Archive for the ‘Mindanao evil’ Category

Behind the Mumbai Massacre: India’s muslims in Crisis

November 27, 2008

The disembodied voice was chilling in its rage. A gunman, holed up in Mumbai’s Oberoi Trident hotel where some 40 people had been taken hostage, told an Indian news channel that the attacks were revenge for the persecution of Muslims in India. “We love this as our country but when our mothers and sisters were being killed, where was everybody?” he asked via telephone. No answer came. But then he probably wasn’t expecting one.

The roots of Muslim rage run deep in India, nourished by a long-held sense of injustice over what many Indian Muslims believe is institutionalized discrimination against the country’s largest minority group. The disparities between Muslims, which make up 13.4% of the population, and India‘s Hindu population, which hovers around 80%, are striking. There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking Muslim Indians have shorter life spans, worse health, lower literacy levels, and lower-paying jobs. Add to that toxic brew the lingering resentment over 2002’s anti-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat. The riots, instigated by Hindu nationalists, killed some 2000 people, most of them Muslim. To this day, few of the perpetrators have been convicted. See pictures of the terrorist shootings in Mumbai.

The huge gap between Muslims and Hindus will continue to haunt India’s, and neighboring Pakistan‘s, progress towards peace and prosperity. But before inter-communal relations can improve there is an even bigger problem that must first be worked out: the schism in subcontinental Islam, and the religion’s place and role in modern India and Pakistan. It is a crisis 150 years in the making.

The Beginning of the Problem
On the afternoon of March 29, 1857, Mangal Pandey, a handsome, mustachioed soldier in the East India Company‘s native regiment, attacked his British lieutenant. His hanging a week later sparked a subcontinental revolt known to Indians as the first war of independence and to the British as the Sepoy Mutiny. Retribution was swift, and though Pandey was a Hindu, it was the subcontinent’s Muslims, whose Mughal King nominally held power in Delhi, who bore the brunt of British rage. The remnants of the Mughal Empire were dismantled, and five hundred years of Muslim supremacy on the subcontinent was brought to a halt.

Muslim society in India collapsed. The British imposed English as the official language. The impact was cataclysmic. Muslims went from near 100% literacy to 20% within a half-century. The country’s educated Muslim Élite was effectively blocked from administrative jobs in the government. Between 1858 and 1878, only 57 out of 3,100 graduates of Calcutta University – then the center of South Asian education – were Muslim. While discrimination by both Hindus and the British played a role, it was as if the whole of Muslim society had retreated to lick its collective wounds.

From this period of introspection two rival movements emerged to foster an Islamic ascendancy. Revivalist groups blamed the collapse of their empire on a society that had strayed too far from the teachings of the Koran. They promoted a return to a more pure form of Islam, modeled on the life of the Prophet Muhammad. Others embraced the modern ways of their new rulers, seeking Muslim advancement through the pursuit of Western sciences, culture and law. From these movements two great Islamic institutions were born: Darul Uloom Deoband in northern India, rivaled only by al-Azhar University in Cairo for its teaching of Islam, and Aligarh Muslim University, a secular institution that promoted Muslim culture, philosophy and languages, but left religion to the mosque. These two schools embody the fundamental split that continues to divide Islam in the subcontinent today. “You could say that Deoband and Aligarh are husband and wife, born from the same historical events,” says Adil Siddiqui, information coordinator for Deoband. “But they live at daggers drawn.”

The campus at Deoband is only a three-hour drive from New Delhi through the modern megasuburb of Noida. Strip malls and monster shopping complexes have consumed many of the mango groves that once framed the road to Deoband, but the contemporary world stops at the gate. The courtyards are packed with bearded young men wearing long, collared shirts and white caps. The air thrums with the voices of hundreds of students reciting the Koran from open-door classrooms.

See TIME’s Pictures of the Week.

Founded in 1866, the Deoband School quickly set itself apart from other traditional madrasahs, which were usually based in the home of the village mosque’s prayer leader. Deoband’s founders, a group of Muslim scholars from New Delhi, instituted a regimented system of classrooms, coursework, texts and exams. Instruction is in Urdu, Persian and Arabic, and the curriculum closely follows the teachings of the 18th century Indian Islamic scholar Mullah Nizamuddin Sehalvi. Graduates go on to study at Cairo’s al-Azhar and Islamic University of Medina in Saudi Arabia, or found their own Deobandi institutions.

Today, more than 9,000 Deobandi madrasahs are scattered throughout India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, most infamously the Dara-ul-Uloom Haqaniya Akora Khattak, near Peshawar, where Mullah Mohammed Omar, and several other leaders of Afghanistan’s Taliban first tasted a life lived in accordance with Shari’a. Siddiqui visibly stiffens when those names are brought up. They have become synonymous with Islamic radicalism, and Siddiqui is careful to disassociate his institution from those that carry on its traditions, without actually condemning their actions. “Our books are being taught there,” he says. “They have the same system and rules. But if someone is following the path of terrorism, it is because of local compulsions and local politics.”

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, founder of the Anglo-Mohammedan Oriental College at Aligarh in 1877, studied under the same teachers as the founders of Deoband. But he believed that the downfall of India’s Muslims was due to their unwillingness to embrace modern ways. He decoupled religion from education, and in his school sought to emulate the culture and training of India’s new colonial masters. Islamic culture was part of the curriculum, but so were the latest advances in sciences, medicine and Western philosophy. The medium was English, the better to prepare students for civil-service jobs. He called his school the Oxford of the East. In architecture alone, the campus lives up to that name. A euphoric blend of clock towers, crenellated battlements, Mughal arches, domes and the staid red brick of Victorian institutions that only India’s enthusiastic embrace of all things European could produce, the central campus of Aligarh today is haven to a diverse crowd of male, female, Hindu and Muslim students. Its law and medicine schools are among the top-ranked in India, but so are its arts faculty and Quranic Studies Centre. “With all this diversity, language, culture, secularism was the only way to go forward as a nation,” says Aligarh’s vice-chancellor, P.K. Abdul Azis. “It was the new religion.”

This fracture in religious doctrine – whether Islam should embrace the modern or revert to its fundamental origins – between two schools less than a day’s donkey ride apart when they were founded, was barely remarked upon at the time. But over the course of the next 100 years, that tiny crack would split Islam into two warring ideologies with repercussions that reverberate around the world to this day. Before the split manifested into crisis, however, the founders of both the Deoband and Aligarh universities shared the common goal of an independent India. Pedagogical leanings were overlooked as students and staff of both institutions joined with Hindus across the subcontinent to remove the yoke of colonial rule in the early decades of the 20th century.

