Fog of war
The fog of war is such that even on hindsight, the true story of the Mamasapano “misencounter,” which claimed the lives of 44 elite police troopers, 18 Moro fighters and at least five civilians, remains hazy, as the complex web of events that led to the tragedy is recreated by diverse eyes far from the bloodstained cornfield of that Maguindanao village where violence met violence on Jan. 25.
Even now, with the Senate investigation ended and other fact-finding bodies winding up their inquiry, the drumbeats of war are audible, as national figures with little or no combat experience (except in their imagination or in the movies, as in the case of a former president) dust off their honorary uniforms and guns. Their cry of “all-out war” against our rebellious Moro kin betrays their naivete about the human condition and their ignorance of the lessons of asymmetric warfare: a war without borders where large crowds in a shopping mall, a hotel, a nightclub, or an MRT station are fair game for bombs and mayhem. Is this what they really want, or just benign macho publicity in their declining years?
What we have in Southern Philippines is an intractable problem deeply rooted in history, religion and culture: two peoples with very different ways of looking at life in this world and in the next. One way to gain a better insight into the problem is to take a long look at the Israeli-Arab conflict, a war that never seems to end, as the protagonists defiantly stand their ground. Yet peacemakers tirelessly persist in finding a solution to a conflict that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Why the hate and violence? Like the creation of Israel, much of Mindanao was carved on someone else’s land, namely the ancestral lands of Moro tribes who have never been conquered and colonized. The Bangsamoro people’s desire for a homeland is really no different from that of other persecuted or uprooted peoples’ dream of their own homeland. Modern history is replete with such peoples, like the Jews of Eastern Europe, and the Poles, Croats and Serbs, as the two world wars splintered empires and gave birth to new nations.
But secession need not be a product of violence and hate. Recall Singapore’s separation from the Malaysian Federation in 1965. More astonishing, who would ever think Scotland would garner almost enough votes in a plebiscite last September to secede from the United Kingdom? Why, these two peoples have so much racial, religious, and cultural affinity to dispel such unthinkable thoughts of independence.
The indirect casualty of Mamasapano is the Bangsamoro Basic Law. It will now be extremely difficult to pass a law which, in its present form, is actually a prelude to secession. More so that it empowers the Moro
Islamic Liberation Front to dominate a large area in Southern Philippines populated by armed groups it cannot seem to effectively control, like its tactical ally, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom fighters. The head of the MILF negotiating panel, Mohagher Iqbal, admitted as much when he told the Senate that MILF officials had difficulty persuading the BIFF and the armed groups to cease firing, hours after being requested by his counterparts in the Philippine government.
Since the BIFF was excluded from the BBL, just like the MILF felt left out in the failed Moro National Liberation Front experiment, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, how can we expect the BBL to succeed? Aside from formidable constitutional issues, the proposed law grants to the Bangsamoro “substate” P79 billion. That huge sum, it can be
argued, can be better spent in improving children’s education or on urgently needed infrastructure and energy projects. A secessionist-inclined government can fund its operations through taxes, municipal-type bonds, and special loans from rich Arab countries. Most of the states in America rely on tens of billions of dollars in municipal bonds to make ends meet. The substate can’t have all its cake and eat it, too.
The language of war contributes to its fog. The MILF considers itself, not a terrorist group, as most senators and military officials believe, but a patriotic revolutionary organization, in transit to an autonomous substate of the Philippine republic. Read: Prior to the implementation of the BBL, the MILF will continue to treat members of the Philippine military as enemies to be pursued and mercilessly killed whenever they intrude into Bangsamoro territory (without permission) because technically, the MILF is still at war with the Philippines. Recall Iqbal’s statement that it’s difficult to retrieve the arms and personal effects of the “Fallen 44” because his people consider them “trophies of war.” This attitude also explains why the MILF continues to give safe haven to high-value targets such as Marwan and Usman. Another kink: The government negotiators tend to act as spokespersons of the MILF and view their counterparts as trustworthy partners in the search for peace. It is through such diverse mindsets that the Mamasapano tragedy is seen and filtered.
I have no doubt the Bangsamoro people desire their own independent homeland and view the BBL as a transition toward that goal. Whether they will reach it peacefully or through a violent secession is up to future leaders and our two peoples.
Narciso Reyes Jr. ([email protected]) is an international book author, speech writer, essayist and former diplomat.
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