Sometimes making peace just makes things worse, as can be seen in the Philippines.

President Arroyo has been under a lot of pressure by Muslim countries and the United States to make peace with the remaining Moro (Muslim ethnic) group in Mindanao. The MNLF made peace years ago, but the MILF only had a tentative agreement of cease fire.

Periodically there would be outbreaks of violence, and the more militant AbySayyag group (who has close ties with some MILF groups) would bomb Christian areas or kidpap a high profile person to get money. But actually, everyone thought things were settling down.

There are several reasons that people were optimistic.

Thanks to the US War on terror, a lot of funny money pretending to be charity money was identified, and the money men funding the MILF lost the ability to send money by bank transfers.

Then there has been the increased ability of the Philippine military to hunt the troublemakers. If rumors are correct, American and Aussie Special Forces have been helping the Philippine military with specialized training and equipment.

At the same time, many countries and NGO’s were busy improving the economy with investments in the infrastructure. But without peace, outside investors won’t spend money to start businesses that will allow jobs and true prosperity.

But peace is in the air, and so when the President negotiated signed a peace treaty that would have given another huge chunk of land to the MILF, she didn’t anticipate opposition.

Big problem.

Arroyo is not popular because of suspected corruption in government contracts. Peace of course would allow lots of aid money to go to Mindanao, via government officials who would get “gifts” for their help. And, of course, peace in Mindanao would improve Arroyo’s position in world opinion.

Second problem: Mindanao is not a unified country, but a bunch of clans. And there are indigenous Christians in the area, not to mention a lot of Tagalog Christians who moved to the underpopulated but potentially resource rich area to live.

Giving the land back to the Moros would be like giving Minnesota back to the Chippewa: not only would the Swedes object, but so too would the Lakota who lived there before the Chippewa threw them out. It’s one question that many countries face: Who does the land belong to? The ones who were there first, or the ones who have lived there for generations are are responsible for much of the economic prosperity?

The peace treaty essentially was done by secret negotiations, so when it was announced as fait accompli, some of those who weren’t consulted got angry.

Lots of people who didn’t want to live under sharia law with no say in their lives objected, as did local clan leaders of Christian ethnic groups.

Lots of people who migrated to the area worried that they would be forced by the “official” Moro government to leave and lose their businesses because they were “outsiders” and had only lived there for two or three generations.

Hundreds of thousands of Christians living in Mindanao, including ethnic tribes who predated the Moros, feared they would lose their land and livelihood.

Those who dislike the giveaway of Philippine sovereignty to a minority group (making a state within a state where non Muslims would lose their civil rights) also got mad, and the left, as usual, blamed the US for pressuring Arroyo to sign anything so that the war would “go away”.

So politicians took it to the Supreme Court, who put the treaty on hold.

This resulted in a lot of anger by the MILF. Here they thought they had won, and now they found they didn’t win at all.
So some of their more militant members, instead of working with the Philippine Congress to work things out, decided to make their point.

These rogue MILF essentially decided to do some ethnic cleansing of their own, getting rid of those pesky Christians: but not in the designated Moro homeland area of the treaty, but in an adjoining area.

You might have seen the headlines, and read:

The government said at least 47 civilians have been killed and more than 360,000 displaced since violence escalated in nine southern provinces last week following a rebel raid that left dozens shot or hacked to death.

What is missing from the story? That the displaced and murdered are innocent Christian peasants who have been invaded by armed thugs and threatened with death.

However, payback is a bitch, as the saying goes, and the Philippine military responded. Of course, the human rights groups immediately claimed that raids on MILF camps resulted in “20 civilians” killed. (presumably family members of the rebels, but never mind).

Summary From StrategyPage:

Over a week of violence have left nearly 150 dead, two-thirds of them MILF, most of the rest Christian civilians. Over 200,000 Christians have been driven from their homes. The army is chasing the MILF gunmen back to their remote camps. The MILF has called for a resumption of peace talks.

Ah, but a lot of people are angry about the attempt at ethnic cleansing. They are angry at the government for not defending them, and they are angry at the thugs who terrorized them and killed their relatives.

One result is that civilian militias have been given guns.

Marcos confiscated guns here years ago, so when the MILF raiders terrorized the civilians, they only had machetes to fight back. So a lot of people worry that if the Christian civilians get weapons, they might actually start taking revenge on those that they have grudges against, leading to more “extra judicial killings” that are so hated by human rights organizations (who seem to look the other way when the Politically correct MILF/ASG kill people).

Amnesty International urged all parties to go back to the negotiating table and guarantee that innocent lives are preserved.

It also objected to the PNP’s move to provide shotguns to “selected, screened and trained” police auxiliaries, deputized village watchmen and civilian volunteer organizations.

Rearming local militias will indeed enable the people to defend themselves, but it gets pretty vicious.

The MILF groups come in, kidnap people as hostages and behead civilians, causing them to flee, but the Ilaga groups back in the 1970’s and 1980’s were famous for their disembowling those they killed in revenge for attacks. And they might not just kill soldiers, but civilians (relatives) in the soldier’s villages. This payback might make the MILF pause and think before they decide to attack easy targets like civilians, but it might cause an ethnic civil war:

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, meanwhile, agreed that the rise of armed civilian groups would worsen the peace and order situation in the south.

“If the Ilagas are going to substantiate their threats, that would certainly exacerbate the situation. But it might also prove terminal to the MILF leaders because the Ilaga are composed of Christian settlers who are determined to defend their settlements against what they look upon as marauders. They do not agree with the MILF or MNLF members that these members have the sovereign right to their homeland. They believe that it is the Ilagas who have their homeland in Mindanao because they were the original settlers there. This is basically an argument over who came there first,” she said.

No one wants civil war, and while the peace groups and churches/immans plea for peace, what will stop a nasty civil war is if the military can go in fast enough and get the known killers.

The government will then have to resume negotiations, and not in secret with a fait accompli, but with an openness that acknowledges that non Muslims have rights too.
The ceasefire with the rest of the is in effect, (many of the groups who would have benefited from the treaty, and are tired of war), while the military is busy dismantling the camps of the rogue groups, without their help. Of course, the Saudis and the usual suspects moan that it’s going to be Ramadan and will bemoan every civilian killed in the crossfire, but never mind.

From StrategyPage:

August 26, 2008: The army has captured fifteen MILF camps in the south, and driven over 500 MILF fighters into the bush. The MILF high command says these gunmen, who drove over a quarter of a million Christian villagers from their homes, are “renegades”, but refuses to help capture the two MILF commanders who led these raids

So in summary, a secret peace treaty failed because it lacked input from non Muslim locals; rogue groups of the rebels attacked unarmed civilians, causing massive civilian displacement. But this attempt at ethnic cleansing has backfired, with public support of the Armed forces to hunt down and capture/kill those who attacked the civilians. And just in case the MILF doesn’t get the message, there are hints that Christian tribesmen might be rearmed to defend themselves, and unlike the Military, they can be just as nasty as the Moros.

So will Mindanao descend into civil war, or will the atrocity allow the military to kill/capture the most militant groups, and allowing a just peace to finally come to the war torn region?

Ase Drudge would say: Developing…


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. She has relatives who live in Mindanao.

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