Two Faiths, Two Nations
But nationalistic trends were pulling at the fragile alliance, and India began to splinter along ethnic and religious lines. Following World War I, a populist Muslim poet-philosopher by the name of Muhammad Iqbal framed the Islamic zeitgeist when he questioned the position of minority Muslims in a future, independent India. The solution, Iqbal proposed, was an independent state for Muslim-majority provinces in northwestern India, a separate country where Muslims would rule themselves. The idea of Pakistan was born.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the Savile Row-suited lawyer who midwifed Pakistan into existence on Aug. 14, 1947, was notoriously ambiguous about how he envisioned the country once it became an independent state. Both he and Iqbal, who were friends until the poet’s death in 1938, had repeatedly stated their dream for a “modern, moderate and very enlightened Pakistan,” says Sharifuddin Pirzada, Jinnah’s personal secretary. Jinnah’s own wish was that the Pakistani people, as members of a new, modern and democratic nation, would decide the country’s direction.

But rarely in Pakistan’s history have its people lived Jinnah’s vision for a modern Muslim democracy. Only three times in its 62-year history has Pakistan seen a peaceful, democratic transition of power. With four disparate provinces, over a dozen languages and dialects, and powerful neighbors, leaders – be they Presidents, Prime Ministers or army chiefs – have been forced to knit the nation together with the only thing Pakistanis have in common: religion.

Following the 1971 civil war, when East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, broke away, the populist Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto embarked on a Muslim identity program to prevent the country from fracturing further. General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq continued the Islamization campaign when he overthrew Bhutto in 1977, hoping to garner favor with the religious parties, the only constituency available to a military dictator. He instituted Shari’a courts, made blasphemy illegal, and established laws that punished fornicators with lashes and held that rape victims could be convicted of adultery. When the Soviet Union invaded neighboring Afghanistan in December 1979, Pakistan was already poised for its own Islamic revolution.

Almost overnight, thousands of refugees poured over the border into Pakistan. Camps mushroomed, and so did madrasahs. Ostensibly created to educate the refugees, they provided the ideal recruiting ground for a new breed of soldier: mujahedin, or holy warriors, trained to vanquish the infidel invaders in America’s proxy war with the Soviet Union. Thousands of Pakistanis joined fellow Muslims from across the world to fight the Soviets. As far away as Karachi, high-school kids started wearing “jihadi jackets,” the pocketed vests popular with the mujahedin. Says Hamid Gul, then head of the Pakistan intelligence agency charged with arming and training the mujahedin: “In the 1980s, the world watched the people of Afghanistan stand up to tyranny, oppression and slavery. The spirit of jihad was rekindled, and it gave a new vision to the youth of Pakistan.”

But jihad, as it is described in the Koran, does not end merely with political gain. It ends in a perfect Islamic state. The West’s, and Pakistan’s, cynical resurrection of something so profoundly powerful and complex unleashed a force whose roots can be found in al-Qaeda’s rage, the Taliban‘s dream of an Islamic utopia in Afghanistan, and in the dozens of radical Islamic groups rapidly replicating themselves in India and around the world today. “The promise of jihad was never fulfilled,” says Gul. “Is it any wonder the fighting continues to this day?” Religion may have been used to unite Pakistan, but it is also tearing it apart.

India Today
In India, Islam is, in contrast, the other – purged by the British, denigrated by the Hindu right, mistrusted by the majority, marginalized by society. India has nearly as many Muslims as all of Pakistan, but in a nation of more than a billion, they are still a minority, with all the burdens that minorities anywhere carry. Government surveys show that Muslims live shorter, poorer and unhealthier lives than Hindus and are often excluded from the better jobs. To be sure, there are Muslim success stories in the booming economy. Azim Premji, the founder of the outsourcing giant Wipro, is one of the richest individuals in India. But, for many Muslims, the inequality of the boom has reinforced their exclusion.

Kashmir, a Muslim-dominated state whose fate had been left undecided in the chaos that led up to partition, remains a suppurating wound in India’s Muslim psyche. As the cause of three wars between India and Pakistan – one of which nearly went nuclear in 1999 – Kashmir has become a symbol of profound injustice to Indian Muslims who believe that their government cares little for Kashmir’s claim of independence, which is based upon a 1948 U.N. resolution promising a plebiscite to determine the Kashmiri people‘s future. That frustration has spilled into the rest of India in the form of several devastating terrorist attacks that have made Indian Muslims both perpetrators and victims.

A mounting sense of persecution, fueled by the government’s seeming reluctance to address the brutal anti-Muslim riots that killed more than 2,000 in the state of Gujarat in 2002, has aided the cause of homegrown militant groups. They include the banned Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which was accused of detonating nine bombs in Bombay during the course of 2003, killing close to 80. The 2006 terrorist attacks on the Bombay commuter rail system that killed 183 people were also blamed on SIMI, as well as the pro-Kashmir Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Those incidents exposed the all-too-common Hindu belief that Muslims aren’t really Indian. “LeT, SIMI, it doesn’t matter who was behind these attacks. They are all children of [Pervez] Musharraf,” sneered Manish Shah, a Mumbai resident who lost his best friend in the explosions, referring to the then president of Pakistan. In India, unlike Pakistan, Islam does not unify, but divide.

Still, many South Asian Muslims insist Islam is the one and only force that can bring the subcontinent together and return it to preeminence as a single whole. “We [Muslims] were the legal rulers of India, and in 1857 the British took that away from us,” says Tarik Jan, a gentle-mannered scholar at Islamabad’s Institute of Policy Studies. “In 1947 they should have given that back to the Muslims.” Jan is no militant, but he pines for the golden era of the Mughal period in the 1700s, and has a fervent desire to see India, Pakistan and Bangladesh reunited under Islamic rule.

That sense of injustice is at the root of Muslim identity today. It has permeated every aspect of society, and forms the basis of rising Islamic radicalism on the subcontinent. “People are hungry for justice,” says Ahmed Rashid, Pakistani journalist and author of the new book Descent Into Chaos. “It is perceived to be the fundamental promise of the Koran.” These twin phenomena – the longing many Muslims have to see their religion restored as the subcontinent’s core, and the marks of both piety and extremism Islam bears – reflect the lack of strong political and civic institutions in the region for people to have faith in. If the subcontinent’s governments can’t provide those institutions, then terrorists such as the Trident’s mysterious caller, will continue asking questions. And providing their own answers.

Ilaga Defense

August 31, 2008

Ilaga says it won’t take up dare to attack MILF strongholds

By Jeoffrey Maitem, Nash Maulana
Mindanao Bureau
First Posted 19:50:00 08/30/2008

KORONADAL CITY, South Cotabato — The spokesman of the Reformed Ilaga Movement said Saturday it was a defensive organization and was rejecting a taunt from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for the vigilantes to try and attack rebel strongholds in Mindanao.

“We heard the MILF challenging us to attack their areas but we will not do that because once we do, they will bring the fighting to Muslim communities and we will be held responsible for that,” Mike Santiago, the group’s spokesperson, said by phone.

Santiago clarified that their role is only that of village defenders and assaulting the MILF or any Muslim community was never on their agenda.

“Our group has been known as liberator and peace advocate. Once we carry out attacks against the MILF, we will cease to be liberators already and become oppressors,” he said.

Besides, Santiago said that some Moro people have supported their cause.

“We have law-abiding Muslim supporters and they tag the MILF’s handiworks as un-Islamic,” Santiago said.

The Ilaga, composed mostly of Christians, was notorious in the early 1970s for vicious attacks on Muslim,s who themselves had armed groups known as “Black Shirts” and “Barracuda” in Central Mindanao.

In announcing the revival of the Ilaga in North Cotabato last Wednesday, Santiago said the group had warned the MILF to stop attacks on civilian communities and that it would kill 10 Moro rebels for every civilian killed if new attacks on unarmed communities were carried out.

Asked about incumbent and former public officials openly discouraging them from reviving the group, Santiago said they were not beholden to politicians.

“We don’t want to be influenced by certain (politicians). Our support mainly comes from the people…whether wealthy or poor. It would be difficult on our part if we have politician supporters,” he said.

MOA junked

August 30, 2008

Gov’t junks MOA in all forms

By Leila Salaverria, Jerome Aning
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:15:00 08/30/2008

MANILA, Philippines—The government was hard-pressed to defend its position that a provisional agreement on ancestral domain with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF) Front had no binding effect so it had no case to answer before the Supreme Court.

During arguments on the second day of hearings on the petitions against the proposed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on ancestral domain, Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera found herself on the dock as various high court justices warned of the dangers in international law that the government has exposed the Philippines and the risk of dismembering the national territory because of the MOA.

At least two magistrates pointed out that by initialing the MOA, the government had bound itself to sign and honor it once the restraining order (TRO) that the high court issued against it was lifted.

Devanadera said the high court should dismiss the petitions against the MOA, arguing that there was no more case to decide as the agreement would “not be signed in its present form or in any other form” and that it had been “set aside.”

She initially told the high court that the government peace panel had no authority to sign the MOA so that their initialing it would have no binding effect. But she later modified that statement, explaining that what she meant was that the panel had no authority to sign a final peace agreement.

Devanadera argued that the government would not have been bound by the MOA as the document only contained consensus points for consultation, and these points would have had to go through constitutional processes.

She said that all the MOA did was to list down these consensus points, or the topics that would be subjected to further negotiations.

Devanadera said that the fact that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had not yet seen the MOA in its final form showed that the agreement was truly a mere “codification of points of consensus” and “a process in continuum” that the President has yet to approve.

Binding on gov’t

Supreme Court Justice Adolf Azcuna said that in international law, a declaration of consensus points would be binding on the government. Even a unilateral statement by representatives of a state before an international forum is a binding obligation, and the state could not renege on its obligation by claiming that the agreement was unconstitutional, he said.

“From a legal standpoint, you have the MOA initialed by the panel and if you withdraw the TRO, that initial means that under international law, they are compelled to sign it,” he said.

He explained that if the MOA had been signed, the state would have been required to change the country’s internal laws in order to comply with it.

Malaysia, as the broker of the peace agreement, could even sue the Philippines before the international courts to compel it to implement the MOA, he added.

Azcuna said that the Supreme Court had to stop the signing of the MOA on the eve of the scheduled signing in Kuala Lumpur last Aug. 5 “because if it had been signed, it would have been a binding international obligation. Malaysia can compel us to change our Constitution.”

Since then, MILF forces have attacked towns, looting and burning homes and sending 220,000 people fleeing. The military, which is now engaged in operations against the forces of the so-called rogue MILF commanders, estimates that about 200 people have died in the three-week conflict so far.

The high court is hearing petitions from Sen. Manuel Roxas II and several local officials from Mindanao to have the MOA canceled, arguing that in proposing to create a Bangsamoro homeland to be governed by a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), the MOA was carving out a separate state for the so-called Bangsamoro people and giving it an identity separate from that of the Philippines.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno ended the oral arguments at 6.30 p.m. yesterday, asking both parties and intervenors to submit their memorandums and position papers in 20 days.

Devanadera was also asked to submit Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita’s written authorization that the MOA would not be signed in its present or future form, the travel authority to Malaysia of the members of the government peace panel and the final draft of the MOA.

Dismemberment

During the lengthy questioning of Devanadera, Justice Antonio Carpio said the Philippines could indeed be brought before the international courts for failing to honor the MOA, and the country could be forced to change the Constitution regardless of whether Congress or the people agree.

“You see the danger that could have happened had that MOA been signed? … You are risking dismemberment of the country on your conjecture that that’s not an international obligation,” Carpio told Devanadera.

Not international agreement

Carpio then asked what the government would do if the international courts order the country to comply with the MOA.

Devanadera replied that the Executive would cross the bridge when it gets there.

She said that even though the signing of the agreement would be held outside the Philippines, the agreement was for a domestic purpose and the venue did not “convert an internal document to an international document.”

Sedfrey Candelaria, legal consultant of the peace panel, also said the panel never acceded that the MOA was an international agreement.

He said that if the Philippines were to be dragged before the International Court of Justice, the court could not compel it to do anything if it refuses to submit to the court’s jurisdiction.

But on questioning from Carpio, Candelaria agreed that implementing the MOA would require an overhaul of the Constitution.

Carpio said that among the provisions that would be changed to accommodate the MOA were the provisions on territory and the provision for the country to have a single, national police force.

No authority to sign

Devanadera told the court that the panel had no authority to sign the MOA and that it was authorized only to negotiate for the particular document. She added that it had no authority to enter into an international agreement.

