Saturday, February 21, 2015

Mamasapano Clash and Why President Aquino should step down: Placing the Peace Process at its most fragile state

The Mamasapano massacre is just one of many serious maljudgements President Benigno S. Aquino III and his cabinet did for the past five years. Aquino's actions in relation to the Mamasapano massacre which left 44 SAF dead and 18 MILF fighters seriously put the entire peace process in danger. Aquino's judgments are faulty and places the State in a perilous condition. He is a danger even to himself.

1. Aquino has put the peace process at its most weakened and its most perilous state since 1992.

First, Aquino opted to listen to the advice of his friend, ARMM governor Mujiv Hataman and some of his friends over at Akbayan led by Presidential political adviser Llamas to appoint Teresita Deles, a self-proclaimed anti-poverty expert, to lead the peace process. Deles does not have a background in conflict resolution and mitigation. Deles has not even taken any course in relation to diplomacy or international relations. She professes to know the Bangsamoro problem but never really dug deep to understand it.

Meaning, Deles should not have been appointed to the post. Deles is even detested by the Reaffirmists side of the Leftist movement for her close association with the deviants, the Rejectionist block of Akbayan.

Second, Aquino opted to deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) alone, which is, again, a very bad judgment. Yes, the MILF is the biggest armed rebel group, but it does not follow that it should be the main party counterpart of the Republic. For one, the GRP has already a standing agreement with its predecessor, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). But, since the MNLF is closely identified with the efforts of the Marcoses, Aquino probably thought it best to deal with its break-away group, leaving behind years of negotiations and peace efforts made by the government with the Bangsamoro people with the MNLF.

What was the cost of this very bad judgment---scores dead, several hundred injured and billions of pesos lost when the MNLF attacked Zamboanga City. Unknown to many, Zamboanga City is still a tent city because of the devastation wrought by war between government forces and the Moro rebels. 

By getting the advice of Hataman, Aquino gave the go-signal to negotiate with the MILF. What Aquino did not know or probably knew but just shrugged it off, those he is talking with on the side of the MILF are personalities who do not enjoy the full and complete support of the MILF fighters on the ground.

The MILF strongly adheres to Islam--a religious philosophical thought system. Salamat Hashim, the former MILF chief, is not just a political animal--he was a certified scholar, even considered an Aleem by many Bangsamoro fighters. Unlike Murad, Hashim's stature was more credible to most MILF commanders and fighters. Many MILF fighters already knew that by the time Murad assumes power, he will compromise the fight for independence of the group. That explains why notable commanders such as Commander Umbra Kato of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) refused to acknowledge Murad's leadership. One of the most striking difference is Murad's compromising stance, something which Salamat Hashim refused to do when he was still alive. Hashim knew that the Bangsamoro Question would only be resolved through the establishment of an Islamic state and being pragmatic, he saw that "Imperialist Manila" would not grant such without a brutal fight.

Besides, why favour talking with the MILF when this group does not enjoy belligerency status? The true partners for peace of the government was the MNLF but because former Professor Nur Misuari was considered an "enemy of the state" (because no effort was made to involve him in the peace talks, convinced of the belief that the MNLF is already a "broken organisation", with several groups claiming legitimacy over Misuari's leadership of the Council), the government decided to deal with the MILF.

Without really studying the true condition on the ground, the government led by Aquino began negotiating with the MILF leadership, even to a point of granting them "belligerency status" with Aquino even visiting MILF chairman Al Haj Murad in Tokyo, Japan.

What Aquino did not consider is the status of Murad in the organisation, something which former US ambassador Kristie Kenney recognised or described as "problematic." As early as 2008, Kenney already know that if the government continue negotiations with Murad, there is a big possibility of an MILF split, something which happened when Kato broke and organised the BIFF.

Kenney asked the most relevant question--if negotiations do arrive at a very favourable prospect, will Murad guarantee compliance of most, if not all, MILF fighters? This is now answered by what happened in Mamasapano which it took the MILF leadership close to 10 hours just to ask for a ceasefire among their fighters.

In Mamasapano, the most relevant question to the MILF is this--during those times, who assumed leadership? Was it the MILF 105th brigade commander or the BIFF commander? This is one question which Murad failed to provide an answer. We asked why it took so long for the committee on the cessation of hostilities to intervene when the SAF command post was just 10 kilometres away from the area of battle. Answer---the order to cease fire was not fully recognised or respected by MILF fighters, much more, the BIFF.

Fact is--the Mamasapano clash is most relevant for the Bangsamoro rebels in the area because for the first time ever, the MILF and the BIFF Bangsamoro fighters stood side-by-side against government forces. Yes, reports say the MILF and the BIFF once more "fought in the arena of battle" shortly after Mamasapano, yet, no reports of casualties--why? These so-called "battles" are described as "mock battles", just to show Peace adviser Teresita Deles that Murad and his group can still command several forces in the disputed areas.

The Mamasapano clash is indicative of a serious command and control problem which was not recognised or identified early on and which no mechanism can ever cure because it is beyond anything---it is a question of legitimate authority which only the MILF can resolve.

Now, with the BBL hanging in the balance, and the MILF issuing strong statements in the form of dictation to the GRP (" No to changes in the BBL"), the possibility of a more intense war in the South looms larger and more serious than years past. 

Why? 

A failure now will effect a unity among disparate forces in the Bangsamoro, which eventually will become a major stumbling block to peace efforts. MILF and BIFF forming one group? Consider the extreme--MILF-BIFF-MNLF and even the ASG as one.