Tuesday, November 01, 2011

MILF braces for AFP offensive

MANILA, Philippines - The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) vowed to defend its camps that are recognized by the joint ceasefire committee as the rebels warned Army troops yesterday not to intrude into their “territory” without coordination.

The MILF has ordered its fighters to be ready to defend themselves after the military bared plans to conduct pursuit operations against lawless elements in Basilan.

MILF officials said all signs indicate that the military is preparing to mount an attack on rebel forces led by Dan Asnawi, who was implicated in the killing of 19 soldiers last month in Al-Barka, Basilan.

“We will defend ourselves,” said MILF provincial political officer Abu Majid in a statement posted on the group’s website luwaran.com.

Majid also claimed that Asnawi is not a criminal but “the victim of an unjust justice system where the innocent is charged of a crime that he never committed.”

Majid was referring to the beheading of ten Marines in 2007, which was blamed on the local terrorist group Abu Sayyaf. He pointed out that the ceasefire committees cleared the MILF of any participation in the incident after an investigation.

Majid also noted that Asnawi, whom the military labeled as a “lawless element,” is the second highest MILF commander in Basilan.

Sought for comment, Armed Forces spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. maintained that their troops would not enter Basilan without proper coordination with the ceasefire panels.

“We are just awaiting the feedback on what will happen to the peace talks scheduled in November. We are always coordinating with the CCCH (Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG),” Burgos said.

Government troops are presently searching for the guerrillas that killed 19 soldiers in Basilan last Oct. 18 as part of the administration’s all-out justice campaign.

“While we believe and respect the pronouncement of President Aquino that he would not embark on an all-out war with the MILF, we have no way but to defend our camps from any encroachment not permitted bilaterally by the government and the MILF’s joint ceasefire committee,” rebel spokesman Von Al-Haq told reporters here.

Al-Haq said there is mounting apprehension among MILF guerrillas and civilians residing inside their supposedly government-recognized enclaves in Basilan that the military would attack as a punitive action against the gunmen that figured in the eight-hour Oct. 18 encounter with Army Special Forces operatives in Al-Barka.

He said Majid has reported to their central committee the “visible preparations” by the military for an offensive.

“We can only hope and pray that the military will first coordinate with the government’s ceasefire committee, which is operating alongside our ceasefire committee. There are established protocols and communication procedures, set by the government and MILF panels, that have to be respected,” Al-Haq said.

He said any escalation of the conflict in Basilan could affect the fragile peace in other provinces where there are MILF forces.

Al-Haq said the best way to resolve the security problem in Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay is for the government and MILF peace panels to convene and discuss peaceful remedies to avert any outbreak of hostilities that affect thousands of civilians.

“The MILF will not weaken its resolve for the peaceful negotiated settlement of what we call the ‘Moro problem’ which has been existing for decades now,” Al-Haq said.

Hope for lasting peace

Meanwhile, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles expressed hope that a lasting peace could still be attained in Mindanao despite the recent attacks by the MILF against government troops.

In a recent address to graduates of the Asia Leaders Program of the University of Peace held at the Leong Auditorium in Ateneo de Manila University, Deles said despite the many trials in peace-building there is always room for hope for a passionate peacemaker like her.

“The peace process is sustained by hope; it is the trademark of all peacemakers. For some of us who have been in this work for more than five decades, the sense of impatience can set in, even as we know there are no shortcuts to achieving a just and lasting peace. It helps much to have a sense, every now and then, of the strides we’re making, and the markers of our incremental successes whenever and wherever it happens,” Deles said.

“I continue to be surprised, and to be inspired, by many stories of the quiet, conscientious, heroic work of peace-building and peace-making on the ground, by the ones – some of whom may be obscure or little known beyond the communities whom they serve,” she said.

Deles said she can trace her roots to the Jesuits, such as Fr. Jose Blanco, who guided her as a student at what was then Maryknoll College, now Miriam College.

“Among the many influences in my life, it was the Jesuits who reinforced my social orientation way back in my college years through a study group started by Fr. Blanco,” Deles said.

Deles said she accepted the speaking engagement at the Ateneo despite the load of work with regard to the Basilan crisis to reach out to the graduates who share her understanding and passion for peace.

“It is the start of another hard-working week for me, but I thought it would be a good way to start by spending some time with people like you who have a shared passion for the study of peace. Of course, I didn’t realize when I decided to accept the invitation then how difficult and hard these days could be,” Deles said.

“During the early years of martial law, I was project officer of the Ateneo’s student volunteer group, which helped flood victims in Luzon who had been affected by 40 days of continuous flooding. Thereafter, came a group Sarilikha, which brought students to a more long-term organizing and project development work. The exposure gave the students a chance to understand the extent and dimension of poverty in the country, and led them on a search for alternative careers upon graduation from college,” Deles said.

Deles urged the new graduates to deepen their passion to magnify the high value of peace in their different communities in Asia.

Aside from Deles, also present during the commencement exercise was Fr. Ramon Villarin, SJ, president of the Ateneo, who delivered the Welcome Address. John Maresca, rector of the UN-mandated University of Peace, Takeju Ogata, president of the Nippon Foundation and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario also gave their messages of peace.

The Asia Leaders Program under the University of Peace is a shared initiative between the Nippon Foundation and Ateneo that aims to give Asian students the opportunity to gain deep understanding of global issues through the lens of peace and security.

Conflict of interest

In another development, former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. called on the government to consider replacing Malaysia as mediator with the MILF because of some conflicts of interest of the Malaysians.

Pimentel said that the recent conflicts between the MILF and government troops could have been avoided if the international peacekeeping team led by Malaysia had been more effective in its work in Mindanao.

He said that the peacekeeping force acting on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) is supposed to be the buffer force between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the MILF.

“That buffer force is supposed to be led by Malaysia and I think that is the worst choice we can have, to get Malaysia involved as a peacekeeping force on behalf of the OIC, because Malaysia has definite interests that conflict with the interests of the country,” Pimentel said.

He cited the long-standing claims by the Philippines and Malaysia on Sabah as well as a certain marshland in Cotabato.

Pimentel also noted Malaysia’s identification with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which caused some problems in the past when the rebel group was still waging war on the government.

“When the MNLF forces were trying to strengthen their group, they were training in Sabah which is jurisdictionally, as of now, under the administration of Malaysia. That is where they trained before,” Pimentel said.

“I believe that one arbiter that can do a lot is the peacekeeping force led by Malaysia. Unfortunately, I don’t think they are aggressive enough to see the validity of the Philippine position,” he added.

According to Pimentel, if two sides insist on having an Islamic nation in Southeast Asia leading the peacekeeping force, then it could be in their best interest to consider Indonesia.

“Indonesia would be a better choice because historically Indonesia has never… and they have always tried to discourage the infiltration of fighters as well as sending of arms over to rebels. But not Malaysia, it does not have that reputation,” he said. With John Unson, Jose Rodel Clapano, Marvin Sy

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By Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star)

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