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Understanding The Roots of a Continuing War

Posted on 24 October 2017 by cbcs_mike

(An analysis of the roots of the violent conflicts in Bangsamoro using Marawi city as the specimen. The writer is a free thinking Bangsamoro who is a student of violent realities in Mindanao. He is a combatant for PEACE, an advocate of non-violence, justice and for unity and solidarity of all peoples.)

Marawi City liberated, Military winning the battle:
Is the War Over? Unveiling The Important Message

Marawi Carnage 4

People feel relieved that the battle in Marawi City, considered the fiercest battle the AFP had ever fought in post WW2 and the Philippine longest urban war ever, is over. It is said that the Marawi battle is even longer that the Manila war fought between the American forces against the Japanese Imperial army.This humanitarian pause will somehow reduce the sufferings and the insecurities of the Meranaws and an opportunity for many of them, especially those heavily affected, to rebuild their shattered lives. Many stories can be told but after 5 long-months the result of the violence reveals a human disaster. More than 800 (920) alleged ISIS members were reported killed, more than 150 (165) security forces of the government died and about 50 civilians killed and hundreds of hostages traumatized. And a total of 1,780 hostages have been rescued, and 850 firearms were recovered. The number of displaced, in-dignified, mentally disturbed and traumatized civilians is in the hundreds of thousands. Some children died in the evacuation centers.The report says there are still 60 persons missing.

The cost to properties destroyed is in the billions including commercial, government infrastructures and residential buildings, Masajid, Madarish and a catholic chapel.These data from reports can even be conservative. It is hard to account for diaspora at this point in time but hundreds of families have crossed oceans and seas to far destinations battling new culture and way of life. This catastrophe of the highest order is the by-product of terrorism on one hand and the counter-terrorism act on the other hand. These are the two culprits in the destruction of Marawi City.

Marawi City will be re-built. This is an assurance from the government. New buildings will be erected. Infrastructures destroyed will be reconstructed. Who will design how Marawi City will look like? How will the lives of those adversely affected be rebuilt?
It is worth to know that the reconstruction in other areas of the country affected by natural calamities is still not over after more than 5 years. The Zamboanga crisis that displaced thousands and destroyed buildings and the Tacloban natural calamities that destroyed hundreds of houses are among those areas still undergoing reconstruction. Will Marawi City be treated with priority? Indeed it will be a long journey of rebuilding what has been destroyed in 5 months by terrorism and counter-terrorism.

Some people are asking who destroyed Marawi City? That question will never get a monolithic answer. It is similar to the question of which comes first the egg or the chicken that triggers endless debate. What will get a common answer is a question of which is heavier, a kilo of metal or a kilo of cotton. To the uncritical mind, the metal is heavier. To some, the ISIS is the culprit. To others, it is the military. Still to others, what happened to Marawi City is the anecdotal “Umpisahan Mo, TatapusinKo” or “Kapag Puno Na Ang Salop” which ended up in humanitarian crisis. Counter-terrorism is as destructive as terrorism or vice versa.Some studies show that counter-terrorism sometimes creates terrorists.

Violent conflicts and all the damages they caused is a result of two parties in conflict. It takes two to dance a tango as the saying goes. It is incorrect to attribute the damages to the AFP alone or to the non-state party alone. It is safe to say that the damages are the product of the two parties in conflict.

Marawi City is liberated after a 5-month of no let-up battle. But the curious mind is asking, liberation from whom? The military is winning or had won the battle. But winning against whom?

Winning the battle by the stateis not surprising but no doubt has been very costly as the Marawi case shows. There is no single non-state armed group in the world that is winning any battle against states with established strong armed forces. The Al-Qaida, the Taliban, the ISIS are all losing their battles in the Middle East. At home the MNLF, MILF, Abu Sayaf, BIFF and others are not winning any battle. They can hold certain territories for a short period of time but eventually will be driven out by military force. This is a reality.

