Jun Mercado, OMI

At the turn of the new millennium, the Manila Government under the former President Estrada declared an “all-out war policy” against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Resulting from that war was the destruction and military occupation of all MILF camps and communities. Over 600,000 peoples were displaced from their homes and communities. The Peace Process that began in 1997 with the signing of the Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the Philippine Government and the Moro Front went to waste.  The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has become a Force of Occupation in the former MILF camps and communities. This fact, in a way, has made the AFP’s claim of liberating the areas and restoring democracy   HOLLOW. The displaced will NOT return to their villages and homes while the AFP continues to occupy those villages. This is a dangerous development, when the true war to win is the NOT over areas and territories but hearts and minds of the people that constitute the Bangsamoro people

Peace and War under Pres. Arroyo
In January 2001, the newly installed Pres. Arroyo once again launched the Peace Process with all the rebel fronts. She reconstituted the Peace Panels to begin the peace talks both with the National Democratic Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. She coined the word “all-out peace” (contrasting it to Estrada’s all-out war policy) to define her administration’s peace impetus.  With the MILF, the peace process was on track and looked very promising with Malaysia acting as the broker. Both parties agreed to pursue the relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction of the livelihood of the displaced as well as the communities in conflict areas even before the signing of the Final Peace Accord. The creation of the Bangsamoro Development Agency and its interface and coordination with all government development and service agencies looked bright for a new era dawning on the victims of war both individuals and communities. It was also heart warming to behold the enthusiasm of the MILF to bring development and reconstruction of the ravaged

The formal peace talk was scheduled for early March 2003 when the AFP once again attacked and assaulted the “headquarter” of MILF Chairman, Ustadz Hashim Salamat, on February 11, 2003 – Islam’s holiest Feast of the Sacrifice (Idul Adha). The military attack and occupation of Salamat’s “headquarter” and the displacement of about 200,000 people and still increasing make the prospect of the resumption of the Peace Process rather bleak.  There is now an INFORMAL TALK between the GRP and the MILF brokered by Malaysia and Libya. The INFORMAL “PEACE” TALKS, hopefully, would be more productive in preparing the ground through confidence building measures for the eventual resumption of the Peace Talks depending of the result of the 2004 National and Local Elections.  The ugly face of a resumed “all-out war” policy is beginning to unfold anew. The attacks against civilian communities and the bombing of civilian targets, particularly the Davao International Airport a week after the unprovoked military attack against “Buliok”, Pikit (though officially denied by the MILF) are believed by the Military and Police to be the work of the MILF. The 2nd bombing at Davao City wharf and the seeming immediate retaliatory attacks on the three MOsques in thae same city that victimize civilians point to the brutal and ugly visage of a resumption of
an “all out war” between the GRP and the MILF. 

The peace advocates and people of goodwill hope that sanity, in the end, shall prevail over the prevailing military and war policy in Mindanao. The entrenched AFP’s doctrine thaat allows the “limited” use o military force to soften the rebel front’s postion in the negotiation is erroneous and immoral. This doctrine with its accompanying collateral damage (civilian casualties)is repeatedly proven to be wrong and unacceptable!!. The massive displacement o civilians and the continued sufferings of people feed on the increasing discontentment and disillusionment of people in the peace process. Once the peace process loses credibility and constituency, extremism (fromall sides)takes over. The specter that this is already happening is not far fetched. 
We believe that when sanity returns, the two parties will eventually resume the genuine search for a peaceful negotiated settlement with dignity and no surrender and no shame. It may be more difficult this time, but there is no alternative to a peaceful and principled negotiated settlement. Whether this will take place in the remaining months of Pres. Arroyo is totally another issue. But in the end, we continue to pray, hope and believe in miracles.