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‘MILF: Noy gave us hope’

That was this paper’s headline in August quoting Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Murad Ebrahim, who was ecstatic then that the President of the Republic went on a secret trip to Tokyo just to meet him and his comrades.  Two months later now, President Aquino has indeed given the MILF hope in ways beyond Murad’s wildest dreams.

He ordered the military to stand down, after the MILF massacred nineteen Army Special Forces soldiers in Basilan 18 October.  And even as he tied the military’s hands while the rebels made their get-away, Mr. Aquino called for a command conference only two days later.  The generals couldn’t believe what they were hearing in that meeting: instead of asking them to come up with a plan to retaliate against the massacre, he blamed the commanders, and ordered relieved Col. Alexander Macario as head of Special Operations Task Force Basilan and Lt. Col. Leo Peña as commander of the 4th Special Forces Battalion, the mother unit of the ambushed platoon.   Mr. Aquino fired even the Army spokesman Col. Antonio Parlade whose fault was to articulate soldiers’ anger over the murder of their comrades.

With his statements deflecting blame away from the MILF, the President sadly has assumed the role of PR man, spinmeister for the MILF.

Two days after the MILF itself in its websites (luwaran.com and tmchronicles.com) bragged that its mujahideen mowed down the Army soldiers, Mr. Aquino in an ambush interview last Oct.20 wouldn’t even mention the MILF as the perpetrators. He instead raised doubts on the Special Forces’ presence in the killing field: “Ano ba ang pakay ng operasyon?  Ano ba ’yung plano?  Para maraming detalye na gusto kong talakayin sa kanila.”

Aquino even implied that it could be the commanders’ fault when he referred to the firefight between Marines and the Abu Sayyaf in July that resulted in the death of seven marines.  “After an investigation of that incident,” the President said, “we started relieving commanders there.” (A transcript of this interview is in www.gov.ph/2011/10/20/ambush-interview-with-the-president-october-20-2011/)

According to a newspaper report of that interview, Aquino “said that the whole organization, meaning the leadership of the MILF, should not be blamed for the soldiers’ killing.”

It gets worse. Even as the MILF was boasting that its “Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces” (BIAF) were routing the Army in firefights in Basilan and in Zamboanga, Mr. Aquino in his statement the other day said that it was not the MILF, but the Abu Sayaff and other “lawless elements” which the military was pursuing. The MILF in its website said that Commander Laksaw Asnawi  “is one of its best commanders in Basilan,” implying he commanded the BIAF units which wiped out the Special Forces platoon.  But Aquino says he is with the Abu Sayyaf.

Mr. Aquino in effect is saying now that the MILF is an ally. According to this paper’s report, Aquino  “disclosed that actually the MILF was now helping the government in going after the Abu Sayyaf bandits.” Mr. Aquino is blaming the violence in Mindanao not on the MILF, but on the “Abu Sayyaf,” which most security analysts think no longer exists.

Unlike in his other concerns, Mr. Aquino is not saying that he is taking the massacre personally.  He wouldn’t spare time to be at the tarmac to salute the coffins of the slain Special Forces soldiers when these arrived, as is customary for commanders in chief in cases when soldiers’ bodies are brought home from some distant battlefield.

To appease China last year, he ordered that the Philippine flag be flown half-staff to mourn the death of eight Chinese tourists from Hong Kong killed in the hostage situation his officials bungled.  Why, even Makati Mayor Junjun Binay ordered flags in the city to be flown half-staff to mourn the death of 10 construction workers in an accident in January.

No such symbols of mourning were ordered for the 26 officers and soldiers killed in a span of a week in Mindanao.

They probably simply followed the business-as-usual attitude of their commander in chief, but the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine Army, and the Department of National Defense in their websites up to yesterday ignored the massacre of its soldiers.  The big story in afp.mil.ph was “Military Dependents to Benefit from Kamote,” about a cookbook on sweet potato by the AFP chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Oban’s wife.   At the army.mil.ph website: “AFP Commissions Pacman as Military Officer.” At dnd.gov.ph: “PNoy’s Affordable Housing for Soldiers.”

Mr. Aquino stifled the appropriate military and political responses against the MILF’s atrocity by erroneously claiming that the choice was between “all-out war” and “peace,” between outrage and sobriety.

That’s a contrived, false frame which the MILF—and all insurgencies for that matter—try to propagate. The real choice is whether to preserve and strengthen the Republic, or weaken it.

The basic definition of a state is what the sociologist Max Weber articulated: It is that organization which has the monopoly of the legitimate use of force over a particular territory. This is explicitly and implicitly declared in that document called the Constitution.   President Aquino in his oath of office swore “to preserve and defend the Constitution and to execute its laws.”   The MILF has, and even boasts of its armed forces, and claims swathes of Mindanao as its territory.

Please uphold the Constitution, Mr. President.

And it’s not too late: Please order flags flown at half-staff for our slain heroes, especially in Basilan, Zamboanga, and Lanao for all of the people there and the MILF to see.  If we cannot retaliate for the massacre of the Republic’s fighters, let us at least properly mourn and honor them.