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ADVOCACY MINDANOW: If I were the President

STRING OF INCIDENTS –It saddens me to see these series of violent incidents in several parts of Mindanao just over the last few days. First, it was the Tagamito attack by the NPAs in Surigao del Norte, then the landmine explosion in Payao in Zamboanga Sibugay, followed by the Basilan ambush by the MILF, then the NPA attack of Sumifru in Compostela Valley followed by the killing of Fr. Pops Tentorio in Arakan, North Cotabato; then the latest incident in Alicia, Zamboanga Sibugay again with the MILF killing several policemen and soldiers. Not to mention a few bomb explosions here and there lately.

What’s happening, Mindanao?

I am convinced that there is a breakdown in the so-called “peace equilibrium” that was previously maintained and nurtured. The government, with the help of the private sector, must arrest this downward trend otherwise, we squander on the gains that have been earned over the previous years. What is disturbing is that civilians now are seeing how the policemen and soldiers who are supposed to protect them are being clobbered left and right. Of course, our government forces are gaining ground in several fronts but violent incidents where our soldiers are at the receiving end attract more public attention and reaction.

Something must be wrong somewhere.

AS COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF — The recent slaughter of the soldiers in Basilan should be instructive.

If I were the president, I would have immediately flown to Basilan and conducted an AFP command conference at the AFP camp in Tabiawan, Isabela and ordered immediate but calibrated, focused   punitive action against all those responsible for the killing of the soldiers. No, not an “all out war” as some are saying.  I would have issued a strong warning to the armed groups and the enemies of the state that an attack on the soldiers was an attack against the Republic.  I would have reiterated the primacy of the peace process in Mindanao and ordered OPAPP Secretary Ging Deles and Panel Chairman Marvic Leonen to immediately initiate the convening of the ceasefire committees of the government and the MILF to investigate the incident and pursue next steps without delay. I would have immediately flown to Zamboanga City, visited the wounded soldiers in the Zamboanga hospitals, pinned them some ribbons or commendations if appropriate and dropped by at the wake of the slain soldiers and condoled with their loved ones, and hand them some modest but much-needed cash to tide them over for the meantime.  And as commander-in-chief, I would have extolled the dead soldiers for being heroes for sacrificing their lives for the country and forthwith ordered an investigation as to whether there were operational lapses by the AFP units concerned.  And before leaving Basilan or Zamboanga, I would have met with Bishop Jumaoad and other Islamic religious leaders of Basilan and dialogued with Basilan mayors and officials and sought their assistance. Then I would have directed an alter ego, a cabinet official to stay behind in Zamboanga, encamp there and manage the situation as if the President had not left.

Yes, if I were the President. The problem is: I am not the President.

And please don’t get me wrong. I am not showing off or boasting that I know better. I am just applying my recollection of how former Presidents Ramos and Arroyo performed in the past faced with a similar crisis. Of course, former President Estrada handled it differently. And President Noynoy Aquino is entitled to do it his own way. Some of what I have mentioned above he must have already done by now.

But I tell you, incidents like these are not easy to handle and manage. You have to contend with the angry public crying for swift retaliatory action. You have to mollify the grieving soldiers who feel as one when a comrade in arms is killed in action. Then the need to preserve the gains in the peace process. This is not an easy task.  I don’t want to be in President Noynoy’s shoes now! Honest.

END OF THE ROAD — It was the end of the road for Libyan leader  Moammar Gadhafi. I recall my two meetings with him in 2001 in his desert tent in Sirte, his hometown, when I was chief negotiator and also in a tent in Tripoli in 2008 when I was press secretary.  His repeated exhortation was for the Philippine government and MILF to find a mutually acceptable solution to the Muslim problem in Mindanao. During one meeting, he recalled how he had at first supported the rebellion in the Philippines due to the fact that he was made to believe that Muslims in the country were being persecuted and exterminated as a government policy. He said he was shown a video of killings and massacres. (This must be the Jabidah massacre during President Marcos’ time.) When he learned later that the reported persecution and extermination committed by the Philippine government were not accurate, he committed to help in a peaceful settlement as a way of atonement.

Of course he had pleasant memories of former First Lady Imelda Marcos. I now recall his initial statements to President Arroyo during that meeting in 2008. He immediately asked: “How is Imelda?”
PEACE PACTS IN LIBYA — It was in Tripoli where the historic 1976 peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) with Chairman Nur Misuari during the Marcos regime was signed. (Twenty years later, in 1996, the Final Peace Agreement was signed under President Ramos’ incumbency.) Again, in 2001 when I was chairman of the government panel, we signed in Tripoli the Agreement of Peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which became the framework agreement for the succeeding conduct of peace negotiations. MILF Chairman Hashim Salamat was still alive at that time and his successor, Chairman Al Haj Murad was my counterpart as MILF chief negotiator.

Gadhafi’s son, Saif Al Islam whom I have also met (and who was reportedly wounded and now in a hospital in Libya) was the principal player in the peace efforts.  He presided during the signing ceremonies in Tripoli in 2001. In fact, he had traveled to the Philippines and had reportedly been to Cotabato to meet the MILF at one time.

SURRENDERED BUT DEAD –Those who have watched the video clips on how the Libyan leader died or was killed have started raising questions.  Was he executed or was he caught in a crossfire as the new leaders of Libya are now saying.  I remember Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, who was also captured alive was imprisoned, brought to trial and then sentenced to death. And he was hanged.    Gadhafi who voluntarily surrendered and pleaded not to be shot ended up dead.   Let’s wait for the results of an investigation that is most likely to follow. But the initial signs of public outrage at the way Gadhafi was handled when he gave up are starting to surface. Killing someone who has surrendered is plain and simple murder.

But then, I remember that favorite line: Everything is fair in love –and in war!  Or is it?

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