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Laying the predicate

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:20:00 07/08/2009

Filed Under: Explosion, Acts of terror, Politics, Mindanao peace process

There have been three bombings in two days, beginning with the Sunday blast outside the Cotobato cathedral, then Tuesday?s blasts outside a Catholic church in Jolo and a bomb hidden in a vehicle in Iligan City. The Armed Forces of the Philippines has been scrambling to pour troops into these areas, while pointing at the Special Operations Group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as its prime culprit. The MILF has, so far, denied responsibility.

To be sure, a year ago today, government representatives and the MILF were called to an informal meeting to defuse tensions arising from the deployment of troops near MILF bases. What followed was a rapid advance towards the conclusion of an agreement between the government and the MILF on the issue of ancestral domain.

While few observers noticed it at the time, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for the first time, announced, in her State of the Nation Address last year that an agreement was at hand. What unfolded, after that, was a collision between the government and the MILF, together in an uneasy alliance, and public opinion both in Mindanao and nationwide, which resulted in cases being filed that led the Supreme Court to declare as unconstitutional the memorandum of agreement creating the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.

What we find curious, however, is that what would otherwise seem a plausible pretext for the wave of bombings targeting Christians in Mindanao?the looming anniversary of the failed BJE-MOA deal?has not been mentioned either by the MILF or the AFP. Instead, the government, for one, ascribes the bombings to retaliation for or a diversion from ongoing military operations. The MILF, for its part, has taken a cue from those who believe the bombings are being perpetrated by the government itself.

There are, of course, obvious political benefits to an escalation of violence in areas that, like Iligan City, were vociferous in objecting to the BJE-MOA. Trouble in Mindanao provides the opportunity to move potentially restive troops out of the capital. This was how the government solved the problem of the restiveness of the Philippine Marines: they were sent to fight rebels in Mindanao. The national capital, after all, can be adequately (and more reliably) defended by the Philippine National Police, which has proven less prone to questioning the chain of command.

It is unavoidable that the bombings that have taken place in Cotabato, Jolo and Iligan are being linked to the so-called bombings that took place in Quezon City recently. There can hardly be a basis for comparison, however, between the two sets of events. The only similarity we see at this point is that neither string of bombings has been claimed by any political group, while the government has done more finger-pointing than actual problem-solving.

Are we, perhaps, being unfair to the government? But then the government only reaps what it sows: in this case, growing alarm over the timing of the bombings, representing an escalation in violence just when the government is feeling the heat from its efforts to amend the Constitution and the President?s remaining mum over her political plans for 2010 and beyond. All these stories have been swept aside by the bombings, and it seems highly implausible that the government?s numerous enemies would want to do it the favor of pre-terminating issues harmful to the administration.

The result is that the country is awaiting with bated breath, just what will happen next, and where. Either the government is proving incompetent in intelligence-gathering, or it is being willfully blind to the possibility that agents provocateur could be hiding within its own ranks as much as within the ranks of those it considers the usual suspects.

Who is laying the predicate?by means of these bombings?and to what end? The bombings themselves, in Metro Manila and Mindanao, are succeeding in sowing terror. They are not only raising the terrorist body count, but also the sense of inevitability among the public that is watching for a grimmer scenario to unfold.

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