Blunted swords | Inquirer Opinion

Blunted swords

/ 09:34 PM October 21, 2011

“Turning swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks” seemed possible in August. President Benigno Aquino III and Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) Murad Ebrahim, in Tokyo, agreed to begin formal talks in Kuala Lumpur come November.

Did that hope collapse in Basilan’s firefight Tuesday? A Special Forces team tracked Abu Sayyaf leaders Nurhasan Jamiri and Long Malat, who have pending arrest warrants. They were ambushed in Al-Barka, Basilan. MILF chose to join the fray.

Outnumbered 4 to 1, the military lost 19 officers and soldiers. Six ran out of ammunition and were captured by MILF rebels. Wednesday, the six were executed in Bato-Bato village. Their hack wounds were a ghastly reprise of a July 2007 clash: there, 11 Marines were beheaded.


Two days after the Basilan firefight, MILF ambushed two military trucks near Alicia town in Zamboanga Sibugay province. Two soldiers were killed and four wounded.


Troll the social media websites. Even by troubled Mindanao standards, the casualty list is appallingly high. Armed conflict and inter-clan violence or rido have now uprooted more than 700,000 in Mindanao.

Is this muscle-flexing before the Kuala Lumpur talks? That assumes MILF’s writ runs down to the field. What if it does not?  Then you get the likes of “Commander” Ameril Umra Kato who plunders at will or fragmented Abu Sayyaf fiefdoms.

A study by Larry Niksch for US Congress asserts that four of eight MILF base commands were sites for active MILF and Abu cooperation. Both collaborated in the Davao bombings of March and April 2003 where 48 people were killed. MILF has links with Rajah Solaiman group, composed of former OFWs who had converted to Islam.

Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad says the peace talks should continue. Senator Francis Escudero agrees but reminds all that there are 19 widows and families. This is not a calling “an all-out war” but “a question of enforcing an order,” Juan Ponce Enrile said.

When this paper goes on the stand, President Aquino may have amplified his initial reaction not to scrap the Kuala Lumpur talks. More than anyone else, children in Muslim Mindanao provinces (see below) need those “swords turned into ploughshares.”

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Footage of Libyans kicking the corpse of Moammar Gadhafi, self-styled “king of kings in Africa,” reminded us of Italian partisans stringing up Benito “Il Duce” Mussolini on a laundry line. This week’s bloodbath included a gunman who cut down indigenous people defender Fr. Fausto Tentorio in North Cotabato.

This violence could smudge even more lethal but less-visible killers. Meet one on Page 13 of Wednesday’s Inquirer.

Three below-5-years of age kids died after drinking “contaminated water” in Sarangani. Maasim town’s midget hospital spilled over from 200 plus diarrhea patients. Ho-hum?

This replays Palawan last April. Polluted water killed 20 in Bataraza town. More than 300 fell ill. At the Talayan refugee camp in Maguindanao, evacuees “fetch dirty water from a stream used to clean farm animals, (which) doubles as a latrine,” community health worker Hassan Kalupa said. Thus, 24 people—six of them children—died from diarrhea.” Ho-hum—yet again?

“Dirty water kills more people than violence,” United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said. When 180 governments gather for the Rio +20 conference, they should prioritize “universal provision of safe drinking water and sanitation,” added scientists at Stockholm for World Water Week 2011.

Worldwide, one infant dies every 20 seconds due to tainted water. Over 443 million school days go pfffft because of resulting illnesses. “An entire generation (is) lost to a preventable cause.”

Diarrhea remains a major infant killer. In Basilan, where the MILF encamps, 66 out of every 100 Filipinos lack safe water. A squatter’s shack in Cebu City pays 13 times more for the same water that a gated Maria Luisa enclave home get from taps, notes World Water Development Report.

In the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), 42 die in every 100,000 births. That wedges ARMM into the same bracket as Bangladesh and North Korea. “The most fractured human right here is that of a child to celebrate his or her first birthday.”

Among infants born to poor families, the death rates are two to three times higher than those among the rich, Asian Development Bank notes. Households linked to municipal systems get the cheapest water. The poor plod from tanker operators to vendors, to buy murky water in cans. “Every step they are forced to take away from the water source adds to the price.”

Large majorities in ARMM provinces must quaff from easily-contaminated wells. These include Tawi-Tawi (94 percent) Sulu (72 percent), Lanao del Sur (69 percent) to Maguindanao (46 percent)

“Across the human life span, an individual faces the greatest risk of mortality during birth and the first 28 days of life. About half of Filipino children’s death occurs within this narrow deadly window. Most of these deaths occur at home and are unrecorded,” Unicef notes. “They remain invisible to all but their families.”

The water crisis interlocks with post-Tokyo MILF’s savagery surge. One emergency will not wait for the other. The President has no choice but to tackle issues simultaneously.

Demand for food and water is bolting. Water use efficiency, in irrigated agriculture, does not grow out the barrel of a gun. It barely budged by 1 percent yearly since 1990.

Wastewater treatment hasn’t got a foothold, UN’s Human Development Report points out. “Lack of water is profound deprivation.”

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TAGS: Basilan, Military, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, peace negotiations, Violence

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