Notes for the Sulu Solidarity Mission Report – 4/6/05 (few corrections & additions – 4/7/05)
SULU: STATE OF WAR, CALLS FOR PEACE
by Atty. Soliman M. Santos, Jr.
delegate of the Mindanao Solidarity Network (MSN),
member network of the Mindanao Peaceweavers
State of War
As the 30 March 2005 media statement of the Sulu Peace and Solidarity Mission of the Mindanao Peaceweavers network of civil society peace advocates started off: “There is a state of war in Sulu right now. Fear and insecurity prevail despite efforts to bring back the situation to normalcy. A collective insecurity persists despite renewed promises of rehabilitation of houses and construction of roads and bridges. There is a raging cry for justice, peace and respect for human rights.” The mission, which spanned four days from 27 to 30 March 2005 mainly in Sulu and partly in Zamboanga City, sought among others to study and assess the current armed conflict in Sulu and make the corresponding recommendations for its resolution or reduction.
First of all, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Misuari group, which is the MNLF main faction with the biggest armed force, has declared a “state of war” not only in Sulu but also in its other areas of operation in the Mindanao islands. But this is without the knowledge of their detained Chairman Prof. Nur Misuari. This was clearly stated by MNLF MGen. Khaid O. Ajibon, State Chairman of its Lupa Sug [Sulu] State Revolutionary Committee, who also chairs the MNLF unified command for Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi, when the mission had a talk with him on 28 March 2005. He takes full responsibility for the declaration and the corresponding reprisal attacks, arrived at in caucus and consultation with his men in the field and pursuant to the sense of the preceding MNLF congress. This jibes with an earlier media report that the MNLF Misuari group made a declaration of war through “Tuan Ghulam Lakimuddin” (nom-de-guerre), their deputy chief of defense.
The most prominent MNLF Misuari group leader in Sulu, Ustadz Habier Malik, who led the initial attacks on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) there on 7 February 2005 in reprisal for their perceived massacre by AFP soldiers of members of a poor Muslim family, told the mission on 29 March 2005 that they were currently on a “temporary defensive” stance to give way to some mediation efforts by certain local government officials. Malik now heads the MNLF Jabar Uhod Command which covers the eastern part of Jolo island, with Ajibon operationally responsible for the western part. Incidentally, the mission met with Malik in his residential compound in Barangay Bitan-ag, Panamao town which the AFP claimed to be his headquarters camp that it captured on 15 February 2005, followed by a formal Philippine flag-raising ceremony. The AFP estimates the force strength of the MNLF Misuari group in Sulu to be about 1,000 (the MNLF says they’re at least twice more than this), while that of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sulu to be about 300. The AFP says that these two forces have basically combined in operations against the AFP in Sulu.
What Malik said jibes with what Philippine Army (PA) 104 Brigade Commander Col. Nehemias Pajarito told us on 28 March 2005 that they were currently “holding back” because of backdoor initiatives for peace through local intermediaries. The 104 Army Brigade and the 3rd Marine Brigade, under Lt. Col. Hassan Alamia, are the two major units of the AFP Joint Task Force Comet in Sulu which is directly under the AFP Southern Command. The 104 Army Brigade roughly covers the western part of Jolo island, and the 3rd Marine Brigade the eastern part. At the same time, Col. Pajarito indicated that the AFP had ongoing operations as part of the task force’s mission to destroy the ASG and “other lawless elements,” to include what the AFP and Philippine government calls the “Misuari Breakaway Group” (MBG). In fact, one ongoing operation at that time in the vicinity of the “Karawan complex” tri-boundary area of Indanan, Parang and Maimbung towns was invoked by Col. Pajarito to justify certain restrictions on or security measures for the mission. Ajibon said military operations were on the rise again, particularly in the Lanao areas, adjacent to Silangkan, and thus the MNLF have asked their people (civilian mass base) to withdraw.