But winning a battle is not necessarily winning a war

Winning the battle is not the goal of non-state armed groups. They know this from the start. Why are these small and scattered groups fighting power giants like the combined armed forces of the, Arabs, UN and EU? In the homeland, why is the MNLF, MILF, ASG, ISIS groups fighting a 150,000-strong armed forces of the Philippines supported by para-military groups?

They must have good reasons to engage in battles where their chance of winning is remote. The message is clear. It is the expression of resistance against oppression and injustices that is the most important reason for the battle. They demand for the redress of their legitimate grievances, correcting the historical injustices committed against them and their having been victims of violence and being marginalized.

The MNLF has been fighting for national liberation against national oppression (Land, People, and Agama). The MILF goes further by putting Islamic component in their war against national oppression (Territory, People and Identity). The ISIS-inspired (or affiliates?) armed groups are fighting for the establishment of Dawla-Islamia (Sharia’h).

Is the war against national oppression and the establishment of Shariah for the Muslims not legitimate? Is terrorism the answer? Did the Muslims in Mindanao start the war? Or the war was brought to Mindanao?

The Euphemism of Terrorism

Terrorism was not a language when the Spanish and and US imperialists launched their colonial aggression in the Bangsamoro homeland one after the other. When the Spanish invaders attacked Mindanao bringing with them the cross, they did not commit terrorism, they simply introduced new culture, plunder our resources and control our people. When the Americans massacred the Tausog in the Bud Daho, they did not commit terrorism, they just introduced democracy. When the armed forces of the Philippines massacred young trainees in Corregidor and Palimbang and other places in Mindanao, they did not commit terrorism, they simply wanted to defend the country. When the para-military groups massacred the people of Manili, Wao and other communities, they did not commit terrorism; they even became heroes as freedom fighters.

The man who killed 37 people in a big hotel with casino in Manila, was not a terrorist, he was simply an addict. Mr. Stephen Paddock who massacred 58 people in Las Vegas was not a terrorist, he was simply crazy. Those who are killing suspected drug users, are not terrorists they are simply vigilantes.
Police who are killing allegedly resisting drug users are not terrorists; they are law enforcers or heroes. But if they were Muslims, the stories could be different.

Today, when the Bangsamoro demand for their legitimate rights to self-determination they can easily be branded all together as terrorists.

“Terrorism” in the Philippines

The MNLF had agreed to drop their demand from establishing an independent state and acceded to autonomy after the government asked foreign country to intervene. Negotiations took place from 1975 to 1996 (24 years) that ended up in the infamous Final Peace Agreement of 1996. Yet the talks failed to bring peace due to problems of non-implementation of agreements. Between these years, some members of the MNLF dropped out from the organization. The MILF split in 1983, the MNLF Reformist group followed and later on a group now known as Abu Sayaff (ASG) split from the monolithic MNLF.

The GPH-MILF peace talks dragged for 20 years ending up signing series of major agreements; the MOA-AD in 2008, FAB in 2012, the CAB in 2014. The political agreement was to be translated into law that will govern the autonomy for the Bangsamoro but the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was not passed in 2016. The failure to sign the MOA-AD that would have created a Bangsamoro political entity led to a section of the MILF, known today as the BIFF to split from the MILF. The non-passage of the draft BBL in 2016 created additional frustration from a segment of the Bangsamoro non-state actors – the so-called ISIS inspired groups.
In his keynote address in the PVE consultation in Manila, former president Ramos said, “We need to fight poverty and the problems of exclusion and marginalization that are pushing some of our citizens into the arms of violent extremists. As Pope Francis said: “Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that creates huge inequalities”.
With respect to use of military in resolving violence, Ramos continued, “ … it is important for us to understand that a military response might result to further alienation and radicalization of our people. Let us make sure that military operations do not become recruitment slogans for extremists”.

Ramos continued, ”Let us empower our communities so they can promote tolerance, inclusivity, equality, and peaceful resolution of conflict. In relation to this, let us empower our women, our youth and other sectors, the participation of whom can ensure the success of our efforts to prevent violent extremism”.

