By Erick San Juan
A week before the Zamboanga explosion, I was given a web address by a patriotic military general friend for me to read and analyze. It came from www.crisisgroup.com and dated May 14, 2008. It was written by Crisis Group, a Brussells based think tank group composed of former Foreign Minister of Australia, Min. Gareth Evans, U.S. Senator George Mitchell, and other big names from the United Nations.
The group’s advocacy is to be the global eyes and ears for impending conflicts so as not to repeat the failures of other arbitrators and correct the tragedies in the past.
In its assessment titled “The Philippines: Counter – insurgency vs. Counter – terrorism in Mindanao”, it warned that the Philippines is mixing up counter – insurgency with counter – terrorism with dangerous implications for conflict in the region.
The other day, my friend, veteran columnist, Ellen Tordesillas of Malaya, wrote in her latest article, “Mindanao Simmers Again”, the complete story on the Crisis Group report. The group is worried that Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), tasked to specifically interdict and isolate kidnap for ransom (KFR) groups and other similar criminal syndicates operating in or near MILF communities, to cite an example the PENTAGON GANG, has been inactive. The AHJAG was reportedly created to facilitate coordination between the GRP, meaning the Philippine government and the MILF is sharing intelligence on terrorists and to avoid accidental clashes while the government forces chase them.
The group correctly analyzed that such coordination will only work if there is progress on the political front through peace negotiations and when the insurgents could find concrete benefits from their cooperation with the government.
The group seems to know “something" will really happen in Mindanao especially now that the Malaysian government withdrew its International Monitoring Team from the truce between the GRP and the MILF.
But too many cooks spoils the broth. With the entry of the U.S., Libya, Australia, etc. as mediators, the problem became international in perspective thus giving the MILF the “Status of Belligerency”.
The Crisis Group as noted by Tordesillas said that the AHJAG has been allowed to wither while the Arroyo administration is distracted by political turmoil in Manila and Washington focuses on economic and military approaches to an essentially political problem in the Philippine South.
What worries me is the finger pointing between the Philippine authorities and the MILF as to who is really behind the Zamboanga bombing. The MILF denied the allegations linking their group to the explosion. Regional PNP Chief, General Jaime Caringal blamed the MILF not only for the Andrews air base incident but also for two bombings last month in Zamboanga City.
The bomb explosion in front of the Edwin Andrews Air Base also hit the AMWSLAI Bldg. across the air base which housed the office of a US funded, Alliance for Mindanao Off-Grid Renewable Energy (AMORE).
Two people died and 22 others were wounded in the incident.
The timing of the bombing became the talk among the conspiracy theorists especially that before the occurrence, newspapers and radio reports were bombarded by travel advisories coming from the U.S., U.K. and Australian government advising their nationals not to go to Mindanao, especially Zamboanga City for an impending terrorist attack. That’s how positive they are despite that our local intelligence agencies have been vigilant enough to deter such terrorism.
The bomb went off as President GMA was on her way to Tawi-Tawi while US Ambassador Kristie Kenney was in Pagadian City.
Is the U.S. intervention in the police investigation of the bombing justifiable? If they have information on hand, they should have informed our authorities especially the NICA, or the NSC to avert such dastardly act.
The timing of the blast is also a suspect. It was done when the flagship of the 7th Fleet, USS Blue Ridge and the USS Mercy, the hospital ship came.
What panicked the people of Cotabato was when the hospital ship docked and its crew went down in full battle gear despite the claim that most of them are doctors and hospital trained personnels who are also military.
Now, I realize why I’ve been receiving several solicitation letters from UNICEF representative for the Philippines, Dr. Nicholas K. Alipui asking help for their field mission in Mindanao.
Our government should be wary that despite its denial of conflicts and boast that there’s peace in Mindanao, the letters from UNICEF confirmed that the Mindanao problem is one of the world’s longest simmering armed conflicts. The government through the DFA should investigate this kind of fund raising which destroy our nation's reputation.
Another piece of information which jibes with the situation was an alleged “letter” of President GMA to U.S. President George Bush, Jr. which was circulated for the purpose of destroying her credibility and making her trip to the U.S. next month to meet with U.S. President George Bush Jr. a “sellout”.
We’re not sure that the document is genuine but the narration of information was cleverly supported by facts relevant to the confluence of events.
The Crisis Group thesis could be right after all. I hope that the alleged “Balkanization” of Mindanao will not prosper.