As mission partner Fatmawati Salapuddin of the Bangsamoro Women’s Solidarity Forum pointed out, the AFP and MNLF were currently just avoiding each other but Sulu is small and so they are bound to get entangled and clash at some point. This would be especially so if the conflict were not resolved in due time. The people of Sulu, especially the evacuees, know this. They know that both sides are ready or preparing for any eventuality. That is why many of them have not returned to their homes and farms even though the main fighting has subsided since 17 February 2005, in anticipation of the possible outbreak of hostilities again. [The situation of internally displaced persons in Sulu is to be addressed in another part of the mission report]. This notwithstanding government and AFP pronouncements that the situation is “normalizing,” i.e. “going back to the pre-conflict [pre-February 2005] situation.” On the other hand, Malik himself describes the situation as “abnormal,” precisely because “many people are not in their own places.” Fatmawati puts it another way, that in Sulu for the past three decades the abnormal, as in human rights violations, has become “normal,” so that people there just choose to remain silent.
Ajibon speaks also of the AFP’s “hidden war” in Sulu, which has mainly been for the closure of MNLF camps there (one might say shades of the AFP “all-out war” against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Central Mindanao in 2000 and 2003). He says the AFP has never ended this war, and that the MNLF will in turn keep to a state of war unless lifted by its higher authorities, particularly Chairman Misuari. What does it take to end this state of war?
Issues of the Conflict
On the side of the MNLF Misuari group in Sulu, particularly its State Chairman Ajibon, even if the government declares a ceasefire, they will not do likewise unless there are talks held between the government and the MNLF on: (1) the root causes of the war; (2) the 1996 GRP-MNLF Peace Agreement; and (3) justice for Misuari, which are all seen as inter-connected. Malik phrases the issues as the “MNLF problem” and the causes of the conflict, the root cause of which is the non-implementation of the Peace Agreement, which has to be discussed again. He also raises putting an end to massacres, as what is needed is a “peace of the living, not of the dead.” Ajibon stresses the importance of knowing the background of their reprisal attacks against the 104 Army Brigade.
For the MNLF Misuari group in Sulu, the trigger of the current conflict in Sulu was the 1 February 2005 incident which it perceived to be a massacre [this issue of whether it was a massacre or encounter is to be addressed in another part of the mission report]. For them, this was only the proverbial straw which broke the camel’s back, which broke their patience after accumulated human rights (HR) abuses against their people, many of which have been documented and reported, to no avail [the matter of HR violations is to be addressed in another part of the mission report]. As Ajibon put it, the conflict did not happen just on February 1. That incident is seen as part of an ongoing conflict of more than three decades. In this conflict, the MNLF has been asserting the Moro people’s right of self-determination (RSD) and the Moro cause in defense of the Bangsa (the nation), the homeland and Islam. They have not gotten out of this cause, even as they have entered into and adhered to the Peace Agreement in 1996.
To repeat, the MNLF Misuari group continues to hold on to the Peace Agreement, notwithstanding all their reservations about it. They treat this with the solemnity of treaties or covenants which should not be easily broken in Islamic belief, also loyally recognizing and following the MNLF leadership under Chairman Misuari who himself signed the Peace Agreement and its precursor the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. These agreements have transformed the MNLF assertion of RSD from one of independence to one of autonomy. The 1996 Peace Agreement “momentarily compelled us to stop the war or struggle,” says Ajibon. The Peace Agreement, for them, meant a unilateral ceasefire on their part pursuant to the spirit of the agreement even though there was nothing on ceasefire in the letter of the agreement. In fact, according to Ajibon, they also “momentarily forgot the MNLF.” But since the government is in their perception “destroying” the agreement, then “we are back to being MNLF.” In other words, this has become a wake-up call for the MNLF; it should also be a wake-up call for the government.
