Monday, July 16, 2007

Rebels or bandits

(This pre-9/11 essay was also published by on June 15, 2001 or six years ago. It is being re-posted here in the light of its relevance to current issues arising from the July 10, 2007 ambush in Basilan of a military convoy where reportedly 14 Marines looking for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi were killed, 10 of them beheaded. There have been calls from certain sectors for the RP government to pull out of the Mindanao peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. has declared an all-out war against MILF as a possible option to force the MILF leadership to hand over the perpetrators. There are however counter-charges to the effect that the atrocities could be in retaliation to earlier brutalities allegedly committed by soldiers involving civilian victims and a religious leader.)

At a press conference in Quezon City, Armed Forces spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Edilberto Adan, has warned that the Abu Sayyaf problem could last for the next 30 or 40 years.

Explaining himself, General Adan claimed that Abu Sayyaf groups have a mass base, which provides them with food, medicines and motorized boats. That makes one marvel whether the duration of 30 or 40 years is no more an understatement than “mass base” a euphemism for a “people powered” struggle. As it appears, it was not quite certain whether the general is acutely aware that a struggle with a mass base is supposed to imply a sense of membership, a concern for the common good, and a moral bond with the community whose survival is in peril.

No wonder, one of Adan’s shor-sighted strategies to counter the activities of Abu Sayyaf is the activation of militia forces like the Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units (Cafgu). It is a proposal that human rights activists have opposed because of alleged human rights abuses committed by Cafgu. Now, this time Adan shot back, “Whose human rights are we looking out for?” He answered his rhetoric by arguing that thousands of Filipinos are already economically dislocated because of the terrorism of Abu Sayyaf. He perceived the dislocation as human rights violation.

“Let’s look after the welfare of the majority,” thus he stressed.

Rejecting the offer of the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front to help neutralize Abu Sayyaf, General Adan proceeded to recognize that “What we need is the support of the local population.”

Adan went on to admit also that Abu Sayyaf will not be crushed if the government focuses only on the armed operations. “That is the wrong way to solve an insurgency problem,” he said.

In more ways than one, therefore, Brig. General Adan, the Armed Forces spokesperson, is acknowledging the Abu Sayyaf groups as a rebel or guerrilla force rather than misguided packs of bandits, which is how mainstream opinion makers are treating the groups.

Does this mean that Abu Sayyaf rebels are fighting for a cause? That their brand of terrorism is not a pointless act of banditry but the response of a people being banished from the lands of their ancestors?

Is the recent display of “ghoulishness” actually an expression of frustration following the co-optation first, of the MNLF and, now, potentially, the MILF?

If the leader of Abu Sayyaf and his men are ultimately crushed, will that be the end of the struggle of their endangered people?

Is there something that the other communities in the archipelago can learn from the communities Abu Sayyaf group freely roams?

In an article featured in on June 12, 2001, Peter Jaynul V. Uckung of the National Historical Institute wrote:
The real wealth of Sulu is its people. It is ironic that the collective character of the people of Sulu has never been channeled into the national psychological state of being. For it is the strongest point of its legacy--the indomitable spirit that has permeated the islands of Sulu and has forged into its people courage unfathomable and ultra-sensitive consciousness for being free.

But these traits, while successfully protecting the cultural integrity of the people of Sulu, has never found its way into the mainstream of national consciousness. Perhaps because the Muslims bearing the traits were themselves rejected and marginalized, an after-effect of centuries of conflict with a Christian colonial government under Spain.
Fred Hill, writing in April 1996 for the Islamic Horizons, gave a brief account of the Mindanao strife in general in this manner:
Mindanao is an island with a culture and history quite different from the rest of the Philippines. Islam has dominated the island for centuries. Its proud mujaheddin have defended their homes against colonial invaders from Spain, the United States and Japan. Now the Philippine government rules Mindanao, and they are exploiting the resources, diluting the Muslim majority and containing tribal peoples in enclaves of underdevelopment. Settlers from the crowded and predominantly Christian Luzon and Visayan islands have grown into a dominant culture, seizing Muslim homelands declared ‘public domain’ by the courts of Manila. Newcomers prospered, while the indigenous were displaced and abandoned to poverty.
Criticizing the Philippine government’s development program in Mindanao, Hill further wrote:
Development planners allocate resources to benefit Christian settlers at the expense of native Muslims. The National Power Company (NPC) has crowded 7 hydroelectric dams along a 30-km. stretch of the Agus River, to power the factories of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. This enormous strain is destroying Lake Lanao, the river’s source, which covers 100,000 acres to depths of up to 300 feet. For centuries the Maranao (“people of the lake”) have relied on this lake for the subsistence of thousands. Now more than half of it has been drained away to power coastal factories, while Muslim cities like Marawi suffer diminished resources. NPC executives explain that some “Muslim bandits” have retaliated by cutting power lines and sabotaging generators. These officials dismiss the international protest of this ecocide, only to hear all local concerns dismissed with a laugh: “The receding shoreline means that they will have to walk a little farther to wash their clothes.” Hardships to the Muslim population seem to attract little concern.
Now that the rebels are cutting off not just power lines but the heads of innocent civilians whom the Moros might claim as symbolizing their oppressors, would it reduce their struggles to what the Christian majority calls “meaningless acts of terrorism”?

Peace is achievable in Mindanao if there is a collective change of attitudes of all the parties concerned. First of all, total victory by either side is impossible. If it were, the war would have been won or lost long, long time ago.

I personally perceive an institutionalized culture of bias by the Christian majority, whether in the region or in imperial Manila, against the Muslim minority. The attitude seems rooted in basic human relations.

Now that the peace process is being reinitiated, the Philippine government must come to the peace table with the full realization that it cannot win an ethnic war against the Moros. On the other hand, the Moros must recognize that it cannot win a war of secession against the Philippine government. Not in our lifetime.

The human relations I’m referring to is simply about the Christian majority wholeheartedly accepting Moros as Pinoys just like any Pinoy, Christian or not, no more than the Moros accepting themselves wholeheartedly as Pinoy too. For, “Every one who is a Filipino is Pinoy-rin.”

utol kita, mahal kita

‘lang hiya talaga
ipininagmalaki pang “utol kita”
sa ilong labas naman
talagang kabulastugan!

ganyan p’re ko pag ampon ka lang
at ang bansag mo ay Kiram
pa leather leather na o Levi’s pa ‘yan
naks, secon’ class pa ring mamamayan.

“utol kita, mahal kita”
‘sus tama na ‘yan
sabihin mong takot ka lang
pagkat kaluluwa n’ya ay Islam.

[Bro, I Love you, Bro

Proud as if to call me, “Bro.”
(Boy, did he really mean that?)
Damn! Damn!

When you’re a foster, man,
And you go by Kiram,
Your leather coat or pair of Levi’s
Won’t hide your second-class brand.

“Bro, I love you, Bro.”
Gee, stop it.
You’re menaced (terrorized?) why not admit:
He’s all they say it is—Islam.]


Anonymous Up N said...

Are you making the suggestion that Christians should be more understanding and should not be so upset by the beheadings because they may have been in retaliation?

If you are, mark me as in disagreement with this line of thought.

July 20, 2007 1:14 PM  
Anonymous DevilsAdvc8 said...

yes, Up N. and more. or are we christians or not? let them have their fill of blood, and let their own brothers in faith be shamed of what they are doing. the problem with a military solution is that we just make them stronger by antagonizing future mujahadeens. by doing so, we are then proving them right in their assertions that we are enslaving them.

August 15, 2007 2:04 PM  

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