ZAMBOANGA CITY: An influential Catholic bishop has expressed strong opposition to the government’s launch of an all-out war against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan.
Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad said a full-scale military offensive is not the solution and could even attract more recruits to the group, which has thrived on kidnapping and is believed to have received hefty ransoms.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd has ordered the military to hunt down the Abu Sayyaf right after it released two elderly German captives in Sulu last month. The pursuit intensified after the group killed six soldiers in an ambush in Sumisip, Basilan on November 2.
In a recent interview over Radyo Veritas, Jumoad said a solution that emphasizes force will not earn the government the trust and confidence of the rebels.
“Those perpetrators or lawless elements, we can’t do anything about them, run after them . . . Finishing them all? I think that is not the solution because that will just add more problems. I think the government must act like a mother that will look for aid in order to win their trust and confidence to the calls of law,” he said.
Extreme poverty from which most people in Mindanao suffer is at the root of the conflict, he said.
“I have been in Basilan. It’s a vicious cycle. I think the approach should really be no longer through guns. I ask the government to really give more educational and livelihood programs to those areas, especially in Sumisip,” Jumoad said.
The bishop said instead of an armed response, government officials should find ways to assure the rebels that Mindanaoans are not second-class citizens, and that they get education and have the means to support themselves and their children.
Mujiv Hataman, the governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, earlier recommended an all-out war against the Abu Sayyaf.
Mayors in Basilan, who are allies of Hataman, supported his call, but Basilan Gov. Jum Akbar, the head of the peace and order council, was silent about the proposed all-out military offensive.
Hataman and the mayors met recently with Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang and senior military commanders at the Western Mindanao Command headquarters where they discussed the offensive against the Abu Sayyaf.
Among the mayors who are supporting Hataman are Indanan Daud of Maluso, Rose Furigay of Lamitan City, Jomar Maturan of Ungkaya Pukan, Jamar Mansur of Hadji Muhtaman, Gulam Hataman of Sumisip, Darussalam Lajid of Al-Barka, Talib Pawaki of Mohammad Adjul, Tong Istarul of Tipo-Tipo, Muctar Junaid of Tabuan-Lasa, Alih Sali of Akbar, Durie Kallahal of Tuburan and Rustam Ismael of Lantawan.
Peace, not war
Human rights group Suara Bangsamoro also warned that a full military assault could lead to civilian abuses, destruction of property, and massive displacement of people.
Amira Lidasan, the group’s leader, has cautioned Hataman—whose elder brother Hadjiman Hataman-Salliman is the congressman of Basilan—against endorsing an all-out war against the Abu Sayyaf.
“Such policy is prone to abuse of power by the authorities and would lead to more cases of human rights violations,” Lidasan said.
She said previous offensives against the Abu Sayyaf had driven out scores of civilians from their homes. In 2000, the government ordered a massive military assault, backed by US military forces, against the Abu Sayyaf and the biggest casualties were civilians, while the Abu Sayyaf continued its criminal activities.
Lidasan also accused Hataman of contradicting himself when two years ago he and the other governors in the autonomous region said “never again” to all-out war in dealing with rebels.
She reminded Hataman that in the previous operations against the Abu Sayyaf, there were reports of military clashes with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels who are also in the mountains of Basilan.
Rep. Francisco Ashley Acedillo also rejected Hataman’s proposal.
“The government should go after the group to arrest, charge and jail them, but I do not favor an all-out war,” Acedillo said.
“The civilians will eventually end up as the losers,” he said.