‘If you want peace, prepare for war’

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That was the slogan prominently displayed at the main assembly hall at the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s headquarters called Camp Abubakar.

An aphorism from classical Rome (“Si vis pacem, para bellum”), it means that a nation or society is likely to be left in peace by its enemies if its military capacity to wage war is a deterrent enough—an idea that proved true during the Cold War’s arms race. The slogan speaks volumes of the MILF’s real thinking even with the peace talks: The Moro homeland will finally be left alone in peace when the government is confronted with an MILF that can really wage war.

In fact, in my interview then with the late MILF chairman Hashim Salamat, he explained that his organization’s strategy is not for a Maoist guerrilla war, but to match, battalion per battalion, the government’s military force—at which point government will have no choice but agree to an Islamic state in Mindanao. Ceasefire agreements during peace talks simply allow it to build up its forces. Indeed, the MILF force, which recently decimated an Army’s Special Forces platoon, is referred to as the 113th Base Command, already mimicking our Army’s organizational nomenclature.

I stayed at Camp Abubakar in Maguindanao for several days when I was correspondent for the Hong Kong-based magazine Far Eastern Economic Review. I still think the area, on a plateau with its idyllic fields, waterfalls and virgin forests, is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Such a colossal waste: even with the camp captured by government forces in 2000, the area is still deserted and will remain as such even for a century—because of the Muslim insurgency.


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