Before the Mamasapano encounter in January 25, the Bangsamoro Basic Law was on its way to becoming a law. After the encounter, however, the BBL was subjected to closer scrutiny which revealed its imperfections and weaknesses.
Now there is resistance even from the lawmakers who initially supported and co-sponsored the BBL. It can no longer be passed in its present form without amendments in order to conform to constitutional requirements.
Yet, in spite of the sounds of war drums, the best way to go forward in Mindanao is through a just and fair negotiated peace. An American general said 150 years ago that war is hell and a quick scan around the world today would show it is difficult to argue with what he said. There are wars going on in Libya, Nigeria, Syria, Yemen, Columbia and lest we forget, the Philippines.
Syria’s is a tragic story. According to the United Nations, about 220,000 have died in four years of fighting, many of them women, children and the elderly. About 6.5 million people have been internally displaced and close to 4 million people have fled Syria to various countries all over the world. The country has been basically destroyed; it will probably take a generation to rebuild it.
Those who are advocating war in Mindanao should therefore think hard and consider the consequences of what war can bring to the country. In the recent fighting between our Armed Forces and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, more than 100,000 have had to be evacuated. How much more if there is an all-out war in Mindanao? The government has been fighting various groups for a long time.
The communist insurgency for instance has been around since since 1969. The conflict with the New People’s Army is one of the longest if not the longest in the world. I do not have the casualty figures of combatants from both sides who have died fighting but I can say that thousands have died.
We have also had the Muslim secessionist movement since 1973. In between, there are other groups like the Abu Sayyaf and now the BIFF and Justice for Islamic Movement.
All these conflicts have sapped a lot of the country’s resources and energy which could have gone to development to improve people’s lives.
The death of the SAF 44 is a lot, but there were encounters in the past with more casualties. Some that I know of are the following: the massacre of the late General Teodulfo Bautista and 42 others in Patikul, Sulu in 1977. About 16 ranking and highly trained Army officers died with him that day. In the subsequent fighting that followed after the massacre, a lot more died.
There was also the case of one Constabulary Battalion that suffered about 58 casualties in one single encounter in Sulu and the remains of those who fell had to be evacuated in the dead of the night so as not to affect morale. A friend from the Army also told me of the story of one Army company that was attempting cross a river in Lanao. They were caught by the MNLF and were decimated.
Fighting the communist insurgents has also been ferocious. Some incidents that I also know personally was when a Constabulary unit encountered a group of communist insurgents in one province and suffered 23 dead. Another was when a commander in an adjacent province when I was then a Provincial Commander sent a patrol that encountered a group of NPA on a test mission. The result was about 14 dead with all the weapons captured. In yet another operation, a 6×6 truck full of men was ambushed and 18 men lost their lives. I might add that in both these operations, most of those sent to fight were office personnel. No Board of Inquiry was formed to investigate these incidents and the commanders of those who suffered casualties in these two operations went on to be promoted. They occupied high positions in the Philippine National Police before their retirement.
If fighting resumes, the public will again see the brutality of war. Because of modern media reporting and the power of social media, the public will be more aware and affected.
When the Muslim secessionist movement erupted in 1973, it caught the government by surprise. The government had to scramble to contain the spread of the fighting in Mindanao. But even at the height of the fighting, President Marcos saw that the only sure way to put an end to the fighting was through negotiations. This is the reason that the so-called Tripoli agreement was signed in 1976. Another peace agreement was signed in 1997 during the term of President Ramos; this resulted in the creation of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.
Now we have the BBL to operationalize what was signed between the MILF and the Aquino government. But because of the Mamasapano encounter, it is now under siege.
President Aquino has called for a peace summit which should have been done before the government signed the peace deal with the MILF. Yet, this is not necessarily bad. It could still produce a just and fair recommendation that all parties can sign.
The MILF has been reported to have said that some modifications to the BBL is acceptable. This is good. If the MILF only wants autonomy and not independence, there must be way to arrive at a mutually agreeable position. I sincerely hope that this will be the case. Fighting is not an option. There has been fighting for so long that both sides must be suffering from combat fatigue. Let us give peace a chance.