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Mar 21st
Home Columns Amina Rasul Worrisome IMT Poker Game
Worrisome IMT Poker Game PDF Print E-mail
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Columns - Amina Rasul
Sunday, 04 May 2008 11:31

Last Thursday, Malaysian Armed Forces chief Gen. Dató Sri Abdul Aziz Zainal met with Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. in Camp Aguinaldo. Malaysia has stated that it will withdraw its troops from the International Monitoring Team (IMT). The IMT oversees the implementation of the GRP-MILF ceasefire agreement. Malaysia has led the IMT, which includes representatives from Brunei and Libya, since 2004. Thanks to this peace-monitoring team, there was a huge drop in armed conflicts between government troops and the MILF from around 700 in the past to 15 incidents last year.

The agreement with Malaysia ends in September. On May 10, the IMT satellite offices in the cities of Iligan, Zamboanga, General Santos and Davao will shut down, leaving only the headquarters in Cotabato City open.

At the press conference, Aziz stated that Malaysia would continue to broker the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The peace talks have been stalled since December.

What will be the effect of Malaysia's withdrawal? Although Aziz downplays any negative effect, civil society organizations in Mindanao are pessimistic. Without the peace monitors, the Mindanao communities fear that there will no longer be a deterrent for hostilities by either the Philippine military or the MILF.

A civil society network, the Mindanao Peaceweavers, called on "both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces to publicly state that they will continue to adhere to the primacy of the peace process and not start any war if the IMT pull out cannot be prevented." The Peaceweavers worry that the IMT withdrawal will "provide the space and condition for other troublemakers and spoilers in the island and the region to take advantage of this gap and advance their dark agenda."

Another group, the Consortium on Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) still "urged President Gloria Arroyo to . . . uphold the primacy of the peace talks over military solution to address the centuries-old Mindanao problem," even as it doubted the sincerity of government. It also appealed to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and MILF to be patient with the government.

We in the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy worry about the game of poker being played when the stakes are so high. What are the cards held by the government, the MILF, the Malaysians?

Muslims are not allowed to gamble—although every day, in Muslim Mindanao, ordinary Muslim men, women and children gamble with their lives each time they step out of their homes.

Retired Gen. Rodolfo Garcia, now the head of government panel negotiating with the MILF, has downplayed the possibility of resumption of violence with the pullout of the Malaysians. As he reminds, Libya and Brunei will remain. He also has confidence that the Malaysians will continue to play its role as facilitator of the GRP-MILF peace talks.

Unfortunately, the talks have been stalled, with the MILF accusing the government of reneging on the commitments it had made during the November peace talks in Kuala Lumpur. The CBCS mentions that Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno has said the government should not give in to the MILF's demand for a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity without a plebiscite. High-ranking leaders of the AFP have opined that the MILF should be disarmed first before we negotiate for peace.

Will the government use the Malaysian pullout to beef up its military presence in Muslim Mindanao? Will such a play have anything to do with the RP-US Balikatan exercises to counter terrorism? In the meantime, the Philippine military seems to have stepped up its operations in Muslim Mindanao. On Wednesday, the AFP bombarded an area near the MNLF camp in Indanan, allegedly in pursuit of Jemaah Islamiah and Abu Sayyaf.

The MILF, on the other hand, is happy to play the cards of the aggrieved party, focusing attention on the insincerity of the government in the negotiations. The MILF position is supported by the local communities. According to the CBCS statement, "Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita had once told a group of nongovernment workers from Mindanao that the Arroyo administration policy vis-à-vis the GRP-MILF Peace Talks is 'paikutin lang' (to play around)." Even Davao City Mayor Rudy Duterte has been heard to say that the government is just playing around in the talks with the MILF.

What are Malaysia's cards? Perhaps Malaysia is tired of the foot dragging by the Philippine government and this is its best way of jolting the government. Or perhaps it can no longer justify the expenses it has incurred in Mindanao since 2004 and can use the stalled talks as legitimate excuse to cut loose. The Malaysians have probably spent hundreds of millions (of pesos) to support the IMT in an operation that looks more and more like a black hole.

We in the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy worry about the game of poker being played when the stakes are so high.

What about Misuari? Is he in the game? The timing of his release on bail is peculiar, coming at the heels of the Malaysian pull out. The Malaysian government has no love lost for Misuari, whose wife Ruayda is an heir to Sabah. Is Misuari's release sending signals to the Malaysians? Or is it a signal to the MILF that a new "old" player is entering the game?

I don't know. Anyway, Muslims are not allowed to gamble—although every day, in Muslim Mindanao, ordinary Muslim men, women and children gamble with their lives each time they step out of their homes.

High-level poker players, please remember what is at stake as you play your cards.

Editor's Notes: This is Amina Rasul's Durian column for today, as reprinted from The Manila Times. Ms. Rasul is the Lead Convenor of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy and editor of The Manila Times' monthly Moro Times.

Last Updated on Sunday, 04 May 2008 11:47

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