Mutineers blow the whistle on superiors in the bombings in Mindanao

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Maulana M. Alonto

Jumada' al-Akhirah 18, 1424 2003-08-16

South-East Asia

by Maulana M. Alonto (South-East Asia, Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 12, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1424)

In the early morning of July 27, 296 soldiers in full battle-gear from elite units of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) took over the commercial centre of Makati City. They occupied the financial district and the plush Oakwood Premier Apartment complex, which houses foreigners and VIPs, including the Australian ambassador to the Philippines and the Philippine office of the CNN. They were led by 70 officers who are alumni of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), many of whom have been in combat in the war in Mindanao.

In one of the worst crises to hit the Arroyo regime since it came to power in 2001, the mutinous soldiers demanded the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whom they called a "traitor", and the resignations of national defence secretary Angelo Reyes, military intelligence chief Brigadier-General Victor Corpus, Philippine national police chief Hermogenes Ebdane Jr, and all the generals in the Armed Forces.

Holding a televised press conference in the lobby of the commandeered hotel, the mutineers, calling themselves the "Magdalo Group" after a faction of the Filipino revolutionary movement in the 1800s, exposed pervasive corruption in the government and AFP. Their main allegation was against national defence secretary Reyes: that he, with Arroyo’s knowledge, masterminded the bombings in the Davao City international airport and the Sasa wharf (on March 4 and April 2 this year, respectively), as well as the subsequent grenade attacks against four mosques in Davao. The mutineers also implicated intelligence chief Brig.-Gen. Corpus in these acts. For evidence, the mutineers presented some of their companions as the men ordered to perpetrate the bombings used to demonize the Muslims and escalate the war in Mindanao.

Although the military putsch did not succeed (it was put down without bloodshed less than 24 hours after it began), the mutineers’ revelations were a bombshell. Filipinos (even Muslims) were shocked to learn from the horse’s mouth that the bombings that had been blamed on MILF "terrorists" were the handiwork of the military establishment.

The furor that the revelations caused prompted the Philippine congress to conduct an investigation. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo immediately formed an "independent" body to investigate the allegations, while ordering the AFP to court-martial the leading mutineers, who are being held incommunicado at Fort Bonifacio. Reyes denies being the mastermind behind the bombings in Davao City, and refused to resign. Corpus tendered his resignation, which Arroyo accepted.

The government has not yet recovered from the events of July 27, or from their results. Not only do rumours of more military uprisings abound, but the revelations made by the mutineers, particularly about the bombings in Mindanao, put the war in the south in a new light. For Bangsamoro Muslims the revelations underscore the fact that, under Philippine colonial rule, the Muslims’ oppressive situation will never improve.

On March 4 a bomb exploded at the international airport of Davao City, Mindanao’s main city in the south, killing 21 people and injuring and maiming more than a hundred. Even before proper investigations could be made, the government blamed the bombing on a Muslim "suicide bomber" of the MILF. Several Muslims were arrested, including one whole family who were at the airport to meet a relative coming from abroad. Rodrigo Duterte, the gung-ho mayor of Davao City, unequivocally accused the MILF of being behind the bombing. This unleashed a new wave of anti-Muslim terror in Mindanao. Muslims were arbitrarily snatched by government death squads and never heard of again. This inhuman witch hunt triggered an exodus of Bangsamoro Muslims from Davao City to safer places, making it easier for Filipinos to take over their abandoned properties or businesses. From January to June this year, 45 Muslims were arrested without warrants, not counting those that have disappeared, who are believed to have been "salvaged" (euphemism for summary execution) by military death squads.

Another bomb went off at Davao’s Sasa wharf on April 2, killing more than a dozen and injuring almost a hundred. Again the MILF was blamed, despite an official denial by the MILF leadership, disclaiming knowledge of both bombings (ie. at the international airport and the wharf explosion).

Immediately after the wharf bombing the Arroyo regime, without a shred of evidence, ordered the filing of criminal cases against MILF leaders and put up bounties for their capture, dead or alive; Sheikh Salamat Hashim, the MILF chairman, for instance, had a 15 million-peso reward put on his head. The government also tried to get the MILF onto the US government’s list of "international terrorists" by producing "documentary evidence" that the MILF is linked with al-Qa’ida and the Jama’ah al-Islamiya of Indonesia.

