Friday, August 29, 2008

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front – a Terrorist Organization?

In the aftermath of the ruthless attacks by three MILF field commanders on civilian populations in North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, and Sarangani, the question of the MILF as a terrorist organization has again been raised.

The issue: Is the MILF a terrorist organization and should it be officially declared so?

The usual non-Moro response is, “Yes. The MILF has once again revealed its true colors. It has attacked towns and villages. It has gone on a rampage, killing innocent civilians, murdering, burning, pillaging, looting, using civilians as human shields – these are terrorist acts. Therefore, the MILF is a terrorist organization.”

The Moro general reaction seems to be: “Indeed, these acts are not morally unjustifiable. They are to be condemned. But these do not make the MILF a terrorist organization. These acts were perpetrated by MILF commanders acting on their own against MILF official policy. We deeply regret such acts. They have given a bad name to the MILF. They have seriously set back the peace process.”

Listening to many Moros speak on this issue, I would add the following remarks to this general Moro reaction: “Like us these MILF commanders were angry at the rejection of the MOA-AD by the government. Like us they saw the long peaceful work towards the recognition of our aspirations for self-determination dismissed by the Supreme Court. Anger led them to violence. We do not agree with their reaction but we can understand why.” I might also add this reaction by a few radically inclined Moro thinkers: “We are not asking for independence. But if the government refuses to recognize our fundamental right to self-determination, why don’t we all unite and just go ahead and fight for independence?”

In the light of such context, the real question is: Does the brutal violence of three MILF commanders on civilian populations in Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato, and Sarangani make the whole MILF organization terrorist?

Many Christians all over the Philippines would say yes. Against the opinion of many of my own Christian flock whom I serve as Archbishop, I say no.

May I submit the following points for sober reflection:

Among the scores of MILF commanders in Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Shariff Kabungsuan, South Cotabato, Sarangani, Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Taw-Tawi, how many actually supported the action of the three commanders?
How many instead followed the official policy of the MILF about civilian populations?
Did the MILF Central Committee authorize the action of the three commanders?
Did the Central Committee not try to stop the three commanders?
Did our own military and ceasefire mechanisms not try to limit military objectives and the areas of operation so as to target only the forces of the three commanders?
Did the three commanders act like the Abu Sayaff and take 12 or even only two “kidnappable” people for ransom when they could have easily done so?
Does not the MILF Central Committee believe that the actions of its three commanders have seriously set back the peace process?
If the MILF were a terrorist organization like the Abu Sayaff and Al-Qaeda, would it even have ceased fighting to talk peace?
Would it ever have cooperated with our military to go after bandits going to their areas of influence?
Did investigations on atrocities committed against our Marines in Basilan provide evidence that such atrocities were perpetrated by MILF ambushers?

On the other hand:

We do not believe that our own government with our own military is terrorist, even if:

We had military commanders leading so called “lost commands” that operated freely on their own in Mindanao;
Our troops never really pursued them and rooted them out;
We never brought them to the courts of justice;
Fanatical vigilante groups known for their ruthlessness against Moro civilians were tolerated and even worked quietly with our military commanders;
Our military forces attacked Camp Abubakar, reportedly hours after an accord for ceasefire had been agreed upon;
We never investigated and brought to justice our own soldiers who were accused by human rights organizations for abuses against civilians, whether Moros or non-Moros;

Reflecting on the above questions and soberly responding to them would surely bring us to a wiser position on the issue of terrorism. We need to be more logical and wise in judging the MILF organization as terrorist on the ground that some of its commanders have perpetrated terrorist acts. The actions of a few are not necessarily the actions of the whole.

Mutatis mutandis we also apply, I believe, the same principle and the same logic regarding “scalawags” in the Church, media, military, police, executive, judiciary, and legislative branches of government. We do not necessarily judge the whole by the actions of the few.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
August 29, 2008

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