Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mutual trust is key to peace

By Val G. Abelgas
???????????????????????????????????While the nation grieved and raged over the death of 44 Special Action Force policemen in a clash with both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters the other week in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, it has become apparent that the government should take a second look at the peace agreement that it has reached with the MILF.
Trust is the key to any peace agreement to succeed and without an assurance of trust from both sides, the peace efforts in Mindanao are only doomed to fail. After the bloody carnage in Mamasapano, can the Philippine government still trust the MILF to abide by the terms of the agreement?
To answer that crucial question, facts must be firmly established as to who was at fault for the carnage. This leads us to many more questions that must be answered truthfully and faithfully.
Why were the fugitive Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Filipino terrorist Basit Usman inside the MILF’s Mamasapano camp? Did the MILF know of their presence? Was the MILF coddling them? MILF chief negotiator Mohaqher Iqbal could not give a definitive answer to any of these questions.
‘Technically, he was in the area but he is not inside our camp. He was staying in the community but all the people in the community were our members,” Iqbal said. Based on his statement, it was improbable for the MILF not to have knowledge of Marwan’s presence.
Intelligence officials have reported that MILF members and some members of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, including Marwan, lived alongside each other in “peaceful coexistence” for the past two years in Mindanao.
If the MILF knew of Marwan’s presence in their territory, wasn’t it incumbent upon them to arrest Marwan and the other terrorists or at least report them to Philippine authorities to establish trust and gain the confidence of the government and the people?
Why did the MILF attack the SAF policemen, who were returning to base after accomplishing their mission of eliminating Marwan, without first asking military authorities about the gunshots in the vicinity? Conversely, why didn’t the SAF inform the military of the operation so that they can at least answer the MILF if the latter asked?
Can the government get an assurance that the MILF will not harbor terrorists and that once integrated into the Philippine National Police, would help the government go after these terrorists?
Once the peace agreement becomes operative with the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, is there an assurance that the MILF members would surrender all their firearms as stipulated in the peace accord? Former MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu has serious doubts.
“It is a good development (referring to the Protocol on the Implementation of Decommissioning of Arms and Combatants under the agreement), but most commanders on the ground have pronounced they will not surrender their arms,” Kabalu said. Obviously, MILF commanders don’t trust the government either, noting that the government has not disarmed politicians’ private armies.
Other serious questions have been raised, all focused on trust. For example, by giving the MILF an autonomous territory, its own police force, and its own funds, isn’t there a possibility that it would eventually mount a bigger armed rebellion to obtain complete independence for Mindanao? Will the other Muslim factions, like the Moro National Liberation Front, the BIFF and the other tribes, be willing to work hand in hand with the MILF to bring peace and progress to Mindanao, or will it just spawn other rebellious factions?
Peace is essential for the full development of Mindanao, once called the Land of Promise, but the government must not put a June 30, 2016 deadline on the forging of a peace agreement. So-called legacy or self-aggrandizement should never be a reason to rush into a peace agreement.
Kabalu himself suggested that the respective peace panels should reconstruct or overhaul the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law ” in order to align with the Constitution and consider all stakeholders in the process, including other groups that could potentially spell many things leading to a meaningful peace in Mindanao.”
It is but proper that both the House and the Senate are suspending action on the proposed Bangsamoro Law until investigations on the Mamasapano incident have been concluded. They owe it to the 44 fallen SAF policemen, who gallantly gave up their lives to stop a known terrorist from further inflicting harm on the people of Mindanao and on the country.
Who does not want peace? Even the people of Mamasapano want peace. The Bangsamoro people want peace. Everybody wants peace. But it should come with dignity and justice for all for such peace to last.

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