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Slice of Life
Monday, September 30, 2013
"THE crisis is over. The government has accomplished its mission. "
After three weeks of armed clashes between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the government troops, the number of internally displaced persons has swelled to more than 100,000 with most of them staying in cramped evacuation centers. Serious water and sanitation concerns have given rise to health problems like diarrhea and respiratory infection among children and the elderly.
On September 9, hundreds of MNLF members seized control of six heavily populated coastal villages and made Zamboanga City as its battleground, and the residents as their shield. Despite clamor for a humanitarian ceasefire, the government continued with its all out offensive, a solution that has repeatedly proven to be disastrous in Mindanao.
On September 13, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III flew to Zamboanga City "to talk peace with those who want peace." He left on September 22. By then, the standoff entered its 15th day and Zamboanga City was down on its knees with a humanitarian crisis. 110,000 of its 807,000 population were displaced and the death toll was on the rise. More than 10,000 houses had been burned and nearly a billion pesos worth of income loss for the business sector.
The Interreligious Solidarity for Peace proposed to immediately effect a humanitarian ceasefire to allow the release of civilian hostages, especially the children, the elderly, the persons with disabilities and the curing of the sick and burying of the dead; for the MNLF to leave all the hostages in one safe place for them to be fetched and their needs attended to, and for the MNLF group to be allowed safe conduct pass. Government officials turned down the suggestion to use the "Catabangan formula" which provided a safe conduct pass to MNLF forces in 2001 to save the lives of hostages and prevent the unnecessary displacement of residents.
The MNLF signed a peace pact with the government in 1996, but rebels claimed that the signing of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement last year, sidelined that peace agreement. The creation of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (Armm) was criticized as a failed package- unable to respond to the decades old problem in Mindanao, much less represent the genuine interest of local communities. The system was blamed for perpetuating the elites and enabling them to exploit resources for their own advantage.
There must be a better way to resolve conflict other than rendering local communities as sacrificial lambs and using women, children and the elderly as pawns in the game of war. There must be a better way for rebels to communicate their stance and for government to handle the crisis than deliberately using civilians as the target of war. It speaks volumes when lives are sacrificed, homes and schools destroyed and when various wings use it to create distrust and tension, even fan religious differences.
Beyond posturing and armed solution lies the need to shift from a state centric framework of security towards a more deliberate focus on the security and human rights in local communities. The struggle for self determination cannot be won at the expense of the lives of civilians. Managing any crisis and resolving conflict can only stem from openness to dialogue and to be held accountable. The way to peace shows what we stand for, and what we value most.
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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on September 30, 2013.