Ajibon says the current conflict in Sulu can end only if the Peace Agreement is addressed properly. Both he and Malik call for the reconvening of the tripartite mechanism of the GRP-MNLF-Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) pursuant to its Dubai or Qatar resolution. In fact, it is the GRP disregard of this mechanism through unilateralism which is their main issue regarding the implementation of the agreement. There are essentially no other local angles to the conflict like local politics or rido (clan conflicts) here. Malik sees the raising of this angle against him as a way of papering over the MNLF issue. Addressing the Peace Agreement is the issue for now. If this can be properly done, even the unification of the main MNLF factions (“There is only one MNLF, even the MILF is MNLF.”) will follow because the original causes (Bangsa, homeland, Islam) haven’t changed. For now, “if not independence, at least the Peace Agreement” would be good enough for them. For the government not to seize the moment, not to see the importance of restoring confidence of the MNLF Misuari group in the Peace Agreement, is to go on with business as usual at its own peril, where the MNLF may finally reject the agreement in favor of a more radical independence track now bannered by the MILF.
Ajibon said it quite well: “For as long as the government only addresses the tip of the iceberg, then how do expect we to solve it (i.e. the Moro problem)?” The MNLF lasted this long because of the struggle for RSD, the attitude being “Victory or the Graveyard!” And there will always be fresh new generations to carry on the fight because the incoming generation “is trained while still inside the wombs of their mothers.” The military approach over three decades, instead of stemming this inter-generational fire, has had the counter-productive effect of stoking and rekindling it.
The military commanders in Sulu like Col. Pajarito and Lt. Col. Alamia are only implementing, as best as they can of course, higher policy directives to destroy the ASG and “other lawless elements,” which includes what the AFP and government calls the MBG. The so-called MBG is seen not as the mainstream MNLF which has an ongoing peace process with the government but instead mainly as criminal elements operating outside of, breaking and being fugitives from the law. They see no reason or need for a ceasefire for criminals. Besides, who will enforce it on the other side? Also, the Peace Agreement is being implemented anyway. So, the AFP Joint Task Force Comet in Sulu is not letting up on its mission to destroy the ASG and “other lawless elements” inc. the MBG until their capabilities are destroyed or degraded. Because these threat groups are still there, continuing military operations are necessary to protect and consolidate tactical gains. Col. Domingo Tutaan, Jr., Chief of Staff of the AFP Southern Command, while disputing the mission’s assessment of a state of war in Sulu, admitted to the mission on 30 March 2005 that the situation there may be described as “still volatile.”
Col. Pajarito sees the problem in Sulu as one of asserting the law. In his view, the people there “respect the law only when force is behind it.” He points to what he calls the Moro or particularly Tausug “culture of violence” or “culture of the gun.” Lt. Col. Alamia sees the Sulu problem as the proliferation of loose firearms among unauthorized persons. Neither seems to see the Moro issues of the Sulu problem. As the AFP, they will defend the Constitution “by all means,” but will also abide by whatever political decision. Several things seem clear enough from all these: (1) The proper appreciation, especially of the political aspects, of the conflict in Sulu is beyond the level of the military there or even above it which is only doing its military job; (2) The policy guidance to them from the national political leadership as regards the Sulu conflict appears to be inadequate; and (3) The military view tends to dominate policy at both the Sulu and national levels when there is a vacuum or abdication in policy leadership by the civilian authorities concerned. Col. Pajarito himself complained of the lack of consistency and continuity in national policies esp. with the peace process where politics intrudes.
The characterization of the MNLF mainstream as the “Misuari Breakaway Group” is a case in point. This terminology was used after the Misuari-inspired revolt in November 2001 in Sulu and also Zamboanga City. But the MNLF Misuari group chaffs at being called the MBG because they did not break away from, and in fact are the mainstream and main armed force of, the MNLF. They view the government-recognized MNLF “Council of 15” as the real breakaway from the MNLF, cohabiting with and promoted by the government and the military as a tool for the destruction of the real MNLF to become an “MNLF without Misuari.” They see some involvement and connivance of the Philippine and Malaysian governments in this. This has relevance to the implementation of the Peace Agreement because it involves one key party thereto, the MNLF which was represented by Misuari. As it is, both the main pro-Misuari and anti-Misuari factions of the MNLF have not (yet) broken away from the Peace Agreement.
