Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Ces-pool of Lamitan

Some profit from war or from a permanent state of war materially or ideologically.

For instance, post WW I several investigations in the US Congress were conducted in connection with the charge in a series of publications that certain bankers and merchants encouraged the US to get involved in the war so that they could make money or protect interests in loans and weapon sales to England and France.

Only recently, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan has rebuked the Bush administration in his best selling memoir What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception for using propaganda to mislead the American public and sell the Iraq War. That the war is otherwise “unnecessary” according to McClellan but for the “grandiose objective of reshaping the Middle East as a region of peaceful democracies” is no surprise to many. What seems new in McClellan’s tell-all is the claim that the (liberal) media has been easy on Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq “that pushed (his) presidency off course.”

As an early critic of the Iraq War, I have pointed out in a commentary that the Philippine media had a better reason to gag itself on the follies of Marcos than the US media on the failings of Bush:
During the second Gulf war, dubbed as “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” CNN repeatedly maligned the UN as a “talk shop,” echoing President George W. Bush’s own belittlement of the UN as “irrelevant” or “a mere debating society” even as Bush used Iraq’s alleged violations of UN resolutions as the fig leaf for the “coalition of the willing” to invade Iraq, thus the perception that the “embedded” media censored itself out of servility; on the other hand, during Marcos martial law, the tyrant simply coerced the Philippine media into muzzling itself or into extolling what Marcos wanted the Filipinos to believe about the Bagong Lipunan (The New Society).
But during President Estrada’s all-out war in Mindanao, University of the Philippines journalism professor Luis Teodoro scored Manila broadsheets for failing to provide the “contextual information” for the public to understand the Mindanao crisis, a problem that could have been exacerbated by news reports and comments “(fomenting) anti Muslim prejudices through hate articles.”

Remember Lamitan?

At mlq3’s blog, I have recalled the Lamitan fiasco (in connection with the July 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) in the following:
Helsingin Sanomat and The Boston Globe produced a joint report showing that both the Philippine military and government have been involved in a cover-up over Lamitan incident that took place in June 2001. The tragedy, a web of collusion between the AFP, Abu Sayyaf, local warlord and blood money, claimed several innocent lives.

At that time the question raised was whether the AFP is even interested in getting rid of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Eye-witnesses to the incident have recounted that ASG leaders managed to escape from the Lamitan siege by fleeing to safety from a high-walled hospital complex that was surrounded by AFP units.

Hours after the “Great Escape,” the AFP launched an attack on the complex, with only civilians inside.

A ransom of 25 million pesos was paid to secure the release of hostage Reghis Romero II and two others. According to a friend of Romero and a catholic priest, the money was split among the ASG, the military and some politicians.
Pedro, a commenter at mlq3’s site, was similarly blistering in his response to my above post:
There was a question that was asked back then, asking why US military and humanitarian assistance always come in the form of equipment and expertise instead of funding or cash. Of course the question was answered in a politically correct way so as not to offend, but everybody in the US side including the local audience knew what really was the answer. A little bird told me that ransom payments between Abu Sayyaf and the AFP during combat patrols become hard to pull off when armed US visitors are tagging along (out of shame I suppose). Information has been coming out about AFP military hardware and ammunition being sold to various groups.
Now, of late, the decibel of the Mindanao conflict, raging on and off since 1978, has reached new levels as peace negotiators from Manila and the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front have expressed fears about the possible collapse of a five-year old ceasefire. The apprehension is about the expiration by the end of August this year of the mandate of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) to oversee the ceasefire. The IMT is made up of foreign facilitators that have been monitoring the peace talks since 2003 when it was signed. The team is also supposed to administer the final peace agreement if forged.

The greater part of the IMT representations is from Malaysia. The Malaysian contingent has however announced its intention to withdraw from the multilateral team apparently because of disappointment with the slow progress of the peace process. What’s bogging down the negotiation is the lack of consensus on the definition of “ancestral domain” that will affect the control of areas in southern Philippines by the Muslim group as well as the operational conception of the Bangsamoro. The trust level among the parties has taken another low when the Manila representatives have indicated supposedly being hamstrung by certain requirements under the Philippine constitution in addressing these contentious issues.

Is the media interested this time to know and inform the public whose intransigence it is that’s making the road to final peace bumpy?

“Despite the injuries, fatalities and damages done to private citizens, property, and business, the never ending cycle of ceasefires/peace talks and resuming military action has always been the norm,” Pedro has wryly concluded in our exchange.

Bear in mind again that the Senate inquiries into the Lamitan disaster have found “strong circumstantial evidence” of collusion between the AFP and the Abu Sayyaf Group. Now, about the kidnapping of the ABS-CBN news team led by TV anchor Ces Drilon (and Mindanao State University professor and peace advocate Octavio Dinampo), there’s unsettling report in that looks like Lamitan redux:
The hired driver of television reporter Ces Drilon and her crew has claimed to police that a known “military agent” and not members of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group abducted the ABS-CBN team, the Sulu police chief said . . . .
Meanwhile, Manolo Quezon’s raves on the news embargo requested by Drilon’s employer, which the government has broken, are equally chilling: “Which makes the illogical behavior of the government logical only if you assume (as I do) that there are hawks in the administration happy over any mayhem in Mindanao.”

Dosen’t this post-release recollection by Arlene de la Cruz, another journalist kidnapped in January 2002, offer precious insights?
In the next few days, they kept asking me about the ransom. The torment only subsided when they turned me over to another group around the first week of February.

The uneasy calm allowed for some conversation between me and a man named Lakandula, one of their leaders.

“When will you, reporters, stop writing stories about the fighting in Sulu? Is that all what you reporters are after?” Lakandula then wondered aloud. “You write your report and that’s it. It’s all just work for you. Is that it? Just another ‘scoop’ from Sulu?”

I remember the two of us having this exchange inside a hut, and outside we could see a group of women passing by.

“Do you see those women, their children? Every day they have to walk for several kilometers to draw water from the river. Why? Because they don’t have a source of water near their homes . . .

“Haven’t you thought of how you can help them?”
In an op-ed piece of mine that was published by on June 15, 2001, I believe to be in the same state of mind as Arlene’s (in recounting her conversation with Lakandula):
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.