By MARYA SALAMAT
When it comes to addressing the conflict in Mindanao, nothing has really changed in Philippine government policy despite the change from one president and administration to another. It has always been consistently “militarist,” said Neil V. Murad, secretary-general of Suara Bangsamoro (Voice of the People). This dogged militarist approach, he said, victimizes the very people it is supposed to protect – the civilians.
The intensified military aggression in Mindanao today “clearly reveals the President’s mangled concept of justice. His pronouncements attempt to camouflage but his actions clearly exposes the brutality of the government’s Oplan Bayanihan,” said Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi De Jesus in a statement.
Whatever name you decide to call a war, its consequences remain the same, said Murad, as he warned against yet another looming all-out war in Mindanao, and the injustice “this purportedly ‘just’ campaign to redeem the honor” of at least 19 killed special action forces of the Philippine Army.
The Suara Bangsamoro condoles with the families and relatives of the 19 soldiers killed in the October 18 armed encounter between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Basilan. But they cautioned the government especially the AFP against using this incident “as pretext for the aggression against civilian-populated communities in Zamboanga Sibugay and Basilan.”
“If you are hunting for a handful of ‘lawless elements,’ why bomb entire communities?” asked Murad.
Suara Bangsamoro asked the government and the “sensationalist media” not to prey on the grief and misery caused by the death of 19 soldiers just to present as “righteous” and “just” the intensified military aggression against civilian communities.
An all-out war under any other name is an “all-out injustice,” said the Voice of the Moro Nation. They add that another all-out war can only breed further injustice, human rights violations, loss of lives, destruction of livelihood, and will push any prospect for peace in Mindanao further back.
Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. De Jesus said they also grieve with the mothers of the slain soldiers and they also call for justice for them, but they are pushing more to “affirm that peace negotiations, rather than this militaristic all-out-justice campaign.”
“We call on the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) panels to convene and respect agreements and obligations to stop the fighting and alleviate its impact on the civilian population,” said Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus.
Series of all-out wars under different names
There has been a series of “all-out” something in addressing the raging conflict in Mindanao. “Under Erap, it was “all-out war.” Under GMA, it became “all-out peace.” Now, under Pnoy, it has become “all-out justice,” Murad recalled. But all these “all-outs,” in reality, are wars launched against the BangsaMoro, and it reportedly continues to inflict destruction and rights violations among the BangsaMoro people up to now.
Under Erap’s ‘all out war’ in 2000, Murad said, some 200,000 people had been displaced, and another 100 civilians were either killed or illegally arrested and tortured. Under GMA’s “all out peace,” Murad recalled that two major wars against the MILF were launched. One in 2003 and another in 2008. These wars led to at least 750,000 internally displaced people, making the Philippines the number one in the world in terms of number of displaced persons.
As of April 2011, Murad said there are more than 125,000 long-term internally displaced persons still languishing in government camps all over Mindanao.
And now, under President Aquino’s “all-out justice,” Gen. Eduardo Oban reportedly reasoned that in order to “translate the directives of the President into operational goals,” a second day of airstrikes was launched by the Philippine Air Force on various communities in Zamboanga Sibugay.
As of Oct 26, entire communities are being bombed and tens of thousands of villagers are fleeing their homes as the AFP pursues their target “lawless elements.” Some 20,000 residents of Zamboanga Sibugay and Basilan had reportedly been forced to evacuate.