They created a wasteland, and called it peace. The millennia-old indictment by the historian Tacitus applies to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as it did to the Romans. Arson, looting, random shootings, the murder in cold blood of civilians and the use of others as human shields?terrorism, pure and simple in the provinces of Lanao del Norte, Sarangani and North Cotabato.
The MILF initially responded by saying these were the actions either of agents provocateurs not from their ranks (particularly in the case of the bombing of power transmission towers, which the MILF continues to deny), or possibly of ?lost commands,? the latter statement representing a renunciation of command responsibility reminiscent of the excuses for atrocities given by the Hukbalahap and, in contemporary times, by the New People?s Army (NPA). Indeed, from the Netherlands, the National Democratic Front (NDF) issued an opportunistic instruction to the NPA: ?to support the resumption of the revolutionary armed struggle of the Bangsamoro as well as to take advantage of the present preoccupation of the enemy forces in fending off the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.?
The NDF, long used to doublespeak, surely knew that even as it issued its statement its MILF allies were engaging in doublespeak themselves. For the MILF eventually pinned part of the blame on MILF 105th Base Commander Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato, but belied its own denial of responsibility by then issuing an order to its forces to stop their attacks. Another MILF commander, Abdurahman Macapaar, alias Commander Bravo, denied he led the attacks.
Later the denial of responsibility was essentially partly withdrawn by the MILF, which now described the attacks in Lanao del Norte as operations by its ?mujahideen,? or holy warriors. Said the MILF in an Aug. 19 statement, ?In the early dawn of Monday, Aug. 18, elements of the MILF-Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces? 102nd Base Command under Commander Bravo Macapaar conducted swift, simultaneous raids on government and military installations in the coastal municipalities of Lanao del Norte.? The civilian death toll was attributed to civilians being caught in the ?crossfire? or those civilians ?identified with the violently anti-Muslim Ilaga,? which justified the burning of some homes.
We say partly withdrawn, because in the same statement the MILF asserted that ?the MILF forces made an orderly withdrawal from the areas they had occupied after they received the order to disengage and withdraw from the MILF BIAF General Staff Command? while insisting that ?the MILF-BIAF General Staff Command has never given any prior order or authorization for the raids.?
The ambivalent attitude of the MILF high command was further reflected in its lukewarm denunciation of the use of civilians as human shields: ?The MILF, as a policy, strictly prohibits the use of civilians as deterrents against the reaction of the opposing force. The reported ?hostage-taking? of civilians by the withdrawing MILF forces in Kolambugan, no matter how compelling the necessity was, shall be investigated according to MILF authorities.? So it was at once, ?regrettable,? and ?reported,? yet a ?compelling necessity.?
And here lies the problem. The MILF?s insistence that there are ?lost commands,? then its off-again, on-again attitude to assigning responsibility for the resumption of hostilities under its swashbuckling and hotheaded Commander Bravo, and most of all its grudging (at best) denunciation of civilian liquidations, and the use of human shields indicate an organization that is either so seriously divided between doves and hawks, or so utterly amoral in its attitudes towards warfare, as to raise a troubling question.
Even if we grant that the MILF was poised to achieve a historic breakthrough in peace negotiations, is it still worthy of assuming the mantle of leadership for the Moros? Can it be trusted?because it seems so hard-pressed as to be virtually incapable?to negotiate and be recognized as the nucleus for Moro self-government?