The government and military view lumping the MBG and the ASG in Sulu is another case in point. The AFP basis for this lumping is their encounters with combined MBG-ASG forces in the field, which to the former is not surprising because of blood relations arising from the common Tausug ethnicity (the main Moro ethnic group in Sulu) of the latter. The MNLF Misuari group just as vehemently denies any tie-up with the ASG, other than both having a common enemy in the AFP. First of all, the causes of the two groups are different. They say they don’t like the activities of the ASG, and in fact cite several instances (e.g. in Timbangan and Indanan) where they have interdicted ASG kidnappers, killing fellow Tausugs in the process. They suspect the ASG to even be some kind of creation of the AFP as some kind of fifth column on the Moro front, to foment trouble and thus justify increased funds for the AFP, aside from cuts from ransom money paid for the release of ASG kidnapping victims. They complain that the AFP has been operating not so much in ASG areas like Patikul as in MNLF areas, resulting in unnecessary encounters.
Malik in particular complains about the AFP’s indiscriminate labeling of its targets or victims as ASG. He says certain wanted ASG leaders like Radulan and Dr. Abu were long-time MNLF at least up to the time of the 1996 Peace Agreement which they did not favor. He says “there is no more ASG” in Sulu. It may be correct to rather say that the ASG in Sulu is a small group but which can continue to create big trouble. Ajibon posits that if things between the MNLF and the government are resolved, then solving the ASG problem is next in line for them.
The AFP, as well as Sulu Governor Benjamin Loong, tend to view the ASG as the bigger problem in Sulu and therefore prioritize the solution of this problem, since the MNLF Misuari group is anyway covered by the Peace Agreement. He told the mission on 29 March 2005 that he prefers to solve the ASG problem first, which would simplify things in the sense that it would mean that leaves the MNLF Misuari Group (regarding which he uses the government or AFP term MBG). He sees the interrelationship between the MBG and the ASG as complicating the Sulu problem. He says Ajibon is easy to talk to but doubts the latter’s control over his sub-commanders who may have tactical relations with the ASG. He admits to close working relations with the AFP Southern Command, particularly its commander Lt. Gen. Alberto Braganza. He is also careful in dealing with the MNLF because he belongs to one of the big political families whose patriarch once led the “Magic Eight” breakaway MNLF commanders who turned against the MNLF after being coopted by Marcos.
Gov. Loong has successfully talked with Malik to back off from continuing to launch offensives starting February 15 for the sake of the evacuees. This and related local mediation effortsare some of the few bright spots in the Sulu situation, aside from the growing peace advocacy by local civil society organizations, some of which were indispensable local partners of the mission. He is involved with a local mediation effort led by an allied town vice-mayor. They have talked with Malik and relayed his group’s issues to the national leadership. However, the main issue relayed was not the MNLF issue but the Misuari issue, which the national leadership said was difficult and problematic because of the factional situation of the MNLF. The government also wants them to renew their pledge of allegiance to the government before sitting down for talks. He bats for the involvement of Ajibon and Malik in any talks on the Sulu conflict. (According to Malik, he has no word yet from the local mediators. It remains to be seen whether the required “pledge of allegiance” would be acceptable to Malik.)
To Gov. Loong’s credit, he will “buy peace for Sulu” if he can. The current conflict has of course affected his pre-conflict Provincial Executive-Legislative Agenda to “Rebuild Sulu.” Through a “Sulu Leadership Covenant,” he has involved all town mayors and activated civil society participation. Mayoral presence in their own towns for whatever eventuality during this critical period continues to be a concern. As regards the national government, he now bats for Sulu to be given extra attention after long-time neglect. He believes that, even with some fighting, there can still be development in some parts of Sulu, especially its island municipalities. Livelihood and infrastructure are not the final solutions but can help.
