The Zamboanga siege

Photo by Erik de Castro

   The recent commotion in Zamboanga City is no longer surprising for me. The history of armed conflict in Mindanao proves that peace is elusive if genuine negotiation is not in practice. It is somewhat a sad tale for Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) (or in general, the people in Mindanao) because the struggle still continues. I do not mean to be a melodramatic-pessimist here, but the reality is slapping on our faces. It seems history repeats itself.

   According to reports, the purported trigger for the Zamboanga standoff was the marginalization of MNLF in the current negotiations between the Philippine Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The disappointment led to the attack in Zamboanga; some people have died and some 80,000 people have been displaced. Many business establishments have been stagnant (temporarily). The 24/7 coverage of different media outlets in the country led some Filipinos to exaggerate the situation without analyzing the roots of the problem.

   Different conspiracy theories have been circulated in the public to the point that some people believe it as fact. Theories like Napoles paid Nur Misuari to create chaos in Zamboanga just to divert the attention of the public (PDAF scandal) and SM Mall has business interest in the city are just some of many “creative” stories invented by ingenious minds.

  Sincerity is missing in this story. During the “historic” 1996 Peace Agreement (during Ramos administration) between GPH-MNLF, the people in Mindanao rejoiced this victorious moment. But the following years after the peace agreement proves that it is all part of the grand illusion created by “few individuals”. It is also worth noting that different rebel groups sprouted baring different acronyms. Political interest really blocks the real peace process in Mindanao. With the wealth sleeping underneath the island of Mindanao, it appears hard to get the peace that we all wanted.

   Temogen “Cocoy” Tulawie, a Human Rights Defender in Bawbug, Sulu shares his opinion about this issue, he says:

“What is happening now in Zamboanga City only shows that the political leaders in Sulu have no effective control over their constituents. No amount of PAMANA and token reforms can appease the growing desperation of the Tausug people who have been continually victimized by corrupt traditional politicians. Oppression, corruption, human rights violations, collapse of the rule of law, warlordism, and total absence of governance in Sulu brought by irresponsible leaders who are subservient to the dictates of Manila – these are the conditions pushing the Tausug people to the brink of desperation and fatalism.”(1)

   Understanding this issue helps solve this problem. Many of us still blind on what’s really happening on this matter. And now that the Armed Forces of the Philippines declared – “mission accomplished” – in Zamboanga City, I hope that there will be no other siege in other places in Mindanao. It’s time for us to do our research and investigate this unresolved case. As what Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Peace cannot be achieved through violence; it can only be attained through understanding.”

1. Philippine Daily Inquirer, Opinion Section, September 18, 2013

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