Another study shows that “If we rely exclusively on hard power to find solutions, we will not tackle the many underlying conditions that breed violent extremism and drive youth to join violent extremist groups. We need soft power as well, and this means education. Not just any education: relevant, inclusive and equitable quality education
Existing policies on the prevention of violent extremism (PVE) acknowledge the need to address economic factors, but limited attention is directed at the underlying structural economic policies that have contributed to creating many of the conditions conducive to rising extremism.

The study further reveals that while a minority of people becomes violent, economic conditions pertaining to social exclusion and thwarted aspirations are recognized as contributing factors to their radicalization.
Guarantee of No Recurrence

People think that when a big battle is over, the problem is over.There can be no easy and quick fix to the Bangsamoro question, but there can be a good start. The process will be long and notlinear, there would always be obstacles and bottlenecks but if we start right, we may end right.

The Marawi crisis is not isolated from the complex problem of peace and security in the Bangsamoro. It is an extension of the long armed struggle by the Bangsamoro taking a new form and structure. Those who fought the government forces in Marawi consider themselves as jihadists, not terrorists. Their goal may have taken a level higher than autonomy and their means more violent.

To fight the “terrorists” militarily may result to the victory of the government but the conditions that could have led to be “terrorists” may not have been won. Ideologies are hard to defeat but better alternative and better ideas may defeat it. The need to address the circumstances that can lead to extremism shall have to be addressed.

Conditions conducive to terrorism, recognized at the level of the UN and the OSCE, include “prolonged unresolved conflicts, dehumanization of victims of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, lack of rule of law, violations of human rights, ethnic, national and religious discrimination, political exclusion, socio-economic marginalization and lack of good governance”.

Structural injustices breed violence.

The Marawi crisis shall not be repeated. This was also the cry of the victims of the Zamboanga siege. But what assurance will guarantee no recurrence?
While some critics argue that extremism is the product of religious intolerance and the attempt to establish an exclusive monolithic global religion, the Bangsamoro narratives resemble those conditions found by the UN and OSCE. The message of former president Ramos critically pointed out some of the important incubators of extremism in the country.

Better Alternative To Violent Extremism (BATVE)

A political structure that will address the legitimate grievances, correct the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro will help prevent recurrence of extreme violence. An autonomous government with adequate power and resources that can address marginalization will contribute to these efforts .

An example is the case of Timor Leste and Aceh. The democratic space created by the grant of independence and autonomy in East Timor and Aceh respectively has given tremendous motivation for them to move on, not easily but constantly. Violence in these areas had been significantly reduced and people have the opportunity to engage in productive activities that supports their socio-economic needs. This can also happen in the Bangsamoro. The BTC-draft BBL is the best alternative to violent extremism. It will provide the Bangsamoro their long-held aspiration to exercise their self-determination, a state of affair they used to have before the Philippine was born.

The draft BBL shall be seriously considered as an opportunity rather a problem. In the long term, it will pave the way for national unity and reconciliation as both the national government and the Bangsamoro government can join efforts at addressing socio-economic and political problems.

The first dividend of peace the people in the Bangsamoro will experience is a democratic space that will deter violent conflict and secure their lives and properties. The absence of violence will provide space for the people to engage in productive activities that will address their socio-economic needs. Development does not come drastically but gradually and constantly. Institutional reforms will take place and structural justice will eventually be achieved. It will be a long process of reconstruction, rehabilitation and transformation but the BBL can be a good start.

For Marawi City to be truly liberated, we must know the truth with the end in view that truth and justice will prevent the recurrence of the same crisis. How the Marawi crisis happened, who are the perpetrators and the victims? Were there human rights violations? Will there be reparations and justice for the victims? Who are the perpetrators and will they be meted out justice? And very importantly, what are the measures to ensure that the same crisis will not happen again in Marawi and or elsewhere.

In the long term, real liberation will be enjoyed and violent extremism will only become the thing of the past.

The all-out war, the Zamboanga siege and the Marawi crisis will only be part of history. A new future will dawn. The battles will be gone, and only then that the real war is won.

By Abu Mumar

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