Gov. Loong says his provincemate Misuari’s five-year governorship of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) unfortunately did not address the problem, with a lot of funding wasted and livelihood projects for ex-MNLF combatants not sustained. One concrete manifestation of this, which the mission saw for itself, is the current state of discontinuance of Misuari’s pet project for the main island of Jolo, the ten-lane Jolo circumferential highway, now the proverbial boulevard of broken dreams. Misuari and MNLF management or mismanagement of development under the old ARMM and the transitional Southern Philippines Council of Peace and Development (SPCPD) should also be addressed in any honest-to-goodness review of the implementation of the Peace Agreement. All told, it all boils down to this.
Conduct of War
Relevant to the state of war in Sulu is the way the ten-day war in February was conducted. This is a preview of what could happen again if the conflict is not resolved properly. The MNLF Misuari group in Sulu prides itself with having been able to conduct conventional warfare head to head with the AFP for ten days. The MNLF launched frontal attacks against AFP fixed positions. The AFP countered with artillery, aerial bombardment and armored-supported ground troop assaults against MNLF fixed positions in both the eastern and western fronts in Sulu. The level of firepower used is a good indication of the state of war or potential resumption of war. Malik’s group alone had .50-caliber machine guns, .30-caliber machine guns, 81-mm. mortars, 60-mm. mortars, bazookas and a B57, among others. The mission saw some of these weapons and many MNLF fighters during its interview with Malik at his residential compound “camp.” From the MNLF end, the AFP used thousands of howitzer (at least 155-mm.) rounds and cannon (105-mm.) rounds, dozens of 81-mm. mortar fire, and about 200 bombs (at least 500-pounders) dropped from OV-10 aircraft. The mission saw some bomb craters as well as casings of unexploded bombs in the Malik residential compound, of which we were told there were about 20 such unexploded bombs.
The AFP said they had at least 77 casualties, i.e. both killed (38 is one figure) and wounded, while estimating enemy casualties to be 137. The MNLF, however, admits to only five among them “martyred” (killed) while estimating more than 300 AFP soldiers killed based on death benefit claims filed. Miraculously, there were, as far as can be gathered, zero civilian casualties during that ten-day war. This is largely attributable to the pre-evacuation of civilians from the battle zones, notably the MNLF-led evacuation of its own civilian mass base in certain critical areas. Whether led by the MNLF or on their own after some pre-warnings, the large number of evacuees, reaching around 70,000 at one point, though with no reported deaths in evacuation, constitute the real casualties of this war. Of course, the thinking is that it is better to evacuate and live rather than stay in place and die. But all concerned should not push their luck because there can be no guarantee of zero civilian casualties next time around.
The absence of civilian casualties during the ten-day war might also be attributed to the conscious efforts of both sides to avoid such. Aside from the MNLF pre-warnings and pre-evacuations, the AFP says they were strictly observing rules of engagement to keep collateral damage against civilians to the barest minimum. In particular, the AFP says it does not fire (e.g. by artillery or aerial bombardment) on targets which are unobserved but that it uses forward observers. The MNLF disputes this, saying that AFP artillery fire and aerial bombing have largely or mostly missed them, with some far off the mark. As one MNLF military commander put it, “they (the AFP) are fighting against coconut trees.” Both sides claim that they subscribe to the rules of war, including on the basis of their own terms of reference like Islam, but admit that strict observance is difficult in the heat of battle. It was the impression of the mission that the general level of understanding of international humanitarian law (IHL) is low on both sides.
One commonality of both sides though is the notion of battle zones resulting from the planned or unplanned evacuation of civilians from the areas concerned. The MNLF in particular prefers this mode of fighting, even if it goes against the usual mode of the guerrilla as fish needing a mass base sea in which to swim, and even if it is inferior to the AFP in manpower, firepower and other logistics. In fact, the MNLF wants the AFP to move out of municipal areas where the civilian population is in the vicinity, so that the combatants can go head to head in battle. The MNLF counts instead on the fighting spirit (inc. morale, dedication and willingness to die) of its mujahideen (holy warriors), popular support, and knowledge of the terrain of their own homeland which they are defending. Malik’s message to the people of Luzon and Visayas is to forego with sending their soldier sons to wage war in Sulu if they do not want to weep over their sons who return in coffins because the MNLF would be compelled to defend themselves and their people in their own homeland. Of course, soldiers are supposed to be ready to die, more precisely to kill and be killed. The officers and men of the AFP have their own dedication to their mandated task to protect the people and the state, to secure national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to uphold and defend the Constitution. This is what makes this war of brothers unfortunate. But if there will be war, then let it be according to the rules.
