Tipo-Tipo massacre: Shades of Mamasapano PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 13 April 2016 14:05

The southerner

Rey-Luis Banagudos

In the wake of last week’s another shocking massacre of 18 Army soldiers in Basilan in an encounter with over a hundred Abu Sayyaf terrorists, the standard response of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to pursue military operations against the gravity-defying bandits till total annihilation was expected. Every government since the Al-Quaeda organized in 1991 the Abu Sayyaf as religious fundamentalist-turned-terrorist group has made the same wipe-out vow – to no avail. And each time thereafter, the group only has grown stronger and bolder, as the latest series of kidnappings of Indonesians, Malaysians, Canadians, other foreigners and then the Tipo-Tipo tragedy all show.

This Tipo-Tipo massacre has the shades of Mamasapano: an anti-terrorism operation gone bad. Already, there is talk that members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) aided the ASG in the incident, which is not impossible if the rebels felt they were threatened by the advancing AFP troops. (However, only days earlier another report said local MILFs in the area clashed with ASGs, which could mean that both are in some kind of conflict against each other as well.) The families of  the slain army men have even critically mentioned the Bangsamoro Basic  Law (BBL) as an undesirable concession to Muslim Filipinos the likes of the ASG.

Such emotional reaction against Muslims in general is symptomatic of the almost impossible dream of establishing real, lasting peace in Mindanao. There is a toxic, deep-seated discrimination and dislike among most Christian Filipinos in both high and low  social strata. The anti-BBL “spoilers” needed little help when the Mamasapano occurred to derail the draft law’s approval by Congress, since the immediate national outcry over the death of the SAF 44 was more than enough ammunition.

Nevertheless, the BBL and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) survived the Mamasapano firestorm. During the current run-up to the May 9 elections, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the GPH peace panel are holding a series of “candidates’ forum” around Mindanao to get the pivotal support of political leaders, especially those who get elected, for the BBL’s passage by the next Congress.

“We know that those who will be elected to the House of Representatives are the ones who will lead the continuation of the BBL, its improvement and ensuring that a meaningful law is passed,” GPH chief negotiator Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said at such a forum in Cagayan de Oro City last week. “We should remind all those who are running in the election that this is an important responsibility of the next Congress to ensure lasting good governance and peace in Muslim Mindanao,” she added.

So far, only presidential aspirant Rodrigo Duterte has dared to publicly express his support for the BBL.  In his latest campaign sortie in Maguindanao, the heartland of MILF, he said: “To fix Mindanao,” there is need “to configure the government” and “correct the historical injustice committed against the Moro people”. It will be too much to expect his other presidential rivals to express similar sentiment, for they would rather play to the grandstand of Filipino prejudices against their fellow Muslim Filipinos to win their misguided votes. The economic and political stranglehold of the nation’s elite is not easy to break.

Yet there is an upswelling of favor for Duterte, according to current voters’ survey. This may be indicative of a grassroot discontent with politics as usual, a disenchantment of the suffocating central control by national government and a yearning for local autonomy that is one of the platform of Duterte in his advocacy for federalism. BBL is a model of federal government system.

Herein, too, lies a challenge, too, to civil society organizations especially those in the peace-making advocacy. For them to support big-power, traditional politicians is to continue to support the domineering policy of just “managing the peace” in Mindanao instead of a more radical alternative solution like the BBL.

Had the outgoing Congress passed the BBL, the normalization process would have by now enabled the MILF together with the AFP and PNP to suppress Mindanao terrorism.  BBL would have shown to many Muslims that there is an alternative to terrorism and banditry to achieve a  better life. It is not Muslim Filipinos like the Abu Sayyaf who kill Army soldiers and SAF policemen, but instead the widespread discrimination and prejudices of their fellow Filipinos. And so what if the BBL could someday lead to a Bangsamoro independent state? Global warming and the EDSA traffic gridlocks will obliterate the Philippines as we know it sooner. — Rey-Luis Banagudos