Carpio asked if the MOA was then just a piece of paper and would have no legal effect internationally and domestically, why did the panel invite the Organization of Islamic Conference and foreign officials, including United States Ambassador Kristie Kenney, to witness the event.

“You mean to say you asked them to witness an event that has no legal significance?” he asked.

The Solicitor General responded that the panel considered the event significant because the panel and the MILF had agreed on points to discuss, and there was confidence generated by the agreement to sit down and talk.

Candelaria also said that the presence of foreign diplomats in the aborted MOA signing was a mere indication that the international community was interested in peace.

Later in the afternoon, during questioning by Justice Eduardo Nachura, Devanadera said the panel had the authority to sign the MOA. What it could not sign was a final peace agreement, she said.

MOA set aside

Puno seized on Devanadera’s statement that the MOA would not now be signed “in any other form” noting that this was a “significant” change from the Executive’s earlier stand that the agreement would not be signed “in its present form.”

“Why are there many versions of the actions of the President? Why is its language changing?” Puno asked.

He asked what the difference was between the MOA not being signed in its present form and not being signed in any other form.

Devanadera explained that when the Executive said that the agreement would not be signed in its present form, it was observed that it could be signed in another form after the hearings were terminated. To make clear the Executive’s stand, the official stand was made that the MOA would not be signed, she said.

“No matter what the SC decides, the government will not sign MOA,” she added.

Puno asked if it can be said that the MOA has been set aside.

“Since it won’t be signed, it has been set aside, but not the peace process,” Devanadera replied.
Deviation from traditional mode

The Chief Justice also inquired what model the MOA was derived from and who recommended it. He pointed out that the traditional model, which the government used in dealing with the Moro National Liberation Front, was first amending or including constitutional provisions on the law governing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and then having Congress enact the necessary implementing laws.

He said that with the MOA, the government had deviated from the traditional mode and this was the reason why the agreement became controversial.

“This MOA is hardly recognizable international law and standards. We can’t even reach a proper characterization,” Puno said.

Devanadera said that in her “very personal opinion,” and being a conservative, she would have opted for the traditional model although she said she does not discount that other modes were worthy of being looked into.

First Nation

The other justices focused on the possible scenarios that might arise from the interpretation of the provisions of the MOA.

Justice Leonardo Quisumbing pointed out that other parties consider the MOA a done deal and are poised to take over the territories mentioned in the agreement.

Justice Dante Tinga inquired whether the “Bangsamoro” should be regarded as an indigenous people on the basis of their religion, and if the government panel considered scientific, historical and legal bases for recognizing the Muslims of Mindanao as an indigenous people or community.

Devanadera admitted that the Bangsamoro were not recognized as an indigenous people under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act but that this recognition was granted in the organic acts passed by Congress for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Carpio hinted at the impropriety of the use of the term “First Nation”—a term used to refer to the aboriginal peoples of Australia, New Zealand and Canada— in the MOA to describe the Bangsamoro.

He said this would mean there was a “subsequent nation” which in the case of the three former British colonies was the white settlers. However, in the Philippines, it is considered that all Filipinos are members of the Malay race, he said.

Devanadera said the term was used in a “very loose sense.”

Tinga also observed that the MOA seemed to have made the MILF as “possessing some sort of limited international personality” similar to that of the Palestinian Liberal Organization when it signed a peace agreement with the Israeli government.

Devanadera stressed that was never the intent of the government. She said that the personality of the MILF as a rebel group, as regarded by the government, did not change in all the stages of the peace process.

If the goals of the final agreement are fulfilled, the MILF would be reintegrated into the mainstream Philippine society and would even be considered part of the national government, but never a nonstate entity or a state-in-the-making under international law, she said.

Justice Minita Chico Nazario asked Devadanera what her personal opinion was on how the government should have proceeded with the negotiations for the MOA.

Devanadera said that when she was mayor of Sampaloc town in Quezon province and had to deal with communist rebels, she organized local peace talks which required that the rebels lay down their arms, have them sit down in good faith and not cry for the moon and the stars, and make them contemplate eventual reintegration with society.

Government Weak

August 29, 2008

Estrada defends arming civilians at slain officer’s wake

Says military under Arroyo ‘weak’

By Nestor P. Burgos Jr.
Visayas Bureau

Posted date: August 29, 2008

ILOILO CITY, Philippines — Former president Joseph Estrada said here Friday that civilians in Mindanao should not be blamed for arming themselves against Moro rebels because President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s leadership had left the military “so weak.”Short of justifying the existence of the “Ilaga” (Visayan for rats), Estrada said the reemergence of the notorious vigilante group “only goes to show that the military is so weak under the leadership of the commander-in-chief now.”

“During my time we didn’t need the Ilaga,” Estrada told reporters at the wake for Army Lieutenant Colonel Angel Benitez at the family residence in Barangay (village) Tabuc Suba in Jaro District here.

Estrada visited the Benitez home four days after Arroyo, accompanied by top government and military officials, did.

Arroyo, Estrada’s vice president, succeeded him after he was ousted in 2001 by a popular uprising.

Benitez, 40, executive officer of the 102nd Army Brigade, was among the soldiers killed when Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels attacked five towns in Lanao del Norte on August 18. He is scheduled to be buried Saturday.

“You cannot blame these people [who] arm themselves because they are afraid they cannot be protected by the military now. If [they] cannot be protected by the Armed Forces, we cannot blame them” for arming themselves, he said.

Estrada called the death of Benitez a great loss and said with better leadership, the officer “would still be alive today.” He said that, when he declared an all-out war against the MILF during his presidency, government forces overran 46 rebel camps.

However, Estrada said a ceasefire should be declared during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in deference to the religious beliefs of the Moro rebels.

Estrada arrived at the Benitez home at around 10:55 a.m. and stayed for around 30 minutes, talking with the officer’s widow, Maria Elena, and her four children.

Residents flocked to the Benitez residence to see the former president, an action star, and shake his hand.

Estrada he gave the Benitez family P300,000 and assured them that he will support the education of the four children, aged 9 to 15, until they finish whatever course they want to take, including medicine.

When told that Arroyo had given the same assistance to the Benitez family on Monday, Estrada said his assistance was “my duty as the former commander-in-chief.”

Maria Elena welcomed the help of Estrada, calling it “a blessing. I’m happy with whatever help for my children.”

