Dealing firmly with lawless elements and achieving lasting peace in Mindanao

Dealing firmly with lawless elements and achieving lasting peace in Mindanao

(Photo shows refugees displaced by fighting in Zamboanga between Muslim rebels and government forces)
Mindanao is such a beautiful region that will never fail to entrance first-time visitors. If you’re flying through the Bukidnon and Surigao provinces, the sight of meticulously manicured vast tracts of pineapple plantations won’t fail to impress. Unlike the mostly bare Sierra Madre mountains in Luzon, the lush greenery in many parts of Mindanao is a refreshing beauty to behold.
I’ve visited Zamboanga city, Cagayan de Oro, Davao City, Surigao and other places in Mindanao in the course of my work as a business reporter many years ago.
Thus, media reports as of Sept. 22 about 102 Muslim rebels killed, as well as 13 soldiers, three policemen and 12 civilians dead and nearly 200 others wounded, are deeply distressing. More than 12 days of fighting between Nur Misuari-led Muslim rebels and government forces has also inflicted multi-billion peso losses to Zamboanga city.
And all for what?
Pure and simple, the heart-rending deaths and destruction were all due to Misuari’s idiotic bid to declare a Muslim republic separate from the Philippines, with him, of course, as supreme leader.
The government’s decision to file criminal charges against him on the basis of various pieces of evidence gathered from different sources, including rebels who have surrendered, is well and good.
Anyone and everyone who resorts to violence to try and meet desired objectives should always be made to account under the law, regardless of whether they are Muslims, Christians or any other faith or advocacy.
Anyone and everyone who breaks the law, like Misuari and his followers, should be dealt with fairly and firmly under prevailing laws. Failure to do so, like the kid’s gloves that former president Fidel Ramos accorded to Misuari’s group in the past, comprises a perfect recipe for disaster.
The fact that Misuari got away lightly during Ramos’ term with a similar insurrection must have emboldened the Muslim leader to launch a fresh bid to carve in Mindanao an independent Muslim entity. It’s a good thing that President Benigno Aquino decided to play hard ball with Misuari.
The government, though, should be faulted for trying to strike a lasting peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and naively assuming that a deal with the latter will automatically be accepted by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and one of its factions, led by Misuari.
While it is true that different ethnic groups in Muslim Mindanao have historically been noted for disunity more than anything else, the government could have undertaken parallel discussions with the MNLF almost at the same time as its talks with the MILF. Had it used this approach, Misuari’s “tantrum” and failed rebellion bid could have been avoided.
After years of intermittent war, the road to lasting peace in Muslim Mindanao is unlikely to be easy. But actively engaging in peace talks as many disparate Muslim groups as possible, while vigorously addressing political, economic and social grievances in the region, as well as dealing firmly and swiftly with lawless elements, can go a long way in achieving over time much sought-after tranquility and prosperity in the region.


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