POSTSCRIPT / June 6, 2017 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Moro separatists as peace partners?

UNTIL yesterday, we saw President Rodrigo Duterte still clutching at straws to end quickly the two-week-old battle between Maute terrorists and government forces in Marawi City and limit to the “least maximum” (his term) the collateral damage.

Upon learning on May 23 of the outbreak of fierce fighting, the Commander-in-Chief’s reflex reaction was to impose martial law on all of Mindanao. That came fast, probably because iron rule had been playing on his mind for some time, occasionally surfacing in his public remarks.

Resort to martial law – a silver bullet seldom fired by seasoned shooters — indicates that the Chief Executive was not sure he could maintain order and enforce the law without taking that extreme measure reserved in Section 18, Article VII, of the Constitution.

Sensing that even martial law may not be enough to subdue Maute terrorists, the President has sought the help of two secessionist forces – the Moro National Liberation Front and its splinter the Moro Islamic Liberation Front — plus the communist New People’s Army.

Mr. Duterte and MNLF founder Nur Misuari have agreed that 2,000 Moro fighters would join government troops fighting Mautes. It was not clear when this would happen, if it would, as past attempts to integrate Muslim rebels into the armed forces had failed.

As for the MILF, which has been negotiating a Bangsamoro Basic Law to establish a federated setup for Muslim Mindanao, Mr. Duterte said the group promised to help convince the Mautes to open a corridor where civilians trapped in the fighting could walk to safety.

Those monitoring battle updates have been disturbed by reports that the MILF-managed walk to safety had been disrupted by bursts of gunfire and explosions, sending evacuees scampering. Is the MILF really in control of the corridor?

The NPA’s role in the fight against the Mautes, on the other hand, is also not clear as the basic issue of a ceasefire before resumption of peace talks has not been threshed out. But the communists in the Cabinet are reportedly pushing for a “cameo role” for their comrades.

The President has sweetened the pot for NPAs returning to the fold of the law. As in the open-arms program for Huk returnees in the late 1950s under then President Ramon Magsaysay, Mr. Duterte is offering NPAs land, housing and aid to shift to a peaceful and productive life.

• Mautes driven out by tonight?

WHILE a measure of relief may be felt soon in battle-scarred Marawi, assuming the Mautes move out, would martial law’s imposition and the collaboration with Moro secessionists contribute to peace and progress over the long term?

It would help clarify this point if the administration showed via mass media its post-martial law road map to peace, unity and prosperity in Mindanao.

By President Duerte’s own three-day timetable announced Saturday, the Maute marauders whose battle with government forces has left Lanao del Sur’s capital city ravaged and smelling of death should have been wiped out or driven out by tomorrow morning.

By that time also, the administration should be able prove its claim that the Mautes are actually fighting for ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Has ISIS officially acknowledged them as its own, fighting under its black flag?

Or is the administration merely going by the Maute claim that they are “ISIS-inspired”? It could happen that the local terrorists are playing to the hilt their violent characterization to catch the eye of ISIS and thereby gain recognition and assistance.

There are intelligence reports that the Mautes (like other terrorist groups in the South) are receiving materiel and funds from outside interests – a few of them supposed official friends of the Philippines — wanting to carve out that strategic part of Mindanao into a client state.

When the 60-day emergency declared after May 23 ends, Filipinos are entitled to know: Is martial law the key to the preservation of Marawi and Mindanao? Or, on the contrary, did martial law simply add fuel to the violence that escalated after Proclamation 216 was issued?

• Moro integration a big gamble

ON OTHER Duterte experiments: Will the proposed integration of MNLF fighters and the peace partnership with the MILF work despite the deep-seated mistrust simmering through decades of strife? As for the NPAs, will they walk into the open arms of the administration?

President Duterte is taking a big gamble showing himself to the armed forces and the national police embracing Moro warriors who throughout history have fought government forces ruthlessly and clamored openly for a separate Muslim state.

When he told the press in Olongapo City over the weekend that 2,000 MNLF fighters would take their place as regulars in the armed forces, while many people were willing to listen and give the Commander-in-Chief the benefit of the doubt, questions lingered.

The same offer of integration has been extended to NPA cadres, he added, and there is the same hopeful watching among the public.

To the NPA fighters, the President said: “If you no longer want to fight, I’m not asking you to join my force. You just surrender and I’ll give you the houses and I will expand the land reform program of the government. I will find the money.” We hope the rebels believe him.

It would be interesting to hear from AFP foot soldiers and their unit commanders what they think of the proposed integration into the armed forces of former adversaries coming from another cultural background, and who have been trained and motivated differently.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 6, 2017)

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