• No peace in our time

    Ben D. Kritz

    Ben D. Kritz

    As I write this, I can almost picture my editor frowning over it and muttering to herself, “This isn’t really a business column.”

    No, it isn’t. But I wish it was, because that would mean the extraordinarily horrifying circumstances of the past few days would not have trumped all discussion of the mundane. Too often we focus on business and the economy as though those things exist in a vacuum, but they don’t and never will, and so we must, when we are compelled to do so, occasionally turn our attention to some of the real world’s hard realities.

    On Sunday, as we all know, more than 40 men of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force—the government says 49, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front who killed them says 64—died in an 11-hour long battle near Mamapasano, Maguindanao.

    The story as it stands now is that the SAF detachment of nearly 400 personnel was on a mission to capture two wanted Jemaah Islamiya terrorists, Zulkifli bin Hir, known as Marwan, and Basit Usman, when it was ambushed by a force of about 300 guerrillas from the MILF and its erstwhile “breakaway” group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Caught in the open, the PNP force was decimated, suffering as many as 80 casualties and losing a large amount of arms and other equipment. Many of the bodies of the slain PNP troopers were said to have been mutilated as well as stripped of boots, uniforms, and useful gear.

    The mission was reportedly approved by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., who is also the head of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC), but not by PNP chief Leonardo Espina or Department of Interior and Local Government secretary Mar Roxas, both of whom have claimed to have been unaware of the planned operation.

    The PNP-SAF force reportedly also did not coordinate its operation with nearby military units, nor, as has been the practice during the “peace process,” sought clearance from the MILF to enter “their” territory. This latter oversight was the excuse given by MILF political head Mohagher Iqbal for the slaughter, which he described as “self-defense.”

    The government, for its part, has chosen to mock its dead servicemen by tacitly agreeing with the MILF that the half-day attack was justified, calling the battle a “misencounter.” As of today (Tuesday), three days after the disaster, President B.S. Aquino 3rd, who desperately needs the treaty-enabling Bangsamoro Basic Law passed in order to salvage some shred of dignity for his presidential legacy, has yet to utter a word on the topic.

    What we know of the incident so far leads us to a number of alarming conclusions. Contrary to denials from the MILF, at least some of its forces are working in concert with elements of the BIFF, which has led to accusations that the BIFF is actually a MILF-backed “pressure group” aimed at forcing the government to quickly legalize the lopsided Bangsamoro peace deal.

    Contrary to denials from the MILF, its “territory” is a safe haven for terrorists; Marwan and Basit Usman have both been on the run from authorities for 12 years. It may not be too much to accuse the MILF of actively harboring the two bomb-making experts, after all. Not only has the MILF failed to cooperate in all that time in bringing the pair to justice, the fact that MILF forces spent several hours—more than enough time for the concerned parties to find a way to contact each other and clarify their violent “misunderstanding”—trying and ultimately succeeding in preventing their capture or death fits most definitions of “protection.”

    What is most disheartening is that the Aquino government abandoned its own servicemen. Elements of the 6th Infantry Division stationed nearby failed to come to the aid of their trapped police comrades when the latter made a desperate call for help. No military officer, whether he’s a general leading a division or a buck sergeant with a four-man squad, will refuse to support a friendly force if requested, unless he is ordered not to by a superior.

    Clearly, the government decided these men were expendable, and that 50 or more lives of the country’s best soldiers were an acceptable price to pay to avoid further annoying the MILF.

    MILF leader Mohagher Iqbal remarked on Monday that while the encounter was “a big problem” it should not be allowed to derail the peace process.

    No. That is precisely what it should do.

    The Bangsamoro deal has left a bad taste in the mouths of the entire country, except for those among the narrow, entrenched-for-decades political elite in Mindanao the MILF represents and their sycophants behind the walls of Malacañang. At best, all the Bangsamoro deal would achieve is to validate and strengthen the power of the class that is responsible for the moribund state of Muslim Mindanao in the first place; and as we now know from Sunday’s tragic incident, what the “peace agreement” would actually achieve instead is to confer legitimacy on an organization that provides support and protection for terrorists.

    There needs to be peace in Mindanao, and it is everyone’s fervent hope that there can be, someday. But not like this.



