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New blows to peace

04:41 AM November 01, 2011

Viewed from Mindanao, prospects for long-term peace in the Philippines suffered four major blows during the past weeks. First was the indefinite suspension of the peace talks between the Philippine government (GPH) and the rebel National Democratic Front (NDF); second, the cold-blooded assassination of Fr. Fausto Tentorio in Arakan, North Cotabato; third, the series of armed attacks and ambushes in Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay involving the Armed Forces of Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF); and finally the media frenzy for all-out war against the MILF.

The indefinite suspension of the peace talks was announced by GPH head negotiator Alex Padilla.

The NDF accuses the GPH of reneging on its promises to release most of the 11 prisoners identified as its consultants. Meanwhile, the GPH panel charges the NDF for failing to satisfy its criteria on releasing these prisoners, and denies having ever made this commitment.

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No blood was spilt and there was little media attention. Yet this comes when the contending parties are set to attempt to tackle and eventually resolve the most critical bone of contention: “socio-economic reforms.” The opportunity cost of allowing the peace process to end in what now appears to be simple intransigence on both sides is too large for the nation and poor communities.

The second blow against peace is the murder of Father Tentorio last Oct. 17. An Italian priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), he had been organizing Basic Christian Communities among indigenous peoples and poor communities in Mindanao for 39 years. Praised by Pope Benedict XVI for his courage and indefatigability, he was distinguished for his defense of the indigenous peoples’ rights and the environment.

It is a great disservice to align his death with “anti-mining” and ideology. Father Tentorio was a priest who devoted his life and mission to the pursuit of peace, justice and human development of indigenous peoples. He was a priest who lived Christ’s life as deeply as he could, period. His murder must not remain another statistic and his killers must be brought to justice, period.

The third major blow to peace came with two clashes between the AFP and the MILF: one leading to the deaths of 19 AFP Special Forces troops and seven MILF guerrillas in Al-Barka, Basilan last Oct. 18; the other, resulting in the deaths of four AFP soldiers and three Philippine National Police personnel in ambushes in Alicia and Kabasalan towns, Zamboanga Sibugay last Oct. 20.

Both sides accuse the other of violating the ceasefire pact. Regardless of the real score, there is distrust and mixed signals. President Aquino and the head of his negotiating panel with the MILF, Marvic Leonen, declare that the pursuit of the peace talks and the resolution of long-standing issues, such as Moro self-determination or autonomy and ancestral domain through a political settlement, remain the primary thrusts despite the incidents.

Responding to media inquiries, AFP spokesperson Antonio Parlade Jr., called for the pursuit of the rebels and suspension of the cessation of hostilities. For this, he was relieved of his post last Oct. 21. Interviewed again by media, Parlade projected defiance, insisting that his actions were correct. The relief of Parlade may reassert civilian supremacy and control in the person of the Commander in Chief over the military, but fails to dampen suspicions completely.

The fourth major blow to peace is the all-out war frenzy being whipped up in the mainstream media. Since Oct. 18, a string of politicians, some formerly connected with the military and police, have campaigned vigorously for the suspension of the ceasefire agreement and the waging of an all-out war against the MILF.

A large section of mass media rode the war-mongering bandwagon. For instance, the hosts of ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol primetime news program staged a viewers’ poll last Oct. 20 asking them whether or not they favor launching an all-out war against the MILF, and concluding that nearly 100 percent did. This crass media response that reduces a sensitive and dangerous situation to a “texting” game for TV viewers, mostly in Metro Manila, is the height of irresponsibility in the pursuit of higher TV ratings. For Manila, far from the suffering, it seems a virtual reality game, promoting ethnic and social discord rather than social solidarity.

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Meanwhile, the police investigators of Father Tentorio’s murder are gathering leads. Still, it is clear that those who killed him did so on the basis of a mindset that whatever problem he may have represented to them could be resolved by a militaristic approach justifying his murder. Therein lies the thread that runs through all four downturns against peace. The exponents of abandoning peace talks in favor of all-out war or what are perceived to be military solutions fail to see or embrace the larger social picture and vision of genuine peace.

An all-out war now will neither address nor solve the most pressing and urgent problems confronting the marginalized communities of Mindanao today. Even though it’s harvest time, many people have two meals a day and a large supplement of marang (a local fruit). An all-out war will exacerbate their already severe lack of basic needs, and their already untenable lack of freedom from hunger—not to mention freedom from fear.

Pedro Walpole, S.J., is with the Environmental Science for Social Change. A longer version of this article is available at http://essc.org.ph/content/view/549/1/

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TAGS: Al-Arakan, all-out war frenzy, Basilan, Fr. Fausto Tentorio, PIME, Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, suspension of peace talks
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