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All-out war is not the solution

I AM a full-blooded Mindanaoan. I was born and grew up in Dipolog City. My heart bleeds every time I hear about the armed conflict in the island. I can only ask myself: Can we really achieve genuine and lasting peace in what is known as the Land of Promise? But I have to clarify that it is not the entire island of Mindanao whose peace and order is deteriorating. My home province, Zamboanga del Norte, is very peaceful except in some areas like in Siraway, Sibuco and Siocon municipalities, where there are presence of Muslim rebels.

Some of the baragays in these municipalities are being claimed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as ancestral domain to be included in the expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) under the soon to be created Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) based on the controversial Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) by goverment peace panel and their MILF counterpart. These towns are situated in the tip most of the province going to Zamboanga City, which is hundred kilometers away from the province’s capital, Dipolog City.

The troubled areas are only in Basilan and Sulu in Western Mindanao because of the presence of MILF and the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, and in Lanao Del Norte, Lanao Del Sur and Maguindanao in Central Mindanao and in North Cotabato areas. North Cotabato reminds me of one of the songs by Asin, a popular folk singing group in the 70’s, “Ang Bayan Kong Sinilangan.”

The song was composed by the late Cesar ‘Saro’ Bañares, Asin member who was a native of North Cotabato. The song described the protracted armed conflict in the area which had been going on for several decades. Bañares was stabbed dead several years ago inside a bar in his native town. Other areas in Mindanao which are peaceful are the Christian dominated areas like in Agusan, Surigao, Bukidnon and Davao provinces.

Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo introduced a new approach to solve the Mindanao conflict amid the renewed fighting between the Muslim separatist group and government forces. She described her new approach as DDR which means disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation. She wants the Muslim rebels to lay down their arms and return to the negotiating table. She urged them to show their sincerity in the negotiation process.

Pres. Arroyo must be dreaming when she talks about disarmament. I can’t imagine the Muslim rebels giving up their firearms. They can give up their wives but not their firearms. They considered firearms as their twins. Having firearms is their way of life. It is their culture. If you go to the rural areas dominated by Muslim, you will see people carrying high-powered firearms even if they are just tilling their lands and pasturing their animals.

It is funny because in the urban areas our authorities are very strict in implementing laws on possessing and carrying of firearms. But in Muslim-dominated areas these laws are not heard of. Even kids carried firearms.

The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos tried this before by luring the Muslim rebels to give up their arms in exchange for huge monetary consideration under his rebel amnesty program. Yes. the Muslim rebels gave up their firearms but only the defective ones.

An all-out war is neither the solution to the Mindanao problem because even if government forces kill all the rebels now, there will be another generation to come. Experience tells us the armed conflict in that area is a vicious cycle. The Muslim rebels have been fighting for decades now. How many lives had been lost from their side? But until now they continue to regain and strengthen their forces. Former president Joseph Estrada tried this formula but it did not solve the problem.

I support the ongoing military action against the Muslim rebels who sowed terror recently, like the group of MILF Commanders Ombra Kato and Bravo. They should be taught a lesson for committing those atrocities. But I still firmly believe that peace negotiation is still the key to achieve lasting peace in the Land of Promise. The government and MILF should continue their peace negotiation but with sincerity.(Bobby Nalzaro)

(bgnalzaro@gmanetwork.com / 0916-6644999)

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