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    1. They were expendable.That is what Aquino and Purisma think when they give the order to the SAF commandos to enter the area controlled by the MILF/BIFF to attack the terrrorist.I pity the SAF44 and hope they did not die in vain.

    2. victor m. hernandez on

      Good soldiers (elite police) they were: It is not to question or reason why, mine is to do or die. And so they were: 44 of them, all dead. It is sad and unfortunate, these elite police force trained by US servicemen, with all the high tech gadgets and weaponry but without much clue that they are being thrown as cannon fodder. I’m sorry that they have to die, as young as they are. Such a debacle, and such poor direction from their superiors. Something is very muich amiss.

    3. history tells us that to have peace, you need a bloody war. most recent is the sri lankan army’s total war against the rebel tamil tigers. the world would have not have long years of peace if the nazis were not eliminated totally. asia would have a longer war if the atom bombs were not dropped in japan.

      mindanao will not have long lasting peace without totally eliminating the rebels. whether mnlf, milf, biff, they’re all the same.

    4. Juan Bonifacio on

      MILF does not represent the Bangsamoro. And the term Bangsamoro itself is an illusion ath never happened in the past, only coined recently to make us believe that the different tribe of “Moros,” which is now around of 13 major cultural groups are one united “Bangsa” or nation. But history shows that the Moros were never united. And the MILF itself, which leadership is composed of Maguindanaons, is an offshoot of MNLF because of tribal/cultural/political differences. MILF does not represent the Bangsamoro (if there is such an entity).

    5. This is such a well written article. With this incident, no matter what speeches President BS Aquino will deliver, this time around he cannot suppress the truth. Coming back on the subject of the BBL, Pres P- Noy gave away parts of the Philippines he did not own.

      The undoing of the agreement he signed with the MILF will be the biggest problem of the next administration.

    6. Ben the business side of this is the old axiom, Never negotiate with untrustworthy people. Everything in an agreement favoring them will be enforced. Everything not favoring them will be delayed or ignored. Is the Philippines the only country that negotiates with terrorists? I think that is true. The BBL must be killed.

    7. This tragedy will always be repeated as long as those succession groups exist. as long as government officials try to talk peace for political mileage. as long as government is not in total control of the whole of mindanao. as long as some higher military official try to make money out of this poor cop and soldier.
      History must be our witness that no amount of peace with the muslim, will peace be achieved. Former President Erap almost achieved total peace in Mindanao. but what did the other politician do? they dance with the muslim succession.
      As long as we do not have the Guts and determination to end these succession groups. No peace will ever be achieved.

    8. mr ben kritz, you show more compassion to the dead members of the pnp-spf than the elected and appointed officials of this country. the words coming from the mouths of these officials are the worst that can explain the tragedy that befell these pnp-spf members who only followed the orders they received from these officials. now these officials are trying their best to shy away from responsibility and saying that the pnp-spf are at fault??? sannamagan, what a cop out/

    9. You are right. It had to take a foreign writer like you to pointed out the obvious, that no matter what happens to the BBL, Muslim Mindanao will always be a haven for terrorists as long as the MILF, BIFF and other alphabet soup rebel groups are around. We must give the military a free hand to wipe them out, just like what Sri Lanka did to the Tamil Tigers.

    10. Anima A. Agrava on

      Congratulations for your clear appreciation of the problem, Mr. Kritz.
      This is indeed an issue that businessmen–Filipino and expatriates–must be interested in. Peace in Mindanao must not be sought at ANY PRICE. Many Muslim communities in MIndanao do not trust the MILF. Of course, the indigenous peoples who are not under MILF control do not like to be placed under the power of this separatist rebel group. And Christians in Mindanao are girding to fight the MILF if and when their leader and armies are given formal sovereignty over the areas of the proposed Bangsamoro substate.
      You are right. The decision of the PCOS-created presidency of BS Aquino to continue moving to pass the unconstitutional BBL must be halted.
      The existing ARMM must be allowed to develop into a well-governed region for Muslim Filipinos.
      The terms of the 1996 GRP/GPH-MNLF comprehensive peace agreement must be properly implemented.

    11. If the government “has to dance” with the MILF even before the complete approval of the BBL, does anyone expect the government to have a better grip of the peace and order in that part of the Philippines after its approval?