POSTSCRIPT / March 2, 1999 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Moros missing chance for peace and progress

NOT the entire $150 million reported as settlement for the 9,539 Marcos torture victims suing in America will go to them.

Before the money is distributed, the lawyers will get their usual 40-percent share, according to word leaking out from the lawyers themselves.

American lawyer Robert Swift representing the victims stands to get some $60 million or 40-percent of the $150 million. On the other side, Marcos lawyer James Paul Linn has reportedly received some $5 million as his fee just for agreeing to handle the case.

Now you know why Swift lost no time agreeing to the mind-boggling deal and ecstatically proclaiming that the settlement was a landmark decision that was “historic and fair.”

How much in loose change will each torture victim get after expenses are deducted and the lawyers are done with their collection?

* * *

CHAIRMAN Hashim Salamat of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has just missed a historic chance to bring development and peace to his homeland and his people.

The government, under the aegis of President Estrada, is just aching to stop the senseless fighting in that part of Mindanao so the reconstruction could start.

The Estrada administration, it must be said, wants to demonstrate that despite limited resources, it wants to make up for the centuries of neglect and exploitation of our Muslim brothers. But first, all sides must agree to stop the fighting.

Muslims must face up to the fact that while their distance from imperial Manila had worked to their disadvantage, their plight was actually exacerbated by the greed and incompetence of many of their own leaders.

Audits show that massive resources have been funneled to Mindanao but that somewhere along the way much of the money had been ambushed by some of the local leaders who served as conduit for the development funds.

When this happened, and it happened too often, the central government in Manila was blamed… and Moroland continued to sink into poverty and everything else that neglect brings.

* * *

WHAT is urgently needed in Moroland is sincere and competent leadership. Our Muslim brothers, steeped in the ways of war, need somebody who will steer them away from the path of violence and back to the ways of peace.

Meaningful development is possible only in an era of peace, never while a war is raging.

An adroit leader could exploit the obvious willingness of the government to pour more resources into the Muslim areas and transform the land and the lives of minorities in the region.

It would be a mistake for the government to foist again on the Muslims a leader compliant to the wishes of politicos in Manila. The error has been demonstrated when the government coopted chairman Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front, funded him heavily and imposed him as the salvation of the Muslims.

With Misuari discredited, it is now Salamat’s turn to prove that he is the chosen one to unsheathe the Excalibur sword to peace and progress in Mindanao.

* * *

IT is not too late for Salamat to rethink his options. He should break free from the warlike trappings of the socio-political context within which he is operating.

Salamat should not find it difficult reading Joseph Ejercito Estrada. He should peer through the transparency and see that the man is sincere in wanting to talk peace and development.

That old rhetoric of war and belligerency is getting in the way. If he wants a better deal for his people, Salamat must lay aside the gun for a moment, so other positive and constructive ideas can find their way into his frame of mind.

But who will capture that positive side of Salamat and make him see things this way—that talking to Mr. Estrada may just open new doors to a more peaceful and prosperous Bangsamoro?

Not even presidential adviser Robert Aventajado, with his clout and convincing power, can hypnotize Salamat if he refuses to listen.

* * *

PRESIDENT Estrada enjoys, as he should, overwhelming support for his unflinching stand to negotiate with rebels only on the government’s terms.

He did right when he refused to accede to the preposterous conditions imposed by Salamat that he brings his 300 or so heavily armed security to his projected meeting with the President.

In the first place, what’s that security force for? Whatever they say of Mr. Estrada and any of our past presidents for that matter, they are not the type who would harm a rebel leader walking in for talks.

In fact, one criticism that had been heaped on past presidents dealing with the insurgency problem is their perceived softness on the rebels. In their desire to quell restiveness of minorities and unite all factions, they have been too accommodating to a fault.

Imagine the dramatic entry of Salamat’s warriors toting sophisticated weapons and walking within the camera range of the foreign press. In contrast, the barong clad low-key presidential security would be hovering unobstrusively in the background.

The propaganda impact would be tremendously in favor the MILF. The projection of Salamat’s military display would help firm up the growing perception that the MILF is a legitimate Bangsamoro liberation army deserving a status of belligerency.

* * *

HEATED arguments sometimes ensue when sentries at private subdivisions bar motorists who want to pass through but do not have residents’ stickers on their windshields. To be allowed in, the driver is asked to leave his license.

But supposed the non-resident motorist is not visiting but is just using the subdivision as shortcut to his real destination? Obviously he can’t leave his license.

We’re reminded of an incident more than a year ago involving Senior Supt. Norberto Manaog, whose men manhandled the security guard at BF Homes in Parañaque for barring the officer’s wife who tried earlier to enter the subdivision.

Reactions to the much-publicized incident fell roughly into two opposite poles: Those who denounced Manaog for the violence, and similar victims of unreasonable sentries who said “buti nga sa kanya (serves the guard right).”

After the incident, the BF guards relaxed gate restrictions reportedly because their comrade who was mauled did not get the support of his superiors when the police officer pressed his complaint.

As for Manaog, he was thrown into virtual floating status and he missed his promotion. Compounding his case was an earlier incident wherein he forced a reporter of a provincial newspaper critical of him to eat the pages of his paper.

* * *

WHILE residents of private subdivisions have reason to restrict through-traffic for security, health and other reasons, there is increasing pressure for them to open some of their main streets to help ease traffic on the roads outside.

Residents of contiguous subdivisions have moved to ease restrictions on passing though. Negotiations among homeowners’ associations, developers and local officials have resulted in various compromises that open certain previously closed streets yet respecting the privacy of residents within the subdivisions.

In Las Piñas, Speaker Manuel Villar and Mayor Nene Aguilar have convinced certain homeowners groups and developers to open and link their subdivisions in so-called “friendship routes” traveled by residents of contiguous subdivisions.

In other areas in Makati and Quezon City, some key roads have simply been thrown open through public clamor, with guards merely monitoring movements and resorting to random inspections.

One point that motorists may want to look into when barred from certain subdivisions is to find out if government resources have been used to repair or improve roads within the subdivision.

If public funds have been used for roads in private subdivisions, the developers and homeowners association may have lost their right to bar outsiders. We think that a taxpayer may insist on driving through a road in a private enclave that was built or repaired with public funds.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 2, 1999)

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