Friday, October 19, 2012

Farewell to arms

There is a popular expression in Muslim Mindanao that a Moro would rather sleep with his rifle than with his wife. You would think that’s a joke. But the bigger joke is what the recently signed Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro would try to accomplish, which according to some observers, including the government panel, is to ultimately disarm the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Disarming the MILF or decommissioning its forces is envisaged in the Framework Agreement. This could happen at the tail end of the peace process or sometime during the normalization process, a fact that is totally unknown to the negotiating parties. Under the Framework agreement, the decommissioning of its forces will be undertaken by the MILF on a graduated program. Thereafter, all law enforcement functions will be transferred from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to the Bangsamoro police force.
Renegade Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) vow to continue their
armed uprising despite the peace agreement between the government and the
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).Click link to to view "Philippine rebels
vow to fight" and Al Jazeera interview with BIFF leader Ameril Umbrakato,
In other words, there is nothing in the Framework Agreement that requires the Bangsamoro forces to surrender their arms to the government. What the Framework Agreement hopes to accomplish is to put the military forces and arsenal of the Bangsamoro army beyond its present use, i.e., all militia and firearms will be used for peacekeeping or policing purposes and not for the furtherance of military or combat objectives. This means the MILF will be recognized both as a police force and as a regular army in the Philippines.
In any state of belligerence, the disarming of the other side, normally the losing side of the conflict is never an easy task. Total disarmament may not be achieved since there would always be those who could hold on to their weapons and continue their resistance even as small brigands. Carl von Clausewitz in his seminal book, On War, wrote that many treaties have been concluded before one of the antagonists could be called powerless, or the balance of power has been seriously altered. In this case, it is always the victors who determine the conditions for surrender and the laying down of weapons.
But how much more difficult is it to achieve disarming an army when neither side of the conflict can claim victory? The Framework Agreement is being acclaimed as a road to peace, not an agreement to declare the final cessation of hostilities. We’re still a long way from there.
One of the many obstacles to the achievement of peace in Mindanao, not to mention the obvious legal hurdles to the formation of a Bangsamoro juridical entity, is the question of decommissioning the Bangsamoro army. Since the MILF has an equal right to determine the final terms and conditions of peace, it may insist on its army and followers to hold on to their weapons. The MILF, especially its rank and file soldiers, understands that giving up their weapons could be synonymous to giving up their struggle for self-determination.
The history of peace negotiations with the Philippine government is replete with instances of betrayal. Luis Taruc of the Hukbalahap and his fellow rebels, who decided to leave their armed struggle to join the Democratic Alliance in Congress during the third republic under Manuel Roxas, found their quest for parliamentary changes crushed when they were not allowed to take their elected seats. Exactly the same would be repeated during the Quirino administration when the Huks surrendered their arms in exchange for amnesty. The government accused the Huks of not presenting all their arms while the latter accused the government of bad faith.
Already, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group from the MILF, had announced that they would not recognize the peace accord between the MILF and the government. To them, the peace agreement is surrender and they vowed not to waver from their armed struggle towards a separate Muslim homeland. This declaration of continuing resistance is a realistic roadblock to disbanding the MILF army.
Accept it or not, most MILF jihadists are hoping peace doesn’t come.
An MILF jihadist posted on the Internet the concerns of a Moro fighter named Abdullah. A young man in his early 20s, Abdullah is a veteran of many jungle battles and he says he is ready to die for the cause of a separate Bangsamoro nation while he clutches a rusty M-60 machine gun.
Abdullah says, “I sleep with my machine gun and never go anywhere without it. I cannot part with my weapon.” He said he is not prepared to lay down his weapon even if a final peace deal is signed. “It’s not in my blood to be a farmer,” he said.
The veteran Filipino journalist, Emil Jurado, wrote that “many Muslims believe that power emanates from the barrel of a gun. From childhood, they are taught how to handle a gun—it protects them from rival clans. Clan wars in Muslim Mindanao are a way of life.”
Perhaps, that’s the primary reason why the Americans tried to neutralize the Muslims in Mindanao after the Spaniards failed to subjugate them. The Americans started their pacification of Mindanao by giving concessions to the Sultan of Jolo, such as allowing the Sultan to collect customs duties in places not occupied by the Americans, paying the Sultan and his leading datus monthly salaries, and not interfering with religious matters. Nonetheless, the Muslims in Mindanao have never been colonized by the Spaniards, the Americans and the Japanese.
What does the present Aquino government promise the MILF leaders that this time, the Framework Agreement will work? Does President Aquino think that it is enough to allow the MILF insurgents to form a political party and run in democratic elections so they can have the chance at leading the proposed autonomous region?
President Aquino is said to be seriously considering the idea of getting the Muslim rebels to surrender their guns in exchange for cash. Aquino believes this will extend livelihood benefits to the MILF. MILF members who voluntarily disarm themselves by turning their firearms will be included in the government list of beneficiaries of a livelihood assistance program.
President Aquino, however, refuses to call his proposal as buying of MILF firearms. He insists that it is a process of providing benefits to the rebels who will voluntarily surrender their weapons. But no matter how one looks at the President’s proposal, it is still exchanging cash for guns. The only problem with this idea is it has been tried in the past and it did not work.
It reminds me of Toronto’s Pixel for Pistols, when the city police tried to attract those who have handguns to turn them in for a Nikon camera. Or Saudi Arabia’s deradicalization program for jihadists that includes material inducements like giving thousands of dollars to pamper its graduates, or paying for weddings, furniture or a new Toyota. One thing they have in common: both were failures.
The right to bear arms by Muslims could be likened to the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution that protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms. When the Philippines was formulating its Constitution in 1935 for the Commonwealth government which was to be a transition government before independence, the United States made sure that the right to bear arms would not be included in the bill of rights that was copied from the U.S. Constitution. The fear of the U.S. was that giving the same right to bear arms to Filipinos would enable them to form their militias that could rebel and overrun the U.S. colonial government.
Although the Muslims in Mindanao were never pacified and conquered by the Americans and the ensuing independent Philippine government, their relationship with weapons has long been an integral part of their history and culture. Much deeper than their right to bear arms is their fundamental right to be free in running their own government, free from colonizers or from the central government in Manila.
Disarming the MILF or the Muslim in general might take more than a Framework Agreement for peace. The Framework Agreement stipulates that “It is through normalization that communities can return to conditions where they can achieve their desired quality of life, which includes the pursuit of sustainable livelihoods and political participation within a peaceful deliberative society.” If this particular paragraph of the Framework Agreement means that all Muslims must give up their arms in order to achieve normalization, no Muslim in his or her right mind would give up now what they have been fighting for decades or even for more than a century.
If the national government is willing to cede local autonomy to a Bangsamoro entity, then it should also be prepared to accept the right of this new entity to establish its own army. Demanding that Muslims surrender their weapons as a precondition for peace seems a nonnegotiable issue. The matter of control of the jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro army lies on a strict delineation of lines which should not be crossed. Otherwise, the truce will be broken and both sides will be back to square one.

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