The two bombings in Davao City, followed by more explosions in other provinces and cities of Mindanao, have been used by the Philippine government to renege on its commitment to the peace-process in Mindanao and justify its unilateral revocation of signed agreements with the MILF. They were also used to convince the US government of the seriousness of the "Muslim terrorist threat" in Mindanao, which allegedly endangers the security of American and Filipino interests in the whole of Southeast Asia. Such a ‘threat’ accordingly necessitates the logistical and military support of the US government for the Philippine government’s own "war on terrorism" in Mindanao.

Indeed, this was the picture that the Arroyo regime succeeded in projecting not only to the Americans but also to the Filipinos at home. Thus, despite the indignant protests of many peace groups, and later on even the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, trying to halt the war in Mindanao, the regime remained intransigent and pursued the war against the MILF with even greater vigour. President Arroyo glories in the image of a modern Joan of Arc in shining armour fighting a "fanatical horde of Islamic terrorists" who are bombing cities and towns left and right.

But, like any bad script, anything that starts wrong goes on wrong and ends wrong. The all-out war against the Bangsamoros has gone awry already. Government casualties are enormous. And although almost 70 percent of the AFP has been thrown at the MILF, the latter is far from being crushed. On the contrary the MILF, like a chameleon, has blended into the scenery and is now dealing lethal blows to the AFP in the Bangsamoro homeland by guerrilla warfare. All this but continues a pattern of events that began long ago.

Bangsamoro Muslims in Mindanao have invariably been accused of almost every crime that the Philippine government can think of. They have been profiled as pirates, bandits, kidnappers and terrorists; they have been blamed for practically all the woes of the Philippine nation-state. The Bangsamoro Muslims have become the perennial scapegoats of the Filipino ruling elites, who are either trying to perpetuate themselves in power or attempting to divert attention from their own corrupt governance. This also explains why any Filipino president can easily order the devastation of Bangsamoro communities, without bothering about evidence or the Philippine constitution. In short, Muslims are fair game.

When the late Ferdinand E. Marcos declared martial law throughout the Philippines in 1972 (which lasted until his overthrow in 1986), his main justification was the "Muslim secessionist rebellion" in Mindanao. As a result, by the end of the nineteen-seventies an estimated 200,000 Muslims had been killed, more than 500,000 had been forced to flee to the neighbouring Malaysian state of Sabah, and over 1 million had been made homeless and destitute in the Bangsamoro homeland.

Former president Joseph Estrada did likewise in the year 2000 when he declared all-out war against the mujahideen of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro people, this time to deflect attention from the various political and financial scandals then rocking his regime. Estrada’s all-out war reduced more than 800,000 Muslims to destitution and homelessness; thousands perished.

Under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the current president, the same story goes on. On February 11, despite existing peace agreements and on-going negotiations with the MILF, the government of Gloria Arroyo suddenly ordered the AFP to attack the MILF headquarters in the Buliok Complex situated in the Liguasan Marsh, Central Mindanao. This attack, which inaugurated another all-out war against the MILF and the Bangsamoro people, was maliciously timed: it occurred when the Muslims were about to celebrate Eid al-Adha and as the MILF Peace Panel was preparing for another round of peace-talks with its Philippine counterpart in Malaysia.

Surpassing its predecessors in many ways, the Arroyo regime has transformed the technique of demonizing Islam and the Muslims into an art form. The first Asian government to jump onto the "war on terror" bandwagon, the Arroyo regime created its own "Afghanistan" and "Iraq" in Mindanao, whipping up anti-Muslim hysteria throughout the country, and using all the resources available to the state, including the media, to vilify Muslims and mobilise Filipino Christian support for its crusade against the MILF and the Bangsamoro people. This unholy crusade has to date caused the displacement and impoverishment of more than 350,000 Muslims in Central and Southwestern Mindanao, who are now in refugee-centres, where conditions are subhuman because of lack of resources for them to be otherwise.

In this long history of human woe and grief, the most disturbing aspect is the Muslims’ seeming inability to learn fundamental lessons from history and experience, and our seeming refusal or inability to turn to the Qur’an for a commentary on current affairs, or to the Seerah of Allah’s Messenger (saw) for ideas about how to deal with our enemies and their plots and ploys. Until we open our eyes and switch on our brains, it seems likely that such dismal stories as that of the Bangsamoro Muslims in the Philippines are destined to go on in the same vein, with the same episodes repeating themselves over and over again with minor variations, while our leaders continue to be distracted and put on the defensive by the cunning of our enemies.

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