All out war? Really now…

I really don’t get why some news programs like putting out simplistic polls on national issues which are not easily answerable by yes or no. Arriving at the house this evening, I found one news program posing a question whether the government should suspend peace talks with the Moro Islamis Liberation Front, and wage an all out war as a result of the massacre of soldiers in Al Barkah, Basilan.

It’s a stupid question and a stupid proposition.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front is a huge and complicated military organization waging a war for the rights of the Bangsa Moro in Mindanao. It is comparable in structure and nature with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and maybe even with the supposed to be “civilian in nature” Philippine National Police.

Now, here’s a question: Do we dissolve the Armed Forces of the Philippines or the Philippine National Police whenever some of its members are involved in corruption scandals, coups d’ etat, extortion activities and human rights violations? The answer: No.

Why? Because it would be foolish to dissolve an organization which has the capability to impose penalties on erring members. 

Considering that the MILF has a better command and control structure now that what it used to have in the mid-1990s (it’s even actually better than the New People’s Army), why not ask the MILF leadership to discipline its own people if it wants the standing peace talks with the government to continue? Of course, this proposition from the government can only be given consideration by the MILF if the communication lines between the two adversarial parties are kept open.

Once an all-out war is waged (as implied by the question posed earlier in the national news program) all forms of peaceful exchanges between the government and the MILF leadership will be suspended. The exchanges would then shift from the negotiating tables to the battlefields of Mindanao. And by that time the medium would move from pen and paper to bombs and bullets.

To end the peace talks and declare an all-out war against the MILF would mean the waging of a campaign which would not only be based in Basilan, but would also cover areas as far as Lanao del Norte, Sarangani and Davao del Sur. The war will also spread not only in the areas where the MILF is known to have base commands, but also other areas beyond their usual spheres of influence.

The history of the MILF has shown that its Special Operations Groups conduct bombings and raids of transport facilities, parks, malls, airports and other public infrastructure. This would mean isolated attacks and bombings in Davao City, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Butuan, Zamboanga and even some areas in Metro Manila. And to counter this threat, the military and police will not only have to fight the Bangsa Moro fighters in the hills but also in the cities. I don’t think we have enough personnel to engage in this multi-spectrum kind of insurgency.

Of course, the war-mongering public are seething with rage. And I can understand that. I too clamor for justice in the deaths of the soldiers. But the government and even the armed services must not be brash with what steps to take.

The blood-thirsty public in the Capital may find it easy to raise their fists in the air and shout “avenge the soldiers.” And they can confidently do these things because their homes are far from the reaches of the MILF’s mujaheedin. But how about the people of Mindanao? 

When President Estrada declared an all-out war against the MILF in the late 90s, we sons of Mindanao were being prepared for possible spill-overs from the battles which were raging in western and central Mindanao. Our Advance ROTC instructors were not mere soldiers but members of Special Forces units which were part of the government offensive. They were giving us not only your usual instruction in military science but also lessons learned from their skirmishes with the MILF units.

The situation then was tense. There were always talks of the MILF units closing in on Iligan City (which was just a few kilometers from my home town, Cagayan de Oro). There were rumors of MILF-SOG units infiltrating cities and recruiting fighters. People all over Mindanao were edgy with unattended packages in bus terminals, malls and airports. Everyone was constantly afraid of how the conflict will envelope the whole Land of Promise. And in psychological terms, the all-out war did consume the whole of Mindanao.

I would not want my family and friends in the land of my birth to go through that experience again.

If the government and the MILF seriously want to pursue the peace talks at the same time go after those responsible for the massacre, then they should work out a mechanism by which those responsible for the massacre will be brought to face charges. If such an arrangement with the MILF was made regarding Ameril Umbra Kato, then there’s no reason why it can’t be done with this case.

An all-out war is not the solution. It will only prolong an already long-overdue conflict.

Also, if some media outlets only held on more to ethical standards, I think such a poll should not have been made for the public. It smacks short of saber-rattling and it is an affront against conflict-sensitive journalism.

Some guys really need to upgrade their knowledge in the profession. We’re no longer in the Second World War y’know.