Self-Defense

August 29, 2008

EDITORIAL – Self-defense

Friday, August 29, 2008

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Government officials are expressing alarm over the resurgence of civilian vigilante groups amid attacks launched by the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Yesterday Malacañang warned members of the so-called Reformed Ilaga Movement against committing illegal acts.

One problem here is that the government has failed to enforce the law in the conflict areas of Mindanao for such a long time that what constitutes an illegal act has become a gray area. Another problem is that the vigilantes are regrouping because they believe their government has failed to protect them from lawless elements.

What do law-abiding citizens do when bandits raid their villages, burn down their houses, steal their carabao and take their women and children hostage? What do normally peace-loving citizens do when all the bandits including the children are armed to the hilt, ready to blackmail a weak government into acceding to a lopsided land deal ostensibly in the name of peace?

It has been weeks since MILF raiders pillaged villages in several provinces in Mindanao after the Supreme Court stopped the signing of a controversial land deal between the government and the separatist group. Scores of villagers were killed in the raids. Yet only a few of the perpetrators have been apprehended, and it is doubtful whether they would be brought to justice. Worse, the principal perpetrators continue to threaten other villages with more attacks.

The resurgence of Christian vigilantes is an indication of the state’s failure to protect its citizens from grievous harm. In the face of that failure, citizens have a right to defend themselves in any way they can. Threatened villagers cannot be told that when rape is inevitable, they should just sit back and enjoy it. If the help that threatened communities are seeking is not forthcoming, they will fight back.

It is a recipe for protracted violence in Mindanao, and it is something that the government must prevent at all costs. By doing its job of keeping law-abiding citizens safe from the bad guys, the government will render civilian vigilantes irrelevant.

Ilaga: Welcome back Christian Defenders

August 27, 2008

Vigilantes warn MILF: Stop it or else


First Posted 01:35:00 08/28/2008

SOMEWHERE IN NORTH COTABATO—Armed members of the Ilaga, a Christian group known for its bloody attacks and human rights abuses in Mindanao in the 1970s, have resurfaced in this province, warning the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to stop its atrocities against civilians or face the consequences.

“If the fighting will continue, for every civilian killed, we will execute 10 Moro rebels,” Mike Santiago, spokesperson of the Reform Ilaga Movement, told reporters during a press conference yesterday.

Santiago said the Ilaga (Visayan term for “rat”) would defend not only the rights of Christians and lumad (indigenous peoples), but also of Muslims displaced by the attacks of MILF rebels in Central Mindanao.

“The civilians are suffering now. That’s why we are asking the leadership of the MILF to stop its harassment and attacks in Mindanao because it will only complicate the life of the people,” he said.

Massacre in mosque

Violence attributed to the Ilaga reached its bloodiest in June 1971 with the massacre of 65 men, women and children inside a mosque at Barangay Manili in Carmen, North Cotabato. The group was composed of untrained villagers used by the military to attack Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) communities.

Some members reportedly cut off the ears of dead Muslims and wore them around their necks as trophies. One senior member, Norberto Manero, also gained notoriety in the 1980s after he was convicted of murdering Italian priest Tullio Favali whom he had suspected of having links with communist insurgents.

Santiago, who is in his mid-60s, claimed that his group had at least 10,000 armed members and 10,000 more supporters. At the press conference, the Philippine Daily Inquirer saw some 300 armed men present.

Some fighters had amulets, which, Santiago said, “came from their elders during the time of Commander Toothpick.” The amulets are believed to lose their powers when a person using it had done something bad.

“Our instruction to them is not to go to battle if they have done something wrong against other people. To follow God’s commandments to avoid accidents that may lead to their deaths,” Santiago said.

MILF suspects military

The MILF earlier warned of more hostilities should the national government allow the resurgence of the Ilaga. It accused the military of “recreating” the vigilante group.

“The government created it, therefore, it can control it,” Eid Kabalu, civic-military affairs chief of the MILF, said. “The government must be held responsible for any act of this gang.”

Khaled Musa, MILF deputy chief for information, said rightist groups in Mindanao could not exist without the “blessings of the Philippine armed forces.”

“We hold the Philippine government responsible for whatever savagery, barbarism, destruction committed by this gangster group against the Bangsamoro people,” Musa stressed.

Early this month, Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, regional military spokesperson, said soldiers would do everything to prevent sectarian violence to happen. “The creation of the Ilaga group is not necessary. We have the military,” Ando said.

Tri-people group

Santiago said that “Mindanao is not only for the Muslims but for Christians and lumad as well because we are the ones that form the tri-people group, the owner of Mindanao.”

Citing the ongoing hostilities in Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte, Santiago said the MILF had brought the fighting even to Muslim communities.

“We need to unite … Muslims, Christians and lumad. And my message to the Muslim civilians—don’t admire what the MILF group is doing because it will only destroy the development in the region,” he said.

“We must shun the leadership of the MILF. They are the ones that destroy our life. Look at what is happening around you. Many civilians have been affected,” he added.

Arming civilians

Santiago supported plans to arm civilians in areas where MILF rebels were active. “We are for arming civilians in areas targeted by MILF for them to defend their families and properties,” he said.

Earlier, Director General Avelino Razon of the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced plans to distribute at least 1,000 shotguns to residents who would join police auxiliary forces in Mindanao. If the project would succeed, he said, the PNP would order 12,000 more shotguns.

But last week, Amnesty International warned political leaders in Mindanao against arming civilians and local militias, saying this could only heighten the violence.

Follow Constitution

In the same press conference, Santiago said that unlike other “revolutionary” groups, the Reform Ilaga Movement recognized the Constitution.

“To our followers, don’t be afraid,” he said. “I am asking those who will join in the future to strictly follow our Constitution.”

Hunt for Kato, Bravo

Santiago said his group had no plans of running after Ameril Ombra Kato and Abdulla Macapaar, alias Commander Bravo, both MILF leaders who led their followers in attacking several towns in North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte and Sarangani.

The government has offered a bounty of P5 million each for the capture of Kato and Bravo. The two rebel commanders launched their offensives after the Supreme Court earlier this month stopped a draft agreement on a proposed Moro homeland in Mindanao and Palawan.

“We will let authorities hunt them. With the bounty for their arrest, their followers will hand them to authorities,” Santiago said.

“We gave a one-week warning against Kato and Bravo before to stop launching attacks. We are happy that they listen to us. But if they launch attacks again, we will fight,” he stressed.

