Republic downgraded in Aquino-MILF meet

“MILF: NOY gave us hope,” this paper’s banner headline said recently, referring to President Aquino’s August 5 meeting in a Narita airport travelers’ hotel with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim.

Mr. Aquino indeed gave the insurgents a lot of hope—to make the MILF the core of a sovereign state. The meeting in effect put the MILF on the same category as the Philippine Republic—sovereign entities. Read the MILF’s statement on the meeting (which was strangely under-reported in mainstream newspapers) and it’s the conclusion you will arrive at. (I have posted it at www.trigger.ph).

The statement even refers to Mr. Aquino only as “President Aquino,” and nowhere in the statement is he referred to as President of the Republic of the Philippines. The Japanese Foreign Ministry could not but follow the MILF’s framing, saying in its congratulatory note: “Japan strongly expects that both parties will continue sincere talks.” Our government has become just another “party” in this conflict, no longer a state protecting its sovereignty.

One is dumbfounded at how our 113-year-old Republic was downgraded in this episode to the level of an insurgent group that has at most 5,000 mostly part-time guerillas that can operate only in a small territory in Central Mindanao, and which has been responsible for the deaths of at least 10,000 Filipino soldiers and civilians.

Probably thinking that a meeting with the MILF head would be an accomplishment he could boast of in his July 25 State of the Nation Address, Mr. Aquino, the MILF statement disclosed, asked for the meeting in June. “Anywhere in the Philippines,” he told the MILF.

Surprised by the invitation, but realizing it was for the Sona and therefore Mr. Aquino was on a tight deadline, the MILF sensed a tremendous political opportunity. It dilly-dallied, and then demanded that the government course the invitation through the Malaysian official “facilitator” for the peace talks. Then it told Aquino: Either a meeting outside the country or no meeting. Choose among Japan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or the United Kingdom as venue. It is amazing how an insurgent group sets the place and the time at its convenience for a meeting with the President.

The MILF demanded a “series of consultations” to agree where the meeting would be. The days spent for this and for a very surprised Japanese government to make the necessary preparations derailed the calculation for the “historic meeting” to make it to the Sona in July.

The MILF gloated over its political victory in having the meeting in Japan, declaring in its statement: “The meeting between the two leaders in a third-party country host is a significant political milestone in the MILF’s quest for Bangsamoro right to self-determination.” (Emphasis mine.)

The MILF was so delirious with joy that Mr. Aquino committed such a blunder that it even went on to further humble the President by saying: “On the part of the MILF chairman, his acceptance of the invitation illustrates a high level of statesmanship.” An unelected rebel chieftain proved himself a statesman by agreeing to meet the representative of 94 million Filipinos?

It has always been the fervent hope of any insurgent group for its leader to meet with the head of the state it is fighting, since such a meeting moves it closer in the public mind and in global perception to the status of a sovereign, with its members becoming what are called “state actors.”

As state actors, their actions—killing our soldiers, possessing arms, carving out territory as its own—will not be punishable under our legal system, but only under international conventions on the conduct of wars between states. Check out the many photos Malacañang distributed: the MILF warlord was a sovereign talking with another sovereign.

Mr. Aquino’s mother Cory had more sense in that she met in 1986 with the Moro National Liberation Front’s chief Nur Misuari in Sulu, in our country, in sharp contrast to our President slipping through the backdoor to a foreign land to comply with the MILF’s demand. A head of state just can’t go abroad without that foreign state’s extending the honors befitting his stature—or he downgrades his nation.

Cory’s meeting was a gesture of solidarity with the MNLF, which after all, dealt blows to the dictatorship, rather than, as the MILF described the Aquino-Murad encounter, a “historic meeting between two leaders.” Marcos had more sense in that the highest-ranking officer he sent to negotiate, and even sign the peace treaty with the MNLF was a defense department undersecretary. In Narita, the MILF faced a President and six Cabinet secretaries. (What in the world were Secretaries Florencio Abad and Cesar Purisima doing there? If not for the publicity, to offer money to the MILF?) Cory had more sense in making sure that no photograph of her meeting with Misuari was circulated. Now every MILF fighter would be proudly carrying a photo of Murad and Aquino smiling, to taunt our soldiers.

This administration’s blundering didn’t end in Narita. Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda and negotiator Marivic Leonen, with their access to media, could have framed the meeting for the Philippines’ benefit. They could have reported that Mr. Aquino raised the issues of the MILF’s demobilization and eventual disarmament—the framing President Fidel Ramos made during the peace talks with the MNLF in the 1990s.

They didn’t, and instead they became the MILF’s spokespersons by disseminating the insurgent group’s narrative: its demand for a “sub-state,” which is nothing but a conceptual plagiarism of the decades-old Moro “self-determination,” instead of the Republic’s frame that there can be only one state with the legitimate monopoly on arms in this territory called the Philippines. The road to hell it seems is not only paved with good intentions, but littered with the mess of publicity-seeking incompetents.

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer