The MILF attacks on Lanao del Norte and Sarangani, as well as the skrmishes later in Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Shariff Kabunsuan, and North Cotabato are a black-eye to the Moro revolutionary movement. First, because they happened within the period of an agreed ceasefire and therefore constitute a willful violation. Second, the targets, particularly in Lanao del Norte and Sarangani are civilian populations and therefore constitute a willful violation of human rights and international humanitarian laws. Third, the attacks, if MILF insinuations are true that these were in response to the non-signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), are completely inappropriate within the context of the peace process.
The protestations of the MILF leadership that these attacks were not sanctioned by them, and their following call for a ceasefire, announcement of investigation into the acts of “rogue” MILF elements, and warning against arrest or attacks on these “rogue” elements are not believable and only betray an unpreparedness to deal with its struggle based on internationally-accepted standards of warfare and peace negotiations. This is an irony, considering their vehement invocation of international laws and standards on their claim for the right to self-determination.
MILF, in the Lanao and Sarangani incidents, can be considered in violation of human rights and international humanitarian law, and makes them vulnerable to charges of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other war crimes. They have also opened themselves to accusations of being an undisciplined and even merely a criminal movement, incapable of the responsibilities of democratic governance, and an organization for Moro chauvinism. The eventual loser, if the trend continues, is MILF itself and its international sponsors, as the Moro struggle weakens and loses its political legitimacy.
The attacks and the subsequent obfuscations of the MILF leadership has become, unfortunately, the best argument of the opposition against the MOA-AD. It played into the hands of their counterpart Christian chauvinists.
The logic of some that it is an inevitable and expected response to the failure of the MOA-AD and, in the same breath, argue for the signing of the same as the solution to more MILF attacks stands logic on its head. Playing the specter of the resumption of hostilities as a result of the non-signing of the MOA-AD does not trump the other agreement on the ceasefire nor the human rights violations that happened. It is also irrelevant to the opposition against the substantive provisions of the draft agreement. The correct answer should have been to renegotiate provisions unacceptable to one side.
It is also mandatory now for both panels to consult with their constituencies and reflect their concerns in the negotiations. Both the Arroyo administration and the MILF in the negotiations do not represent all the stakeholders on their respective sides, if one is to assess the fierce resistance to the MOA-AD, including that from the Moro community itself.
An interesting sidelight to the MOA-AD issue was the call by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and Jose Ma. Sison, NDF consultant, for support to the “the Moro people’s right to self-determination. This ranges from the right to regional autonomy in a nonoppressive state to the right to secede from the oppressive state that exists in the Philippines.” Sison then pointed that the NDF and the ‘organs of political power’ have seceded or separated themselves from the oppressive semicolonial and semifeudal state system.” This is basically called “fishing in troubled waters.” It is a well-known standing policy of the CPP and NDF to consider only an autonomous Moro region within a unified People’s Republic of the Philippines–not unlike the provisions in the 1987 constitution. It is a far cry from the MOA-AD and from the MILF strategic independence position.
The third-party peace advocates who staked their position for the MOA-AD cannot anymore be considered as third parties–they have taken sides already. They should now be treated as partisans for the MILF (particularly since the GMA administration seems to abandon already the MOA-AD). This is an unfortunate development since they have been effective before in helping to bring about a heightened Christian-Muslim dialogue. If they do not step back and assume a more neutral stance, condemn the MILF attacks, and assert the continuation of the peace process rather than the signing of the MOA-AD, they would become a force for division and not for unity, a force for war rather than for peace, and a force with its own agenda rather than one for the meeting of agendas of protagonists to the internal conflict.