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A wrinkle in the peace process

Truly disheartening is news about the encounter in Maguindanao, involving members of the PNP Special Action Force and armed groups identified in news reports as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

This is cause for concern because, while the BIFF is staunchly and violently against the peace process that the government is pursuing, the MILF is the government’s “partner” in the pursuit of the creation of the Bangsamoro and the end to violence in Mindanao.

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In a statement, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the government peace panel chair in the talks with the MILF, said that “all efforts are being exerted” to retrieve the bodies of casualties while striving to get to the bottom of the incident.

Entities working on the normalization of situation in Mindanao are working to investigate the incidents, said Coronel-Ferrer, including the International Monitoring Team, the government’s and the MILF’s ceasefire committees, the military, and the regional police command.

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“Our aim is to normalize the situation as soon as possible in order to prevent the displacement of civilians and give full swing to the humanitarian effort,” Coronel-Ferrer added.

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So far, what has been determined is that the PNP-SAF was pursuing a Malaysian operative of the Jemaah Islamiyah, identified as Zulkifli bin Hir, known as Marwan.

Marwan was reportedly being shielded by elements of the BIFF, but the MILF was somehow pulled into the firefight when the special forces “intruded” into territory held by the MILF.

As far as I know, even before the signing of the comprehensive agreement between government and the MILF, the “ceasefire mechanism” called for either party to inform the

other before embarking on any movement of arms and personnel. What led to a seeming breakdown in communications in violation of this guideline? Was it simply a misencounter?

Coming as it does just as hearings are ongoing on the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, the incident has already served to mess with the peace process. Already, a Senate hearing on the BBL drew to a halt as soon as news of the encounter filtered out, delaying even further the passage of the bill.

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Here’s hoping this latest wrinkle in the long drawn-out peace process will not derail it entirely, that the hankering for peace will survive the killing. Meanwhile, let’s pray for the families and survivors of the 27 (the best estimate, so far) SAF personnel. Let’s hope, too, that their heroism will not be for naught.

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Among the restaurants at the City of Dreams casino complex—which has been on a “soft opening” for some months now—is Prego, the latest member of the L’Opera group of restaurants. The group is renowned for serving exceptional Italian cuisine, outstanding wines and good times, at least judging from the mood of the crowd gathered at Prego Friday for the opening.

Prego, said chef Luciano Paolo Nesi, is meant to be a “more casual” restaurant than its siblings. It offers a more laid-back and relaxed vibe but without compromising the quality of the fare. Indeed, so proud are the owners of the group’s reputation that the first thing I’m shown upon entering the premises on the second floor of the City of Dreams is a table laden with plates and plaques attesting to the awards received by L’Opera from the Italian Chamber of Commerce and various food awards bodies.

And so, while we had to wend our way through a long line at the buffet (which grew longer as the night wore on) and carefully guard our table from the new arrivals, the food proved a suitable distraction. A particular favorite of mine was the eggplant lasagna, which was flavorful and savory without overpowering the other dishes. Also noteworthy was a tiny “bird’s nest” canapé of prosciutto and a melon ball that provided a sweet, refreshing counterpoint. And the dessert—we tried the tiramisu—was appropriately sweet and filled our mouths with an explosion of dark, rich coffee flavor. Making the dessert even more special was that it was brought to our table by Dietmar Dan Braun of the EU-Philippine Business Network who happily played waiter for the occasion. I told him he had a great future as a server at Prego, though perhaps he would prefer to keep his day job.

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Conversations at our table centered on the great tourism prospects of the developments at the reclamation area being jointly developed by Pagcor and investors from abroad.

Gambling operations in the country are slowly but surely being taken over by private firms, many of whom have already established beachheads in Macau, Hong Kong and Singapore. I remember Pagcor head Bong Naguiat remarking that while private casinos are cutting into the Pagcor casinos’ income, the state-run gambling regulator is making up for the losses by tremendous gains in licensing fees and taxes.

“Perhaps this means that Pagcor should remain in the game simply as a regulator,” one in our group commented. I agreed. Pulling out of actively established and managed casinos would shield Pagcor, and the government, from accusations of promoting gambling, specifically from Catholic bishops who decry State support for an industry that feeds on the “addiction” of Filipinos and foreigners to gambling.

But casinos and related industries, it must be pointed out, also hold out many benefits for our people, from taxes and other state revenue, to creating new employment opportunities for casino dealers, waiters, chefs, hotel employees, shop owners and sales people and others in

allied industries, from tourism to entertainment. Say what you will about the age-old appeal of gambling. But one of its benefits is that it somehow ends up spreading the wealth.

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TAGS: armed conflict, Bangsamoro, BIFF, column, Moro National Liberation Front, peace process, pnp special action force, prego restaurant, Rina Jimenez-David
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