There are questions of IHL and the rules of war which arise on both sides. A major one has to do with the heavy firepower used by the AFP, especially howitzer rounds (of at least 155-mm.) and aerial bombs (of at least 500 lbs.). Is this already “excessive force,” legally or morally inappropriate for an internal armed conflict between brother Filipinos? Should that firepower not be reserved instead for foreign invaders? The way war is waged may have some bearing, for better or for worse, on the subsequent peace which has to be waged. According to some accounts, howitzers were fired from school grounds and caused nose-bleeding and vomiting among school children. Col. Pajarito says these weapons were issued to them by higher headquarters and they will naturally use what is at their disposal to accomplish their mission.
He speaks instead of “overwhelming force” which is needed to discourage the enemy so that the situation in Sulu does not spread to other areas. But it is precisely the overkill which could generate sympathy in other areas.
Among other MNLF complaints in the AFP’s conduct of the war were the poisoning of water sources, the taking cover in civilian homes, “hamletting” or hostaging of a community, use of civilians as perimeter defense, and then the “kidnapping” of cows, goats and other farm animals which they likened to “acts of terrorism” of the Abu Sayyaf. AFP complaints of MNLF conduct tend to involve beheadings and other mutilations, and atrocities against innocent civilians. The mission did not have enough time to make a more thorough inquiry into the possible violations of the laws of war by both sides. It, however, posed two initial or test questions to the MNLF: on landmines and on child soldiers.
Ajibon, who commands MNLF operations in the western part of Sulu, denied categorically the use of landmines in the face of AFP and media reports about it. He says they are not capable, i.e. cannot afford expensive manufactured landmines. He said probably some ASG use them, and that the AFP attributed landmine use to the ASG previously. He challenged anyone to indicate areas where the MNLF may have used landmines in the current conflict. He says he does not tolerate this among MNLF forces because it is detrimental to their own people. He said the MNLF abandoned using landmines a long time ago, around 1976, the year of the Tripoli Agreement and after the early martial law years under Marcos. However, Malik, who commands MNLF operations in the eastern part of Sulu, admitted to his forces employing improvised anti-personnel and anti-vehicle landmines which detonate on impact or pressure in places where enemy forces, not civilians, are expected to pass. The current international humanitarian norm bans victim-activated (e.g. by pressure or tripwire) anti-personnel mines but not anti-vehicle mines, whether victim-activated or command-detonated. Malik, however, related an incident where an anti-vehicle mine nearly blasted a civilian vehicle. After a while, he ordered to pull out of all planted landmines. In case of war, these could be used again.
Ajibon also said his MNLF forces had no child soldiers, saying minors were not capable of carrying armalites because they needed to be old enough to possess the necessary wisdom and experience. On the other hand, Malik said that child soldiers were a kind of emergency question. Often, this depends on the exigency of the situation, not really intended for children to be used as soldiers but as members of a family having to move or be prepared for any eventuality. He instead pointed to the phenomenon of MNLF “elderly soldiers,” senior citizens with white hair still bearing MNLF uniforms and their preferred weapon of old, the garand, since this unfinished struggle is their life. The mission saw for itself these “elderly soldiers” as well as some mujahideen who looked quite young, maybe even below 18. This precisely was the inter-generational fire we mentioned earlier.
This was also a question the mission posed to Col. Pajarito who was still a lieutenant when he began fighting his Sulu adversary Ajibon. He had started talking about their respective sons perhaps taking over the fight after their retirements or deaths. We asked, when will it all end? What does it take to end the cycle? In the immediate or short-term in Sulu, some things can be done towards that end. The mission hopes to do its part through a number of recommendations.
