Tough | Inquirer Opinion
There’s The Rub


/ 10:40 PM October 24, 2011

I flew in last weekend to find the country seething with fury at the deaths of the soldiers in Basilan and demanding to turn plowshares into swords. Not that he was one to give unsolicited advice to Malacañang, Erap said, but if he were president, we would forthwith declare all-out war against the MILF. “Tatapusin ko sila, ilan nang sundalo ang namatay, tingnan mo naman. Pababayaan ba natin ganun na lang manatili ang ating mga kawal ay napapatay, mga sibilyan nakikidnap? We have to wage war to earn peace.”

His views were by no means isolated. It was echoed in the traditional media, in the social media, in the text messages I got.

Erap’s stance is particularly worth noting. During his time, he said, he did exactly as he preached, calling for an all-out war in the South. He succeeded in overrunning several rebel camps and retaking Camp Abubakar. It might have cost the lives of hundreds of soldiers and rebels and thousands of civilians, but it strengthened government’s hand. The people themselves showed how resoundingly they welcomed his policy when they made him No. 1 in Mindanao in the presidential elections last year.


That’s all very well, except for one thing. Why is the MILF still there?


That alone should give us pause to rethink the knee-jerk, wipe ’em-out, scorch-the-earth reaction to the killing of the soldiers. It’s our standard reaction of course after the MILF does something to stoke the nation’s fury. That is how we react when the Abu Sayyaf beheads soldiers and hostages, a thing we blame the MILF for as well, believing, not altogether wrongly, that the lines between them are blurred. That was how we reacted when several MILF groups raided non-Muslim communities outside the autonomous zone after the Supreme Court struck down Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Bangsamoro deal. That is how we react now.

It’s a natural instinct to seek redress. It’s a natural cry to the heavens for retribution. But the question is: Will it work?

In fact, all the Erap government has to show for it is a bunch of its officials the Dos Palmas hostages themselves accused of colluding with the Abu Sayyaf to jack up the price of the ransom. All-out war in the South offers only all-out opportunities for corruption in high places, military and civilian, and even more all-out opportunities for carpetbaggers who have been lusting after the ARMM for a long time.

The Marcos government itself periodically carried out full-scale wars against the MNLF way back to before it signed the Tripoli Agreement with Moammar Gadhafi—a pity Marcos did not share his Mussolini and Ceausescu-like fate. All it had to show for it was not the destruction of the MNLF—it merely morphed into the MILF—but the creation of an oversized military in the South, aided by no small amounts of paramilitary groups like the Cafgu, heavily armed vigilante groups like the Alsa Masa, and all sorts of fanatical cults. Which persisted well into Corazon Aquino’s time.

Those who call for all-out war against the MILF had best remember a wisdom philosophers and saints discovered long ago: Be careful with what you wish for, you might just get it. An all-out-war in the South won’t strengthen government’s hand, it will strengthen the military’s hand. A military that continues to practice a system of pabaon which the Senate hearing on Carlos Garcia revealed—and that is just the tip of the iceberg. A military that is just as prone to committing abuses and atrocities, however the latter do not take the form of blood-curdling displays of beheadings and Ampatuan-style mutilations—Jovito Palparan remains unpunished to this day. A military that periodically gets to think it holds the guns and maybe ought to hold the reins of government while at it.

You want to see the consequences of an all-out war in the wake of the killings, look at what happened to Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of 9/11. In fact look at what happened to the United States itself with that response.


And in the end, what for? The MILF may be part of the problem but it is also part of the solution. I agree wholeheartedly that it’s time government got tough. But it’s time government got tough at the negotiating table, not in the battlefield.

Specifically, government should get tough on two things. The first is the framework of the peace talks. That should be the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, however government itself, past or present, has not shown the most ardent devotion to it. Any talks must be premised on the integrity of the Republic which stretches to Muslim Mindanao and of which the Philippine government is the undisputed authority. The second is that the MILF must abandon all thoughts of a Bangsamoro Republic, a “substate,” or an independent Muslim Mindanao in any shape, form or size. That is non-negotiable, even if the United States itself is one of the brains behind it as witness the fact that American servicemen have not been kidnapped or killed in that part of the world.

Autonomy does not preclude the Moro leaders being investigated for corruption or murder, whatever their “traditional” ways of doing things are, such as the rido. It may not preclude government intervening to provide social services, especially education, especially education in elections, especially education in human rights. Of course culture must be respected, of course religion must be respected. But respect for culture ends where respect for “one-person, one vote” begins, respect for religion ends where respect for democracy begins.

War is the last resort, not the first. All-out war is a thing devoutly to be shunned, not a thing devoutly to be wished. Whether among individuals or among nations, utak pulbura is never tough.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Clear-thinking is.

TAGS: Basilan, Government, insurgency, Joseph Estrada, MILF, peace process

© Copyright 1997-2024 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.