MANILA, Philippines?Malacañang announced Tuesday night a P5-million reward each for the capture of Ombra Kato and Abdulla Macapaar alias Commander Bravo, the two Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commanders responsible for the series of attacks in the North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte and Sarangani provinces.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo approved the reward offer that was endorsed to her by Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. during Tuesday night?s National Security Council (NSC) meeting.
Kato and his men from the MILF?s 105th Base Command are also facing 60 criminal cases for occupying last week some 20 barangays (villages) in North Cotabato, burning and looting houses. The attacks left at least nine dead and displaced some 165,000 people.
On Monday, MILF forces led by Bravo raided towns in Lanao del Norte province, spraying gunfire, hacking civilians with machetes and torching houses. As a result, at least 28 people were killed and some 44,000 residents were displaced.
Muslims and Christians in Mindanao condemned the atrocities committed by MILF units in Lanao del Norte and Sarangani.
It was Gen. Alexander Yano, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, and Director General Avelino Razon of the Philippine National Police who recommended the reward money.
?Since they are both at large, the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Department of National Defense will issue a reward of P5 million for the information leading to the arrest of both Ombra Kato and Commander Bravo,? Puno said at a press briefing following the NSC meeting in Malacañang.
Bring Kato, Bravo to justice
Puno said he and Teodoro believed it was imperative to implement the reward system ?to expedite the process and bring (Kato and Commander Bravo) to justice.?
?There is no warrant of arrest as of yet because they?re at large but it?s no secret that we are looking for them until they are arrested and brought before the justice system,? Puno said.
He said he and Teodoro hoped that the reward would ?encourage those with information to come forward.?
By posting a reward money for information against the two MILF leaders, this meant the government ?did not consider them within the ambit of the peace process,? Teodoro said.
?They are common criminals and that is the stand of government at this point. As to what its effect to the MILF, it?s for them to consider and act on,? he said.
The 11,000-strong MILF has been fighting for Muslim self-rule in the Philippines for decades, and signed a 2003 ceasefire with the government. But a series of violent attacks in Mindanao has raised doubts over peace prospects.
Arson, robbery, murder
MILF spokesperson Eid Kabalu said last week that Kato was not a renegade MILF commander.
Chief Supt. Raul Castañeda, Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) director, said Kato and his men were facing 28 counts of arson, 23 counts of robbery in band, seven counts of murders and two counts of attempted murder.
?Our CIDG investigating unit here in Manila and Region 12 have filed the cases,? Castañeda told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net). He said the charges were filed with the Provincial Prosecutor?s Office in North Cotabato.
Businessman Ibrahim Ali Mama of Pigkawayan, North Cotabato, denounced the ?unjust? actions of some MILF commanders in Lanao del Norte. ?Any act of violence is ungodly,? he said.
Mama said even fellow Muslims were adversely affected by the cruel and inhuman act.
In the House of Representatives, two Muslim legislators condemned the atrocities in Lanao del Norte but still pushed for peace talks.
?Civilians were the ones killed. It?s really atrocious,? Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen said.
?The life of a Muslim is no more than the life of a Christian,? he said.
Against Islam?s tenets
Anak Mindanao party-list Rep. Mujiv Hataman, a native of Basilan, said the killings in Kauswagan and Kolambugan in Lanao del Norte were against the rules of war in Islam.
?Do not kill an old man, a woman or a child. Do not injure date palms and do not cut down fruit trees. Do not slaughter any sheep or cows or camels except for food,? Hataman said.
?Do not burn houses and places of worship such as churches, temples and monasteries. Leave priests and monks alone and do not molest them. These are the rules of war in Islam,? he added.
Hataman said the MILF fighters clearly violated these tenets.
?We hope the MILF leadership will conduct an impartial investigation and the perpetrators should be punished,? Hataman said.
Felina Salimbagon, a student in Cotabato City, asked: ?If Islam means peace, why these atrocities??
?Anything done with force and violence, I believe is un-Islamic, especially when they (rebels) attack communities and innocent residents. It would be good for the MILF to develop the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and its people, instead of forcing other communities to join them,? Salimbagon added.
Even Nur Misuari, chair of the Moro National Liberation Front, viewed the resurgence of hostilities as a ?minus-factor? to the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination.
Misuari?s group, which signed a peace agreement in 1996, waged decades of armed campaign against the government.
Mayor Muslimin Sema of Cotabato City said reports of attacks and atrocities in Christian areas were adversely ?affecting relationships, including economic links and activities of cities and residents.?
Professor Taha Basman, chair of the Philippine Islamic Council and Center for Moderate Muslims, also condemned the violence.
?(We) condemn the raging war in Mindanao, the burning of churches and the mounting destruction of heavy collateral damage inflicted on innocent civilian sectors (of society)?Muslims and Christians alike,? he said.
Basman said violence would lead mankind to nowhere.
Stop inflammatory statements
He said that while violence should be condemned, officials should avoid issuing statements that could worsen the situation.
Basman also urged Muslims and Christians to ?rise above the current crisis in this stage of the peace negotiations, and advocate peace not war.?
In Cagayan de Oro City, businessmen and religious leaders have expressed grave concern on the effects of the recent attacks of the MILF on the local economy.
Rodolfo Menes, chair of the Oro chamber of commerce and industry, also called on officials not to issue statements that could inflame the situation.
?Let us be circumspect on this thing and not exacerbate the situation by saying irresponsible side comments. There must be a steadfast solution to this situation,? Menes said.
Sultan Nas Natangcop, officer of the Northern Mindanao Ulama?s League, agreed.
?I believe this is just a temporary situation. I liken this to being stricken with the colds, which can be immediately cured. In fact, [life in] Iligan and Marawi are already beginning to normalize,? Natangcop said.
ARMM Gov. Zaldy Uy Ampatuan said dialogue between the Moro people, including the MILF, and Christian leaders was needed at this time.
The Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao (InPeace Mindanao) also pushed for talks instead of war.
?We are asking the government and the MILF to give primacy to the peace process in order to resolve issues,? Beverly Selim-Musni, InPeace Mindanao convenor, told the Inquirer.
But Musni said the ?attacks should be investigated in accordance with government-MILF agreements regarding hostilities.?
?The government should stop drum-beating for war so that confidence-building with the MILF will be restored. The government, if it is sincere in pursuing peace, should accept its failings in the peace process,? she said.
Bishop Antonio Ledesma of the Archdiocese in Cagayan de Oro said ?the search for peace and development in Mindanao goes on.?
In the House, both Dilangalen and Hataman said the peace talks should continue. ?It is better to talk than shooting each other,? Dilangalen said.
Hataman said the peace process remained the key to solving the problems in southern Philippines.
?The peace talks must continue because it is the only long-term solution,? Hataman said.
Poverty and insurgency
Despite its massive resources, Mindanao remains hobbled by poverty partly because of the Moro insurgency.
In a kind of chicken-and-egg situation, the poverty is also blamed for the spread of the insurgency and even extremism in the area.
Lanao del Norte Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo said the attacks on civilians had changed the way people looked at the MILF.
?Muslims and Christians alike condemn the terrorist acts of the MILF,? Dimaporo said.
?I?m sure that their inhuman acts in Lanao del Norte have eroded the respect for the cause of the MILF even from those who help the MILF,? he added.
Dimaporo said the attacks on towns in the province also affected investor confidence that may spur development in the place. Reports from Charlie Señase, Nash Maulana, Ma. Cecilia Rodriguez, Grace Albasin, Jullie Alipala and Edwin O. Fernadez, Inquirer Mindanao, and Alcuin Papa and Norman Bordadora in Manila