A New Outbreak of Fighting in Mindanao

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In Mindanao violence lurks just below the surface. Scratch it a little and violence will flare out. The government promised the MILF and when it seemed it cannot deliver tension emerged. Mindanao has simply too many unresolved conflicts for this not to happen.

Knowledgeable observers say the current Moro response is a show of frustration and a show that it is still a fighting force. I will add that a sizable portion of the Moro fighting groups is not comfortable with the peace talks thinking they will just be playing into government hands and that government cannot really deliver after all. 

Many know that Abdurahman Macapaar alias Commander Bravo belongs to this mold. A former commander of the MNLF-BMA’s 2nd Division based in Ranao (their preferred named for Lanao), he transferred his forces in bulk to the MILF when Nur Misuari signed the peace deal in 1996. Known as the fiercest among the Moro commanders in Lanao, his territory, the mountainous boundary of Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur remains unconquered up until this time, Erap’s war in 2000 notwithstanding.

If Kauswagan is the flashpoint in 2000 it remains so to this day. It was in Kauswagan where the Tacub Massacre happened in 1971 when a convoy of Muslim voters were waylaid in an Army checkpoint in Tacub, a big barangay of Kauswagan by suspected Ilagas, a Visayan paramilitary group. The number of dead is estimated to number as high as 60 and most were women and children, a crime that remains unsolved until today. As a consequence no Tacub resident will ever admit that he lives or he grew up in that place if Muslims are in the vicinity.

When MILF-BIAF forces occupied Kauswagan in 2000 in response to the AFP attack on their base camp (which the government subsequently edited so that it won’t show that it started the fighting) the homes of the Christians and government properties were left untouched except that they ransacked the police HQ. But when government forces retook the town after the MILF withdrew Christians burned some houses that belonged to the Muslims. Video showed in Iligan TV showed soldiers using blanket fire as they moved forward thus giving precise meaning to the term “clearing operations.” Thereafter, the 2000 Census will bear that a few Muslim barangays in Kauswagan showed zero inhabitants.

Christians in Luzon and Visayas will grit their teeth when news reports indicated that barbaric acts were done on the Christian population in Kauswagan. But knowledgeable, non-partisan observer in Mindanao will wonder who started the barbarism after all.

The military will claim that Muslim fighters occupied Muslim villages like what happened in Aleosan, (North Cotabato). But before we grit our teeth a word of caution first. We do not really know if those lands were Muslim land before Ilagas drove them out in the ’60s or when Muslims left their land during the war of the ’70s to find in the ’80s that their farms no longer belong to them and this is the usual sad story of Cotabato. Herein lies the reason why violence and fighting never really cease in Cotabato like what the singing group lamented in the ’70s.

They say that the MILF has no hold on their commanders. Partly true since basically Moro forces raise their own budget when OIC funding dried up. And maybe almost half of the Moro fighting forces are clan armies and not regulars. 

Christians in Mindanao will say that they will arm their own militias as if Christian militias didn’t exist before in the guise of the Ilagas, the CAFGUs and the CVOs. But most Christian militias are of platoon-size only and bearing light machine guns at the most while most Muslim clan armies fight at company- and batallion-level and heavy machine guns, mortars, recoilless rifles and rocket launchers are common in their inventory. In Mindanao it is known that Muslim clan armies can make mincemeat of Christian militias save for a few. In fighting between the two the AFP in all cases have to intervene in favor of the Christian militias. And if this happens it is natural that regular Moro forces will join the fray because after all they have relatives in the clan armies and Muslim clan armies are their force multipliers. And so the level of violence escalates. 

But this is not to say that all Muslim clan armies fight alongside the MILF and MNLF ranks. The Ampatuan, Dimaporo and Mangudadatu are among the big Muslim clan armies that fight alongside the government forces. But of course the goverment has to “pay” for these services with government positions, cash and arms.

They say in Iligan that if those 8 non-Christian barangays are included in the expanded ARMM they will lose over 80% of their territory. But in 1898 Iligan only consists of the present city proper now, being a mere Spanish fort and a part of Misamis Oriental. It was appended to Lanao so that Lanao will have a Christian port and site of government. Over the decades municipal districts emerged from the logging concessions when “peace” was established. Later these municipal districts were adhered to Iligan. But they never asked the non-Christians then if they want to be part of Iligan. But here comes “modernity” which says that all of Iligan must be asked now if they want out of Iligan. And there is no way that a minority (but once a majority) people will ever win a plebiscite. 

As long as Christians wave to the Muslims the Constitution and Certificates of Titles (Original and Transfer)  as their claim to “legitimacy” and “rule of law” there will be no peace in Mindanao. The peace that they chant is simply the peace of the conqueror. And the cycle of violence will just go on and on. 

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