Citizens International condemns the bombing of villages and communities in Mindanao by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) which has killed, and caused massive displacement, of civilians. The bombing is in retaliation for the 31 Filipino soldiers killed during an attack on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Basilan in Mindanao.
The attack by two Philippine Army platoons in an area deep inside MILF territory forms a pattern of violations by the AFP of the ceasefire agreement still in force. AFP has carried out attacks in Western Mindanao despite MILF objections to deployment of troops in areas with predominantly Moro population.
We call on President Benigno Aquino to take urgent steps to stop the bombing and cease all military operations on the ground, and expedite the peace negotiation.
In August this year President Aquino and MILF chief Hadji Murad Ebrahim met in Japan and agreed to fast-track the negotiations but that has not happened. The talks have stalled because of the Philippine government’s refusal to respect previous agreements signed by its predecessors and wanting to start from scratch.
According to the MILF leadership the “3 in 1” proposal of the Philippine government for a peace agreement has “no connections” and has “derogated the past agreements and consensus reached by the two parties in the past 14 years of negotiations”. The proposal is about integration cloaked in autonomy.
Bangsamoro national liberation struggle has been going on for more than 300 years, first against the Spanish, then the Americans and now the Manila government representing the interests of the Filipino oligarchs. For a just resolution of the conflict, the right to self-determination of Bangsamoro must be recognized and given effect in any peace agreement.
Capitalising on the killing of the 31 AFP soldiers, right wing extremists in the Philippine government have called for an all-out-war on MILF but President Aquino has wisely rejected their call but he has not taken decisive steps to accelerate the peace process.
The protracted war on the MILF and the New Peoples Army (NPA) has been a drain on national resources leading to widespread poverty and deprivation, the people of Mindanao being the poorest. Around 40% of Filipinos live on less than $2 a day, while a tenth of the 87 million population work abroad whose remittances to their families in Philippines amount to between US$ 8-10 billion annually.
Between 16-20 million people depend on these remittances. Such heavy dependence on remittances from abroad renders a large section of the population vulnerable to the vagaries of the world economy.
The war has been extremely costly in terms of human lives and financial expenditure. In the war on MILF, more than one hundred thousand people died, a hundred thousand more were estimated injured and millions displaced from their homes. In the war on the NPA, since 1969, some 40,000 guerrillas, soldiers and civilians have been killed.
The financial cost of the war against MILF has been staggering. From 1970 to 1996 the government spent around 76 billion pesos (nearly US$ 2 billion) in fighting the war. In 2000 alone, when the AFP attacked the controlled territories of the MILF, the government spent no less than six billion pesos (US$120 million). A 2002 World Bank study estimated that the economic cost of the war would be US $2 billion over the next ten years.
A just resolution of the conflicts with MILF and the NPA would release large amount of funds for socio-economic development, eradicating poverty and providing education, health-care and other social services to a large section of the population deprived of their basic needs.
We call on:
1. President Aquino to take immediate steps to stop all military operations against the MILF and the NPA and expedite the peace negotiations.
2. The current Philippine Government to honour all agreements made by its predecessors with the MILF and NPA.
3. The International Monitoring Team and other ceasefire mechanisms to investigate the recent clashes between the MILF and AFP and take effective steps to prevent ceasefire violations in the future.
4. The Philippine Government to resettle and compensate civilian families who have been displaced and compensate families of civilians who have been killed.
5. The Secretary General of the United Nations and the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) to play active roles in ensuring that the peace negotiation proceeds smoothly until a final peace agreement is reached.
* The writer is Chairman of Citizens International.
originally published in Harakah Daily