Defensive warfare

Most of the Reform Ilaga Movement members are farmers from various places in Central Mindanao, Santiago claimed. “After the fighting broke out, they approached us and asked if we can help,” he said.

“Our warfare style is not offensive but defensive. I think the situation will not get worse. But if the MILF will launch other attacks, we are ready to fight,” he said. 

demons in mindanao

August 20, 2008

A terrorist act – CHR chief
By Katherine Adraneda
Wednesday, August 20, 2008

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The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) yesterday slammed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for its “terrorist acts” in attacking the villages in Lanao del Norte and nearby provinces that left at least 30 people dead and thousands of civilians injured and forced from their homes.

CHR chairperson Leila de Lima said the MILF could be held responsible for the attacks and the killing of innocent people, pointing out the magnitude of the destruction and violence committed by the rebels.

De Lima said the violent attacks of the MILF rebels on unarmed and innocent civilians constitute “terrorist acts.”

“It is a terrorist act when you sow fear in communities and the MILF’s attacks are actually sowing fear in many villages and nearby cities,” De Lima said.

“That is the situation there now, people are afraid that violence would erupt once again or might spread to other nearby areas,” she said.

De Lima said the cities of Marawi, Ozamis, and Cagayan de Oro are under high alert on possible attacks by the MILF.

De Lima urged the MILF to turn over two of its leaders and their men who took part in the attacks.

“The MILF central committee must surrender their men to the government to show good faith and sincerity to the peace process,” De Lima said.

De Lima said the MILF leaders should “go beyond disowning” the acts of violence committed by their men.

She said the MILF, just like any organization, has a chain of command, which should be responsible for the acts of their subordinates.

“Command responsibility applies to both the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and MILF,” De Lima said.

“There maybe still some gray areas when it comes to exacting accountability to non-state forces for their atrocities and criminal acts… but it doesn’t mean that they are excluded from respecting human rights,” she said.

De Lima called on the Philippine National Police (PNP) to gather evidence and file the criminal charges against MILF commanders Umbra Kato and Bravo.

Kato led the attacks in North Cotabato while Bravo and his men initiated the mayhem Monday in the provinces of Lanao del Norte and Sarangani.

Monday’s attack was the bloodiest since a territorial deal with the MILF stalled earlier this month, just days after government troops drove out the rebels from North Cotabato.

De Lima said they are looking into the possibility of filing a report on the atrocities committed by the MILF before the United Nations and “other appropriate international bodies” that might include the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

Presidential Peace Process Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, on the other hand, said the attacks should not deter the ongoing peace process in Mindanao.

Esperon though admitted the incident set back the peace process, describing last Monday’s attacks by the MILF as “treacherous.”

“It’s very treacherous. It does not bespeak of a group that wants peace… we have to be very firm in enforcing the law,” Esperon added.

He echoed the statement of Armed Forces chief Gen. Alexander Yano that the attack was a virtual declaration of war.

Terrorists, not rebels

Lawmakers also slammed the MILF for the attacks, saying the rebel group committed acts of terrorism.

The senators, for their part, wanted the government to re-classify the MILF as a terrorist group for the attacks.

“The prime duty of the government is to restore law and order in war torn provinces in Mindanao… the minority bloc condemn undeniably the violence inflicted on the civilian population in North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, and other places in Mindanao,” their statement read.

The United Opposition also issued a statement condemning the MILF for last Monday’s attacks.

UNO spokesman Adel Tamano, a devout Muslim, said “the attacks on civilians by MILF groups are immoral, un-Islamic and un-Christian.”

Enrile, for his part, predicts that the MILF will continue its attack and wage war in the coming weeks.

“At this point, I’m telling you, based on my experience, this is just the beginning, this will escalate,” said Enrile, who served as defense chief during the Marcos regime.

Muslim congressmen led by Rep. Mujiv Hataman of the party-list group Anak Mindanao said the MILF violated the rules of war allowed under Islam.

Maguindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong said the attacks made by the MILF “are no longer in pursuit of rebellion, not a political crime but an ordinary crime.”

“With these highly condemnable acts, they should face the full force of the law,” Datumanong said.

Support for the military

After last Monday’s attack, Senate President Villar said the Senate is considering providing the military a supplemental budget to augment its operations against the MILF.

Pangasinan Rep. Arthur Celeste, chairman of the House defense committee, also assured the Armed Forces of full support in going after the MILF attackers.

“With the full budget backing of Congress (our troops) will go after the perpetrators of these dastardly acts headstrong and punitive actions will be undertaken,” Celeste said.

Other congressmen supported President Arroyo’s order for the AFP to defend the country and its people against what they described as the “barbaric and treacherous” attacks of the MILF.

“Congress deplores in the highest sense these atrocities committed by the MILF, the attacks are systematic, organized, well planned and well-orchestrated, definitely not the works of renegades as the MILF leaders claim,” Celeste said.

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III said the military should stop at nothing until they have caught the MILF guerrillas involved in the attacks.

Rep. Rodolfo Valencia of Mindoro Oriental said the MILF might not be interested in peace.

“What the MILF rebels did – assaulting villages, hacking civilians to death and burning houses – are not the actuations of a group that is for peace,” he said.

Malabon-Navotas Rep. Alvin Sandoval said the government should determine whether the MILF did not really sanction the attacks as they claimed.

Lanao del Norte Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo, for his part, said the MILF’s denial of their involvement in the killing of innocent civilians “prove that they, too, are ashamed of their terrorism, or are weak as an organization for not being able to control their men, or both.”

Speaker Prospero Nograles agreed with observations that the MILF has lost control of its forces in Mindanao.

Before resuming peace talks, Nograles said government negotiators should know whom they are talking to, “whether the people they are negotiating with are in full control of the forces they allegedly represent.”

“The way it appears, some MILF factions do not follow the cue and just go on a rampage on their own. So we may be talking peace, but they may have other agenda,” Nograles said.

Give it a try

Senators Gregorio Honasan and Edgardo Angara, on the other hand, called on cooler heads to prevail and resume the peace negotiations with the MILF.

“A respite from the fighting, although temporary relief, is what the people need at this time to allow the leaders and their followers from both sides to gather their wits and join hands for long lasting peace,” Honasan said.

Angara, for his part, said the attacks should not mean the government would abandon the peace process.

He said the government has already invested billions in waging war against the rebels just to attain peace.

