The sending of more than 5,000 troops to Basilan and Sulu, as well as troop movements in Zamboanga peninsula and the Cotabato provinces is worrying. All indications point to an escalation of hostilities in the Moro areas. It is dangerously getting out of hand, if the initial reason for the deployments–the ambush-beheadings of Marines in Basilan–is taken into account. Lately, the clashes in Sulu were added to the rationale.
The entities being accused for the ambushes and clashes have been shifting. First, it was the MILF, then the Abu Sayyaf, then rogue MILF elements, then rogue MNLF elements. By this time, the official line has settled to Abu Sayyaf , aided by rogue elements of the MILF and MNLF.
What is worrying about the whole exercise is that there is a clear possibility of things getting out of hand. As a local observer said, there is no point in singling out any group because of the issues that have been raised in these ambushes and clashes. One of the issues, of course, are the beheadings. Another is the claim to territory by both MNLF and MILF. Still another are the accusations of prior military incursions and atrocities against civilians. These issues are not being settled in a manner that would bring about peace and agreement. Instead, an all-out war in Basilan and Sulu seems to be the direction where things are heading.
The worry is the national context of such a development. A wider war in the South can easily be used as a pretext for national emergency and even martial law. In the post-2007 election politics, the overarching question hanging over the GMA administration is how will it handle the 2010 ending of term of GMA as president, given the possibilities of the anti-GMA opposition running after the key figures in the current administration. The only possible scenarios they face are to have a compromise agreement with the opposition, to have an agreement with the presidentiables, or to change the constitution to enable GMA to extend her stay in power.
Malacañang tried changing the constitution through a people’s initiative or the constituent assembly last year–it failed. At this time, it can be said that it is pursuing all three tracks at the same time. One possible sub-scenario is the creation of an emergency situation to push another Charter change initiative. The developments in the restive South bear watching.