KORONADAL CITY?The military is bracing for more violence in conflict areas in Mindanao as a result of the Supreme Court ruling declaring the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD) unconstitutional.
Maj. Armand Rico, spokesperson of the Armed Forces? Eastern Mindanao Command based in Davao City, said ?rogue? members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were expected to mount ?retaliatory attacks.?
?But we have a contingency plan in place to protect the civilians,? Rico said on the phone.
People displaced by the fighting in Maguindanao, like Anwar Saimudin of Pagatin, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, said they did not care that the high court had thrown out the controversial agreement between the government and the MILF.
?What we want is peacetime so we can return to our home,? said the 40-year-old farmer who, with his family, had been staying at an evacuation center. ?It?s difficult here; this is not our home. What about our food, our livelihood, our children?s education??
Saimudin?s wife, Layla, said the guns should be silenced so that the thousands of people who had fled the fighting, could start anew.
But Rico said that much as the military wanted peace, its prediction of more violence was not farfetched because hours before the high court?s ruling was made public on Tuesday, MILF rebels mounted an attack in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato.
He said seven rebels died in the ensuing firefight and a civilian was also killed in the process.
MILF civil-military affairs chief Eid Kabalu admitted that some rebel troops involved in the skirmishes could take more action.
?We cannot discount the possibility that some of our disgruntled members will carry out attacks,? he said, but added that the MILF leadership was now inclined to forging peace with the government and had not ordered the attacks.
Kabalu, however, also said MILF field commanders were under instruction to defend themselves when under attack by the military.
Rico clarified that military operations in Maguindanao, North Cotabato and other areas were specifically directed at erring MILF members.
?Our operations are not against the entire MILF organization but only against its rogue followers. We want to restore peace and order in the region,? he said of the punitive actions against Ameril Ombra Kato.
Kato and another MILF leader, Abdullah Macapaar alias Commander Bravo, are accused of leading earlier attacks on civilians in North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte, respectively.
More than 60 civilians were killed in the attacks and more than 600,000 people have been displaced.
Reacting to the military report that rebels attacked a village in North Cotabato on Tuesday and killed a civilian, Kabalu said the MILF viewed the incident as a legitimate ?encounter.?
He said the civilian reported killed?identified as Salvador Rodigo by the military?was actually a militiaman involved in the clash.
?Our forces were passing the area when they were attacked by militiamen. Actually, three militiamen were killed, and two others were hurt in the fighting,? Kabalu said. He denied that the MILF had suffered fatalities.
Pursue other avenues
Appeals for peace continued to be aired in the wake of the high court?s ruling on the MOA-AD.
In Cotabato City, Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo expressed dissatisfaction with the ruling but expressed the hope that it would not be ?the end of everything.?
?Peace will still be attained in Mindanao,? Bagaforo said, adding that the government and the MILF only needed to explore other avenues to pursue peace.
Harumi Kitabayashi, deputy resident representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, told reporters his government was hopeful that the peace negotiations would resume soon.
?My government is hoping that both sides will find a way to proceed with mutual understanding and cooperation,? Kitabayashi said during a visit to a Japan-funded project in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
She said donor-countries wanted peace in Mindanao before putting in ?more resources for economic development.?
?Unfortunately it cannot be realized at the moment, but we are waiting,? she said.
In a long-distance call from Switzerland, where he is attending the annual assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Sen. Rodolfo Biazon said the government should promptly resume peace talks with the MILF.
But this time, Biazon wants Indonesia to facilitate the peace talks.
?I still maintain my position that the government should explore the possibility of the peace talks being resumed without foreign intervention. If, however, this is not possible, we should explore the proposition that another country be the broker of the peace process instead of Malaysia,? he said.
Biazon, the chair of the Senate committee on national defense and security and a former AFP chief of staff, said Malaysia had ?conflict of interest? in brokering the peace process because of the standing Philippine claim to the state of Sabah.
Responding to calls for the resumption of the peace talks, Kabalu said: ?The MILF central committee is maintaining a peaceful option in resolving the conflict in Mindanao?that is what I can guarantee.?
But he said even the MILF was in a quandary as to how the talks could resume given the government position of disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation, or DDR.
?We believe that the path to peace is still the negotiating table, but there should be no precondition [for the resumption of the talks],? Kabalu said.
North Cotabato Vice Gov. Emmanuel Piñol, one of the petitioners against the MOA-AD, urged the government to ?reassess and restudy? its position in relation to efforts to solve the so-called Mindanao conflict.
?Now is the time to reassess the government?s position on whether to continue talking with the MILF, which does not recognize the Constitution,? Piñol told the Catholic-run Radio dxND in Kidapawan City.
Zamboanga City Rep. Isabel Climaco also said the junking of the MOA-AD should make the government rethink its strategies.
?The [high court?s] decision should become the government?s guide in talking with the MILF,? she said.
Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat said the decision was ?very providential? because it ?saved the country from being dismembered.?
Stay on alert
In Malacañang, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo expressed respect for the high court?s ruling but urged local government leaders to help prevent violence that might arise.
?I also ask you to help us ensure that no one will take undue advantage of the verdict that would lead to the deterioration of the situation on the ground and that would pull the nation further apart,? she said in a speech at the induction of new officers of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Ms Arroyo had instructed security forces to stay on alert for possible attacks from rogue MILF elements.
But he said both police and military forces were told not to use high-angle artillery such as aircraft-mounted bombs against the rebels to avoid harming civilians. With reports from Christian V. Esguerra and Michael Lim Ubac in Manila