Pimentel and Lacson, on the other hand, said the government should consider suspending the ceasefire agreement with the MILF.

Lacson noted the various violations by the MILF. He added that the government’s hands are tied in restoring peace and order if it will abide by the ceasefire while the MILF continues its atrocities.

Arroyo said the government should just go after the MILF without the need to tag them as terrorists.

Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen said last Monday’s attack was “unfortunate” but hopes the peace talks will continue.

Dilangalen agreed the MILF should be made accountable for the acts of its men. “It’s important that we continue with the peace process but it should be with accountability,” he said.

Dilangalen warned it would be dangerous for the government to withdraw from the peace process with the MILF.

“If we stop with the peace process, it will only aggravate the situation. Whoever is responsible for the atrocities they should be held accountable and whoever is in the way of the peace process must be held accountable,” he said.

evil in mindanao 4

August 20, 2008

Editorial
The MILF peril
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:42:00 08/20/2008

They created a wasteland, and called it peace. The millennia-old indictment by the historian Tacitus applies to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as it did to the Romans. Arson, looting, random shootings, the murder in cold blood of civilians and the use of others as human shields—terrorism, pure and simple in the provinces of Lanao del Norte, Sarangani and North Cotabato.

The MILF initially responded by saying these were the actions either of agents provocateurs not from their ranks (particularly in the case of the bombing of power transmission towers, which the MILF continues to deny), or possibly of “lost commands,” the latter statement representing a renunciation of command responsibility reminiscent of the excuses for atrocities given by the Hukbalahap and, in contemporary times, by the New People’s Army (NPA). Indeed, from the Netherlands, the National Democratic Front (NDF) issued an opportunistic instruction to the NPA: “to support the resumption of the revolutionary armed struggle of the Bangsamoro as well as to take advantage of the present preoccupation of the enemy forces in fending off the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.”

The NDF, long used to doublespeak, surely knew that even as it issued its statement its MILF allies were engaging in doublespeak themselves. For the MILF eventually pinned part of the blame on MILF 105th Base Commander Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato, but belied its own denial of responsibility by then issuing an order to its forces to stop their attacks. Another MILF commander, Abdurahman Macapaar, alias Commander Bravo, denied he led the attacks.

Later the denial of responsibility was essentially partly withdrawn by the MILF, which now described the attacks in Lanao del Norte as operations by its “mujahideen,” or holy warriors. Said the MILF in an Aug. 19 statement, “In the early dawn of Monday, Aug. 18, elements of the MILF-Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces’ 102nd Base Command under Commander Bravo Macapaar conducted swift, simultaneous raids on government and military installations in the coastal municipalities of Lanao del Norte.” The civilian death toll was attributed to civilians being caught in the “crossfire” or those civilians “identified with the violently anti-Muslim Ilaga,” which justified the burning of some homes.

We say partly withdrawn, because in the same statement the MILF asserted that “the MILF forces made an orderly withdrawal from the areas they had occupied after they received the order to disengage and withdraw from the MILF BIAF General Staff Command” while insisting that “the MILF-BIAF General Staff Command has never given any prior order or authorization for the raids.”

The ambivalent attitude of the MILF high command was further reflected in its lukewarm denunciation of the use of civilians as human shields: “The MILF, as a policy, strictly prohibits the use of civilians as deterrents against the reaction of the opposing force. The reported ‘hostage-taking’ of civilians by the withdrawing MILF forces in Kolambugan, no matter how compelling the necessity was, shall be investigated according to MILF authorities.” So it was at once, “regrettable,” and “reported,” yet a “compelling necessity.”

And here lies the problem. The MILF’s insistence that there are “lost commands,” then its off-again, on-again attitude to assigning responsibility for the resumption of hostilities under its swashbuckling and hotheaded Commander Bravo, and most of all its grudging (at best) denunciation of civilian liquidations, and the use of human shields indicate an organization that is either so seriously divided between doves and hawks, or so utterly amoral in its attitudes towards warfare, as to raise a troubling question.

Even if we grant that the MILF was poised to achieve a historic breakthrough in peace negotiations, is it still worthy of assuming the mantle of leadership for the Moros? Can it be trusted—because it seems so hard-pressed as to be virtually incapable—to negotiate and be recognized as the nucleus for Moro self-government?

Appeasement never assured lasting peace

August 20, 2008

Appeasement never assured lasting peace

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:33:00 08/20/2008

During the Kapihan sa Manila media forum last Monday, as we were discussing Charter change and the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), fighting was going on between government troops and MILF rebels in three municipalities in Lanao del Norte, and Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, one of the guests, was receiving reports from the field on his cell phone.

You’ve already read and heard what happened: MILF rebels ambushed a troop convoy, killed seven soldiers and wounded several others. They also attacked three municipalities—all dominantly Christian but which the MILF wants to annex to the so-called Bangsamoro homeland—ransacked and burned houses and killed civilians, and took about 30 of them as hostages. The military sent reinforcements, chased them to the timberlands inland, and cleared the coastal areas.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Alexander Yano said the attacks were “a declaration of war” on the Philippine government and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, finally waking up to the treachery of the MILF she had been trying to appease, ordered “all-out” military operations against them.

Appeasement. That was the mistake of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain before World War II when he flew to Germany to meet with Hitler and appeased him by agreeing to the Nazi annexation of the Sudetenland. Then he happily flew back to England and announced “Peace in our time.” Only, there wasn’t peace, instead there was war. Encouraged by the easy way he managed to get Chamberlain to agree to the annexation of the Sudetenland, which was populated by German-speaking people, Adolf Hitler invaded Poland. World War II was on. Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler did not bring peace, it only hastened the war.

That is the same mistake President Arroyo made. She tried to appease the MILF by agreeing to the onerous Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). The latter mistook that for weakness. And when the signing of the MOA was stopped by the Supreme Court, perhaps the MILF thought it could force the tribunal to relent or the Arroyo administration to force it through nevertheless by attacking the Christian towns. Like blackmail. And so now we have war in parts of Mindanao and the dove of peace is in danger of being hit by bullets flying everywhere.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., the other guest senator at the forum, bluntly blamed President Arroyo for the war. She bungled the peace talks, he said. The lesson, again, is that appeasement never assured lasting peace. The appeased party gets spoiled and begins to want more. And there will be no end to it for as long as he gets what he wants. The answer is to put your foot down and say, “No more!”

