The Mindanao Issue

May 30, 00

We in AKBAYAN strongly condemn the hostage-taking and other acts of violence by the Abu Sayyaf. Such atrocities are unconscionable assaults on the human rights of the victims, as well as on the sense of decency and justice of every Filipino. We believe, however, that at this time, the effort to save the lives of the hostages must take precedence over winning the battle against the Abu Sayyaf. The lives of the hostages are not for the government to sacrifice in the name of a military victory. Consequently, the government must employ all possible means to secure their safety.

Given the current developments, however, we in AKBAYAN strongly doubt if the government is capable of handling the Mindanao problem effectively. We fear that more lives will be wasted in its sweeping military offensive in the region. For one, we are alarmed by the military’s attempts to link the Abu Sayyaf and the MILF and blame both for the hostage-taking and the escalating violence in all areas of Mindanao. The government seems to have taken the expedient position that hitting two birds with one stone will finally bring peace to Mindanao.

It has also used the crisis as an excuse to isolate and harass Muslims in Metro Manila by allowing local governments to implement an ID system for Muslim communities in Pasig and Manila. This measure is discriminatory, unconstitutional and only deepens animosity and paranoia. It does not help any in resolving the situation. If the police want to solve the bombings and other acts of criminality nationwide, it should concentrate on its investigative work instead of singling out Muslims as suspects.

Although we recognize the urgent need to address the plight of the hostages and safeguard the welfare of innocent civilians, we firmly assert that the ultimate goal of attaining and maintaining peace in Mindanao cannot be brought about by a military approach. The government’s all-out war stance creates the illusion that the entire issue is about the irreconcilable differences between Muslims and Christians and that there is no other way to address this problem but to obliterate the forces of the religious minority. It is a simplistic, and ultimately ineffective, response to a complex and long-standing problem. The crisis in Mindanao is not wholly the product of religious tension between two communities. It is a manifestation of the fact that the government continues to deny Mindanaoans the development that is due them, and to ignore their legitimate demands for political parity and social justice.

Mindanao is the richest region in the country in terms of natural resources, and yet it remains one of the poorest and most neglected areas. It has the lowest literacy rates (20% below the national literacy level) and one of the highest unemployment levels. There is a severe lack of basic services, housing, and infrastructure all over the region. The government’s military operations not only cost immeasurable damage to life and property, they also divert substantial resources away from development efforts. According to one estimate, it takes about P100 million pesos to wage one day of war in Mindanao–an amount that could have been used to uplift the area’s socio-economic condition and thereby pave the way for lasting peace in the region.

The crisis in Mindanao will not end even if the government’s military campaign succeeds. As long as the government continues to misgovern the region and ignore the roots of the problem, conflict will prevail and erupt at every opportunity. We in AKBAYAN strongly urge the national leadership to stop the military offensive, resume the peace negotiations with the MILF and pursue a coherent development program for Mindanao. Enough lives have been lost. Let us seek other means to end this tragedy.