Peace is a condition sine qua non to development. In a world battered by animosity and war, the desire for a just and lasting peace lies deep in our hearts and minds. Without enduring peace, equitable growth and sustainable development would not be possible. In the Ramos era, we came to appreciate that peace flows from sincerity with broad buy-in, and obtained through patience, persistence, prudence, circumspection, inclusion and transparency.
In 1996, the MILF did not sign the comprehensive peace deal with the MNLF that we painstakingly put together, with support from the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference). During the cessation of hostilities, the MILF kept building its armed strength, kept up its armed attacks in Central Mindanao and continued to send its recruits to train in Pakistan and fight in Afghanistan with Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
This was confirmed by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her key security officials to me when I was tasked by FVR to cultivate closer intelligence and security relations. It eventually led to the holding of an Anti-Terror Summit in April 1996 that I organized with 19 countries in attendance in Baguio.
This background information is important in light of a number of issues have arisen in the aftermath of the MILF-BIFF’s massacre of 44 PNP-SAF law enforcers in Mamasapano:
• the mishandling of the peace process;
• the trustworthiness of a factionalized MILF;
• the conflicted nature of Malaysia as peace broker;
• the efficacy of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Various aspects of national security, are at stake here – internal security, public safety and human security. Further mishandling will surely impact present and future generations.
• Contrary to the government’s claims, protests from Mindanao and elsewhere are rising in social and mass media about the lack of inclusivity and transparency in the conduct of the peace process. Mishandling allegations have given rise to fears of more armed conflict ahead, a sellout to Malaysia and future loss of Sabah, instead of a peaceful outcome.
• The MILF’s links with Al Qaeda (AQ) that aims to establish a global caliphate through jihadism was validated in Mamasapano, where Marwan and Usman of the Jemaah Islamiya (JI), AQ’s extension in Southeast Asia, were being harbored by both the MILF and the BIFF, allegedly an MILF breakaway group.
• The BIFF has pledged allegiance to a more virulent jihadist group, ISIS, which also aims to establish a global caliphate. Elements of the MILF’s 105th, 106th and 118th Base Commands, and the BIFF, jointly partook in that bloodlust that took more than half a day.
• The MILF’s negotiator, Mr. Mohagher Iqbal, has admitted that its political junta has little or no control of its military units. If that’s the case, what’s the point of talking peace with a Jekyll and Hyde? Why are we taking on added risks to national security?
• A leopard does not change its spots, yet, the insistent rush to a settlement with the MILF, despite its insincerity, duplicity and treachery, befuddles. Why is the government overtly biased toward the MILF and contemptuous of the SAF and its law enforcement mission?
• Malaysia is a conflicted third party. It has aided and abetted the secessionist movements in Mindanao since the Marcos era after the infamous “Jabidah massacre.” It has been a safe haven for various rebel groups and the JI.
• Legal luminaries have cited the BBL’s constitutional and legal flaws. National security practitioners cite the dangers that lie ahead in the context of jihadism worldwide pursuant to the establishment of a global caliphate.
• The MILF will govern the “autonomous State of BangsaMoro (ASBM),” funded by national funds to the tune of over P80-billion plus, when fund releases for national defense are falling short of approvals, impeding catch-up efforts to build credible deterrence in the West Philippine Sea.
• Local and regional autonomy are in place. Muslims have been freely electing fellow Muslims. They enjoy the same democratic rights and responsibilities as everyone else in the country. Shifting to another entity is unnecessary and costly. It does not guarantee desired results due to serious human resource challenges, cultural weaknesses and sharp divisions that need to be addressed first.
I agree with BBL proponents that a peace settlement in Mindanao must address social injustice, as with the rest of the country. I also agree that the regional government has barely improved ARMM’s quality of life. But I also think that peace at all costs with the MILF, given the internal security risks it poses, is not sensible. And BBL won’t result in social justice and performance excellence after it is signed. As we learned from the MNLF, rebels don’t necessarily make for good public administrators.
How much more for jihadists who have a different agenda in mind?
The late chairman Hashim Salama was known to say that the MILF do not consider themselves Filipinos because they are Moros, and that its goal was independence. That explains the term BangsaMoro. Granting the MILF a legal territory presents a clear and present danger to national security. It is not the solution. It is fraught with grave risk that raises the risks of war and political discontent, at a time when the country’s territorial integrity is under siege in the West Philippine Sea.
At a time of grave peril, when the government’s wherewithal to manage risk, emergencies and crises is in doubt based on its track record, it must humbly stop, look, listen and proceed with extreme caution.
Yes to a well-managed peace process with broad representation! Yes to keeping, reforming and converting local and regional autonomy into platforms that deliver results. No to BBL for all the reasons stated above!
Rafael M. Alunan 3rd served as Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government during the Ramos Administration and was the Cabinet Officer-in-Charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (CORD-ARMM); chairman of the National Peace and Order Council (NPOC), and; chaimanr of the National Action Committee on Anti-Hijacking and Terrorism (NACAHT).