But then maybe President Arroyo was not really trying to appease the MILF but herself. Many suspect that the MOA, which cannot be implemented unless the Constitution is amended, is a ploy to force Charter change. And when you open the Charter to changes, you never know what other changes will be sneaked through, especially by the more numerous congressmen out to feather their nests.

Supposedly Charter change is being undertaken to shift to a federal system of government, but people believe it is really to extend Ms Arroyo’s term. Pimentel is in denial, but that is not only possible but likely. Note that in spite of the uproar, President Arroyo has not made any statement that she would not use Charter change, or Cha-cha, to extend her term although such a statement may lessen the opposition to it. Sa bagay, even if she says that, it does not mean that she really won’t work for the extension of her term. In fact, it is likely that all term limits will be lifted to make Cha-cha tempting not only to congressmen—and even some senators—but to local government officials who are expected to work hard for the ratification of the new constitution in the plebiscite.

Pimentel and Biazon are among those that would be benefited by the lifting of term limits. Their term expires in 2010, but both vehemently said that they would not accept term extensions or run again if term limits are lifted.

But Pimentel and Biazon are only two among the 24 senators. There are many weak links in the Senate, and they can be expected to agree to a joint voting of the Senate and the House in the constituent assembly, instead of separate voting. So there is no comfort in Pimentel’s insistence that joint voting is not possible because his resolution proposing a con-ass provides that the two chambers vote separately. It would require a three-fourths majority to pass such a proposal, he said, and that would be very difficult to get in the Senate.

I wouldn’t be so confident. As I said, there are many weak links in the Senate, a number of them with presidential or vice presidential ambitions and therefore susceptible to temptation.

Note that “extension” and “lifting of term limits” need not even be mentioned in the new constitution. All they have to do is omit the provision on term limits, and Ms Arroyo and all the other officials can run for office again and again.

In view of the deviousness of the present Malacañang occupant, the safer and sensible thing to do is to wait until after the 2010 elections when Ms Arroyo is safely out of the way.

Biazon, who had signed Pimentel’s Resolution 10, said he was still for federalism but preferred to have Cha-cha after 2010. But Pimentel, who said he was afraid federalism might be derailed when he would no longer be senator, wants to go full-speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.

If the Constitution is changed and Ms Arroyo manages to become president for life, we can all blame Pimentel.

Iligan folk seek St. Michael help, also bear arms

August 20, 2008

Iligan folk seek St. Michael help, also bear arms
Mindanao Bureau
First Posted 03:15:00 08/20/2008

ILIGAN CITY—“St. Michael, the Archangel, defend Iligan in battle.”

Residents of this predominantly Catholic city of 300,000 nearest the Islamic gateway in Marawi City started circulating this text message imploring their patron saint’s help following Moro rebel attacks in two towns in Lanao del Norte province that left at least 24 people dead.

St. Michael, whose feast day falls on Sept. 29, is the patron saint of Iligan.

The industrial city remains guarded. A curfew has been imposed from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m., while checkpoints have been set up at random.

Some 500 volunteers, mostly members of gun clubs, have patrolled the streets since Monday after the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) stormed Kauswagan and Kolambugan towns. A group of young men on motorcycles helped monitor rebel movements.

Somewhere in North Cotabato province, a group of Christians fighting for their land rights have reportedly resurrected the Ilaga, an organization once known for its involvement in the bloodiest violence in Mindanao in the 1970s.

But Vice Gov. Emmanuel Piñol told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone that there “is no such thing” as the reactivation of the Ilaga. “As far as North Cotabato is concerned, that’s a dead group,” he said.

Ilaga violence

North Cotabato Gov. Jesus Sacdalan hinted that local officials who are opposing the inclusion of their villages in the proposed Moro homeland could be behind the move to resurrect the Ilaga, an Ilonggo-led private armed group that fought the Moro Blackshirts in Cotabato and the Barracudas in Lanao in the 1970s.

The Ilaga violence reached its bloodiest in June 1971 with the massacre of 65 men, women and children in a mosque in Barangay Manili, Carmen, North Cotabato.

Eid Kabalu, civil military affairs chief of the MILF, confirmed the report but could not provide details.

“We have received that report. Based on the intelligence information, the group of Christians reorganized the Ilaga to fight against us. Their leaders way back in 1970s are still alive,” Kabalu told the Inquirer.

“However, I don’t think they will prosper. They are not popular now. There are some Christians we know who are against their cause,” he added.

Classes suspended

Civic groups and concerned residents brought canned goods and clothing to villagers who have sought shelter at the Iligan City National High School.

Although business establishments reopened on Tuesday, classes in all levels remain suspended. Some schools, like Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology and St. Michael’s College, braced for bomb threats.

On Sunday, two bombs exploded 10 minutes apart in two hotels, wounding at least three people. No one has claimed responsibility for the bombings.

“We are going to defend our inherent right to self-preservation,” Mayor Lawrence Cruz told the Inquirer in a phone interview. He said that after the blasts, gun club members came up with the idea that all licensed owners should carry their guns with them.
No more playing underdog

“It did not come from Rep. (Vicente) Belmonte or me but from the people themselves because they want to protect their lives,” Cruz said.

He described them as retired members of the defunct Philippine Constabulary, Army soldiers and “mere citizens who no longer wanted to play underdog.”

Cruz said some businessmen informed him on Tuesday that they were buying guns for their establishments so they could fight back.

“This is how the good and peace-loving people in Iligan are thinking right now. This is something that doesn’t need my nod because they are doing it now. We have the inherent right to self-preservation, we don’t have to wait or call the police to help us, we will protect ourselves,” Cruz said.

“We don’t want to be helpless like those civilians who were butchered, strafed, torched and properties looted and ransacked. We don’t want that to happen to us,” he said.

Many residents interviewed by the Inquirer expressed anger at the slow military response to Monday’s attacks. “You just can’t imagine the heightened fear in our hearts. We know and we have seen what they’re capable of doing and we don’t want to be helpless,” Cruz said.

Iligan does not want to be included in the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity under a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on ancestral domain between the government and the MILF, according to its officials. The Supreme Court last week stopped the signing of the MOA in Kuala Lumpur.

“I could not imagine what would happen when we are going to campaign for no to inclusion … when that plebiscite comes,” Cruz said.

Saintly invocation

The text messages to St. Michael read: “Be our protection against the malice and snares of the devil. We humbly beseech God to subdue him. And You, oh Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the divine power, thrust into hell Satan and other evil spirits who roam thru the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”