Calls for Peace
The following recommendations, some reformulated and elaborated from the initial 30 March 2005 media statement of the mission, address the matters discussed above. Not yet covered here are such matters as the situation of internally displaced persons, the February 1 triggering incident, and the issue of human rights violations in Sulu.
1) For the government and the MNLF Misuari group to hold talks on the status and implementation of the 1996 Peace Agreement, on the Misuari issue and on the Sulu situation, the latter discussion to include the key leaders of the MNLF Misuari group in Sulu. For the parties concerned to reactivate the tripartite (GRP-MNLF-OIC) mechanism, including the Joint Monitoring Committee, under the Peace Agreement to oversee not only its implementation but also the security situation. The mechanism can even be further improved to become multipartite, to include all key stakeholders of peace and development esp. in Sulu.
The immediate concern would be to stabilize the Sulu situation for prevention of escalation and spillover and for more effective relief and rehabilitation of the evacuees. The more strategic concern is to get the implementation of the Peace Agreement back on a track where there is the necessary bilateral participation of the MNLF Misuari group as with the MNLF “Council of 15.” It is mainly in this sense that the bad thing which is the Sulu hostilities can be turned into a good thing, with strategic bearing on the broader Mindanao peace process, including the MILF track of this process. Remember the MILF at least offered to mediate between the government and the MNLF regarding the Sulu hostilities. The MNLF and MILF have had an ongoing unity process which will have a bearing on the whole peace process. The government’s treatment of the MNLF Misuari group will have a bearing on the MILF talks.
2) For the government and the MNLF Misuari group to declare at least a temporary SOMO (suspension of military operations) or SOMA (suspension of offensive military actions) in Sulu, which does not cover the Abu Sayyaf. For the parties, in their talks on the Sulu situation, to explore cooperation in the interdiction of the Abu Sayyaf. The premise here is determining correctly who is MNLF and who is ASG in Sulu.
We have called for a SOMO/SOMA because ceasefire seems to be the hardest word these days, especially with the AFP but even with the MNLF Misuari group (though not with the MNLF “Council of 15” which has called for a ceasefire, among other quarters who have made the same call). It is unfortunate that the main protagonists have gotten caught up in the semantics of ceasefire, forgetting that what is essential is the peace which the people of Sulu seek
3) Promote and institutionalize education on human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL), especially with the AFP, the PNP, and the MNLF Misuari group in Sulu, tapping for this purpose the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) National IHL Committee and various human rights and humanitarian NGOs. 4) For the constitutional principle of the supremacy of civilian authority over the military to be adhered to both at the national level and in Sulu, especially on questions of war and peace. Matters of the peace process, the MNLF question and Sulu peace and development should not be mainly left in military hands or determined by military minds.
While the AFP field commanders and troops’ feelings of revenge against, “getting even” with or “teaching a lesson” to the MNLF Misuari group may be strong, this should not be allowed to override the bigger picture. This is where national political leadership and statesmanship must take command in matters like the Sulu situation which is more political than military in its implications. The buck stops with the President who can show strength also in magnanimity. 5) Achieve coherence, consistency and continuity in national policies on the peace process in general and on the Sulu situation in particular. Review the “Road Map for Sulu,” particularly as it relates to the MNLF problem. 6) Require the active presence of the town and barangay officials of Sulu for their effective action for peace and development including local conflict-resolution/mediation efforts and livelihood/business initiatives. 7) Maximize civil society participation in Sulu peace and development efforts, especially in addressing the conflict between the government and the MNLF Misuari group and in responding to the Provincial Executive/Legislative Agenda to “Rebuild Sulu.”
Aside from these recommendations of the mission, the Mindanao Peaceweavers and its local civil society partners in Sulu in particular, having met and talked with the key players in the Sulu conflict, also offer whatever assistance they can give for the mediation and resolution of this conflict, in the spirit of peace and in solidarity with Sulu.
Insha Allah. Magsukol. Many thanks to those who assisted the mission.
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip on May 26th 2005