Manila indulges in orgy of destruction as Arroyo asks for more US aid

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Our Manila Correspondent

Rabi' al-Thani 01, 1424 2003-06-01

South-East Asia

by Our Manila Correspondent (South-East Asia, Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 7, Rabi' al-Thani, 1424)

Two women presidents in Southeast Asia could have been good news, but alas, events in Aceh and Mindanao make a mockery of such hopes.

In Mindanao, president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines is repeating the drama played by her sister-president Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia. Insisting that the Moro Muslim fighters give up their demand for independence and accept "special autonomy" (a favourite phrase used by both Jakarta and Manila for their armies’ presence), Arroyo has left the rest of the talking to be done by her military generals and her defence minister (and presidential candidate) Angelo Reyes, whom many call the Philippines’ answer to Donald Rumsfeld, the US’s hawkish defence secretary.

Arroyo left for Washington on May 17 with a shopping-list worth hundreds of millions of dollars in US military aid to help her government to crush the Muslims, but not before ordering Reyes to launch a full-scale military offensive against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). A heavy deployment of air and ground troops was sent to Zamboanga, Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Lanao del Sur. The former MILF headquarters Camp Abu-Bakar also came under intense bombardment. For Reyes it must have been a pleasure; his role in 2000 during former president Joseph Estrada’s rule earned him the nickname "Butcher of the Moros".

Manila’s offensives have in fact been an on-going affair, despite peace negotiations hosted by Malaysia. Fighting was resumed on Eidul Adha (February 11), when Arroyo ordered the army to attack an MILF complex in Liguasan Marsh, an MILF stronghold. That attack was supposedly to capture the so-called ‘Pentagon’ kidnap-for-ransom group, although not a single member was arrested or killed. Liguasan Marsh has a huge reservoir of natural gas, which is the object of a joint exploration by the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) and an American multinational. There have also been reports that US soldiers took part in the attack, wanting to arrest MILF leader Ustad Salamat Hashim dead or alive.

The MILF, however, is not letting Manila get off lightly: subsequent lightning ambushes by its lightly-armed guerrillas are a source of embarrassment for the Philippines armed forces, who are trained by the US and whose weapons have been supplied by the US for decades. An MILF commander announced on May 22 that 110 government soldiers had been killed since the escalation of conflict on April 24 in Lanao del Norte. The report could not be confirmed, although the army has admitted that some men were lost. On May 17 a unit of the MILF staged a lightning ambush along the Mindanao River in Maguindanao, killing five government troops and wounding four others; an army tank was destroyed in North Cotabato.

Yet the MILF has been blamed for breaching the ceasefire, a period marked by the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Muslim villagers fleeing Manila’s military offensive. Manila’s warmongering has been encouraged by none other than Malaysia, which in late April called on the MILF to work "within the Philippine constitution", and said that it would lobby other Muslim states not to support an independent Muslim state in the region. Such betrayal is typical of the Malaysian government, which has border problems with almost every country in the region, and is eager not to provoke the Filipinos into reinstating their claim to Sabah state, North Borneo. In November 2001 it turned over Nur Misuari, the former governor of Mindanao who signed a peace treaty with Manila, to the Filipinos, despite his family’s pleas that he be given political refuge.

The MILF has rejected the suggestion that it renounce its struggle. "When the Bangsamoro [Moro nation] revolution was launched in 1968, the demand was independence," said Ghazali Jaafar, its vice chairman, before yet another round of peace talks with Manila.

Encouraged by the Malaysian betrayal, Arroyo announced on May 10 what she calls a ‘combination’ of diplomatic, legal and military actions (one wonders how legal or diplomatic measures work alongside military force) to pressurise the MILF into accepting Philippine sovereignty in the Muslim heartlands, which were independent before they were annexed by American colonialists in 1946. So far there are indications that the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) will not support any move to tag MILF as a ‘terrorist’ organisation, but this is as irrelevant as the OIC itself.

Despite Manila’s signing a peace agreement with the MILF in Kuala Lumpur, where both parties agreed to observe "mutual restraint" pending a settlement of issues, the Philippine government has launched major offensives. The MILF in return attacked government military positions, prompting the usual cries of ‘terrorism’ from Manila. Arroyo has given the MILF until June 1 to "cease attacking civilians and sever links with foreign and local terrorist groups." The government has also been invoking the danger of "Islamic terrorists", hoping to gather the support of influential Catholic leaders. So far the Church has remained neutral, calling on the government to find a peaceful solution instead, in order to save the country’s economy. Early in May the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) appealed for Arroyo and MILF leader Ustad Salamat to return to the negotiating table.

MILF for its part is keeping open all options for a peaceful settlement, even agreeing to a proposal for the US to broker a peace-deal. The US government has offered diplomatic and financial support for a renewed peace process between Manila and MILF. It looks as if MILF leaders may have to decide whether they are willing to take that step from the frying-pan into the fire. Perhaps realising this, Mohagher Iqbal, MILF information chief, has warned against any duplication of the on-going mediation efforts by the Malaysian government.

Privacy Policy  |  Terms of Use
Copyrights © 1436 AH
Sign In
 
Forgot Password?
 
Not a Member? Subscribe

Loading...