Seeking silver bullets
With distinguished academic credentials and political family connections, Chiz Escudero surfaced as an electable young politician who could, hopefully, bring competence, integrity and youthful idealism into public service. His performance at the Senate hearings on the Bangsamoro Basic Law has dimmed these hopes.
Citing an International Alert (IA) study, Chiz warned government peace negotiators not to “raise false hopes that the BBL will bring peace to Mindanao,” as it would “only provide peace between the government and the [Moro Islamic Liberation Front].” The IA research actually sounded a different note.
IA did say that private armies and criminal syndicates accounted for the majority of violent incidents in Mindanao. Chiz uses IA data, but rejects its conclusion: the urgency of resolving the MILF insurgency through a negotiated BBL. Assuming that Inquirer quotes were accurate, Chiz either misunderstood or misrepresented the research, thus misleading the public.
Clan feuds, criminal operations and political rivalries lead to a high number of violent incidents, but these do not trigger the massive displacement of people and the level of casualties caused by clashes with the MILF. It is the insurgency that creates the conditions of lawlessness, breeds criminality and compels the community to arm itself, raising the potential for more violence.
The MILF controls the largest nongovernment armed force in the Bangsamoro. To dismiss the peace negotiations because it would not eliminate the other threat groups measures the peace process by an impossible yardstick. There is no silver bullet that will slay all sources of violence, whether in the Bangsamoro or in the rest of the country.
The IA conclusion was neither unclear nor guarded: “Without a doubt, ending the GPH-MILF conflict as a major source of rebellion-related violence retires a significant source of political violence with huge costs in terms of death, injury, and displacement, and will impact positively on the prospects of peace and stability across the Bangsamoro.”
Misrepresenting the IA analysis was bad. Even more damaging, because exposed on television, was partnering with Bongbong Marcos to pursue the issue of aliases. Probing the crimes that
Mohagher Iqbal may have committed by using an alias while engaged in rebellion wasted government time and resources. Mercifully, TG Guingona restored a moment of sanity, explaining the obvious: Revolutionaries do not submit to the laws of the state. Would we expect them to secure gun permits?
Iqbal has been using his current alias for decades because of security concerns. For this same reason, Jose Protacio Mercado used a pen name for his subversive “Noli Me Tangere.” Should Chiz and Bongbong file a bill revoking Jose Rizal’s status as national hero or renaming his monuments?
“Iqbal,” as alias, does not hide from the government a person it has been dealing with for decades. This is unlike the case of “William Saunders” and “Jane Ryan,” the aliases behind which Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos concealed plundered wealth. For Iqbal to revert to his real name would actually confuse the public, who would not know to whom it referred. Fans probably know Mrs. Chiz Escudero better under the alias Heart Evangelista than her real name Lovemarie Ongpauco.
Bongbong questioned why Iqbal should fear the government already negotiating with him. From the IA study, however, Chiz should know that Iqbal faces other threat groups, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. Since 2012, MILF clashes with the BIFF have increased, while those with the government have “dropped dramatically,” according to IA. This pattern disproves the claim of BBL critics that the MILF and BIFF acted as two hands washing each other.
Nevertheless, Chiz also pressed Iqbal for his real name, a small concession, he insisted (“maliit na bagay lang”), to build confidence. Here was a senator of the republic bargaining, as in a bazaar, for Iqbal to demonstrate trust. Should it not be the senators, secure in their seat of power and backed by the resources of the state, to give Iqbal assurances that they could be trusted?
Bongbong asked Iqbal: “Who are you?” Iqbal is a rebel leader who has committed and risked his life fighting for his people and who now seeks a principled peace for his community and the country. He has earned his dues and deserves some respect. It was edifying to see this old man bearing with composure, grace and dignity the badgering from inquisitors many years his junior.
But who are Bongbong and Chiz? What have they risked? And for whom? Their highest achievement has been election to the Senate, and this may explain the preoccupation with names. Would they have been elected, without the names they happened to carry?
Protocol requires those invited to congressional hearings to address the legislators as “Your Honor.” Sadly, those Senate hearings revealed to the public a deficit of honorable, magnanimous and even civil behavior that could serve as a model for our citizens.
Edilberto C. de Jesus ([email protected]) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.
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