and the Lobregats, or Muslim politicians like Ampatuan who are fighting for their political lives against other politicians, in this case Zacarias Candao who is close to the MILF.

Taken together, their separate interests might just be enough to provoke a war. This war will be tragic not just for Moros, not just for Mindanaoans who will bear the brunt of a greatly expanded war. It will have killed the prospect for peace, a peace we so richly deserve. In the end, you have to decide Pres. Arroyo. Are you going to give the Americans a war? Or are you going to give us peace?

March 10, 2002

The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted.

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