Tue, 05 Aug 2003

'Coup-rrupting' Mindanao an enigma for Arroyo

Carlos Isagani T. Zarate, Philippine Daily Inquirer Asia News Network, Manila

Mindanao is the one big issue that will always haunt President Macapagal-Arroyo, the one that could make or unmake her administration.

It took the escape of convicted terrorist-bomber, Indonesian Fathur al-Ghozi, to expose the "incompetence" of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and put into question the administration's U.S.-patented "war on terrorism." Then came another whammy: The mutiny of junior officers, mostly combat-tested in the battlefields of Mindanao, alleging that the bullets and firearms killing many of their comrades-in-arms come from the corruption- laden Armed Forces; and that the Davao bombings were done by government agents to bring upon the terrorist tag on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and scrape more anti-terrorism funds from the United States.

But lest we forget and dismiss it as a "a blip in the computer screen," it is also Mindanao that has recently become the arena of the government's Janus-faced approach to conflict resolution: Hawkishly pursuing a "total war" that displaces civilians in the hundreds of thousands while paying lip-service to the peace process.

While many, including the media, lionize these young officers -- in the same manner that coup plotters in the past were also glorified rightly or wrongly-their grievances do not justify their rebellion.

That tourist-like, albeit armed to the teeth, foray into the heart of Makati was doomed from the start. It had no clear theoretical and principled foundations and it failed to capture the imagination of the masses.

Actually, there is nothing new about their stand. The late Jose Diokno was convincing and sincere in voicing ideas about nationalism and poverty because of his moral stature. And that's the most important thing in any given cause. Indeed, since all that the Magdalo soldiers wanted was to air their grievances, in the end, the Magdalo group got what it deserved: Promises that, according to them, are now being broken.

The factional strife within the Air Force of the Philippines at least brought the government to some sense of awakening (again!). Of particular concern, however, for the people of Mindanao is, who will compose the commission that will probe the Davao bombings? Who will create such a commission? What will be its mandate?

"The probe body should cover all tracks. It should be able to scrutinize the police, intelligence and military units' role prior, during and after the bombings. They should be obliged to submit all available evidence in their possession," urged Davao City Councilor Angela Librado.

There is a strong clamor now for Mindanaoans "with proven record of integrity and impartiality, that will not succumb to pressures" to be among those appointed to the commission.

Yet, judging from the way President Macapagal seemed to insulate her national security team led by Reyes ("They want Angie to resign because they wanted to weaken me. I will not fall into their trap," she told the Manila Overseas Press Club) from any accusations of complicity, the proposed commission is indeed in for a rough sailing. The President apparently has opted to conveniently forget that, in the end, it is the peoples' withdrawal of support that will truly weaken her.

For quite sometime now, allegations that the bombings, not only in Davao but also elsewhere in Mindanao, may have been the handwork of a "third force" have long been a topic of serious concern among various sectors. Not farfetched since the bombs exploded when breakthroughs were achieved in the on-and-off talks with the MILF.

Some militant groups, too, have pointed out that the "militarists in the government" may have been orchestrating the bombings to justify an all-out military approach against groups they perceive as "terrorists," the Abu Sayyaf, National Philippine Army (NPA) and MILF, among them.

These allegations were, however, dismissed outright as a mere concoction of "conspiracy theorists" out to discredit the government. Now, for sure, these peace advocates will thank the Magdalo group for bringing into the open the nagging issue of alleged government complicity, particularly, that of Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes and his group, in the bombings.

Though miles away from the Makati siege, the allegations of the Magdalo group certainly "exploded like a bombshell" for Mindanaoans. They "resurrect the ghost of the Davao bombings," said the Mindanao Peoples' Caucus, a civil-society group that closely monitors the peace talks with MILF. "What makes the charges more serious and credible is that they were made by officers in the field, some of whom have long been in combat duty in Mindanao."

Several days before the Makati siege, the church-led InPeace Mindanao, a group of peace advocates, had convened the "Mindanao Truth Commission" in Davao to investigate the bombings in Mindanao.