The clashes between government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) happening in Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Datu Piang, Maguindanao Province since mid-January are dangerous fires that should be doused. Already, many civilians in those towns have started to pack up their belongings including their livestock and preparing for another uncertain life in the evacuation centers.
Are we going to see a repeat of the Buliok war last February 11, 2003? Are the Army’s 6th Infantry Division and MILF going to give the evacuees along the Liguasan Marsh an “anniversary” evacuation this coming February? Is the military going to start bombings again at the start of Eid’l Adha, the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice?
The clashes between government forces and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) happening in Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Datu Piang, Maguindanao Province since mid-January are dangerous fires that should be doused. Already, many civilians in those towns have started to pack up their belongings including their livestock and preparing for another uncertain life in the evacuation centers.
All these are happening despite the efforts of the Joint GRP-MILF CCCH (Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities) to verify reports of ceasefire violations on the ground and hopefully prevent war from breaking out. Yet, stronger forces within the military seem to be unmindful of the ceasefire agreement. The familiar lines used to justify the attack in Buliok – the pursuit of kidnappers, or the Abu Sayyaf Group, or lawless elements – are again being used to justify military action in areas in Maguindanao where MILF units are based.
During field monitoring in Maguindanao last January 18, an army officer casually told us that they are simply waiting for us, the Joint-CCCH and the Bantay Ceasefire, to leave so that they can restart the war. It is ironic that there are now armed clashes in South Upi while troops are being deployed to Datu Piang and Datu Saudi Ampatuan. Earlier this month, there were sightings of fully armed MILF fighters on the move in Brgys. Kitango and Gawang in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao.
Last Monday, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced that exploratory talks would resume next month in Kuala Lumpur. While the joint pronouncements of the highest officials of the two countries carry much weight, we continue to be wary. For indeed, promises were made since July 2003 that such talks would resume “next week, next month, next year”. Indeed, peace should now be “within grasp”.
We call on the Army’s 6th Infantry Division and the MILF to stop troop movements to prevent armed engagements and de-escalate current tensions in Maguindanao. We reiterate the Bantay Ceasefire recommendation for the deployment of the Malaysian-led international ceasefire monitoring team to Maguindanao to ensure the strictest observance of the ceasefire by all combatants.
Let us not allow history to repeat itself. Let us not allow a repeat of the disastrous Buliok war.