Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Peace in Mindanao: Quo vadis

Peace in Mindanao: Quo vadis

By Erick San Juan

By the time this piece gets out in the open, the GRP-MILF peace talks in Kuala Lumpur, slated on July 24, may have just ended, with the rebels on one hand, still threatening to attack military targets. On the other hand, while the GRP panel engages itself in propagating encouraging remarks (that they themselves hardly believe), the military are already engaged in actual attacks against secessionist strongholds, or, the military does the saber-rattling, while the moors are actually engaged in some pillaging moves.

And this scenario is bound to perpetuate for as long as the foreign players are allowed to dip their dirty fingers into Philippine domestic affairs.

Besides, Secretary Hermogenes Esperon, Jr., the new Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), needs to be extra careful in making unilateral and unprocessed declarations, lest his adventurism could lead this nation into an open and never-ending shooting war between and among brother Filipinos.

No doubt, Mindanao’s Christians are bound to kick over Esperon’s published declaration that the GRP would be willing to include the provinces of Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga-Sibugay, Cotabato, Shariff Kabungsuan and Palawan into the ARMM territory.

Naturally, the migrants, who have evolved to be more than the population of the Mindanao moors (since their parents were earlier brought by the government to Mindanao), would react furiously over the prospects of being placed under the rule of a numerical population minority.

The issue on ancestral domain needs to be treated in a manner akin to walking the tight rope. Bear in mind that most of the landed Christians in Mindanao today never engaged in land grabbing. They either acquired their properties by purchase, using good money which they amassed the old-fashioned way – they earned them. With eyes focused on the uncertain future for them, their children and loved ones, the pioneers of those early days, with little food and hardly shod, had to forge rivers, overcome the dangers in an unknown environment, cleared forests and developed grasslands.

For one, the Malaysians and the Islamic community are able to influence the decisions of either or both protagonists, by playing both as host and referee in the current exchange of barbs and wits in KL. On the other hand, you have not just the diplomatic force of both “the world’s policeman” and of Australia, who are engaged in pressure politics along the corridors of power, while their paws are into actual intelligence, if not combat operations in the home front.

Fact is: Aside from the US ground forces in the Zamboanga peninsula and the island provinces of the Philippine moorland, both the Celebes and South China seas are littered with US warships other than the escorts of the US Navy’s aircraft carrier, the “USS Ronald Reagan,” which is escorted by several smaller vessels and hundreds, if not thousands of boats.

There is absolutely no doubt that all foreign players in Mindanao have their respective agenda. Whatever their interests might be, they are bound not just to protect, but pursue their national interests as well.

Noteworthy is the fact that both the US and Australia have been financing several development projects in the south. What for? Oh, c’mon, let us not fool ourselves with the thought that they simply want to allow the localities to grow economically. Certainly, building facilities whose standards are tailor-made for their own requirements could raise eyebrows. A case in point is the General Santos International Airport and some facilities in the town of Glan, Sarangani. Why were they built there?

Many are asking if these facilities and activities by foreign interests in Mindanao are beams towards the Peoples’ Republic of China, which is no doubt, the emerging super-power in Asia.

Yes, the declaration by the GRP and MILF some years ago, of a temporary cessation of hostilities (while the peace talks are on-going), is indeed an achievement. But, for as long as the foreign kibitzers are not told to lay-off, this volatile situation could just erupt into a full-blown war at any point of the discussion on the ultra-sensitive issue on the ancestral domain for the Muslims.

When that happens, we can only say quo vadis, good luck.

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