Globalizing the Mindanao conflict

What the government is doing in Mindanao and the rest of the country is finally becoming clear. To put it bluntly, the Philippine government is trying to put an end to the Moro rebellion, the communist insurgency, and the mass poverty that breeds them, by riding piggyback on the American war on global terrorism.  We are freeloading on the American people’s grief, and conniving with their reckless leaders to paint a world engulfed by terrorism in order to justify an immoral war.

The global war on terror, morally validated and emotionally driven by the indignation over September 11, is America’s best-funded crusade today.  By projecting our little corner of the world as a mini-

Afghanistan, our leaders are hoping to access a portion of the billions of dollars being poured into this war.  America indulges us not only because of its desperate quest for allies but also because it is trapped in its own rhetoric that, though it has multiple sites, terrorism is a unified menace and must be fought globally.

Yet, no matter how desperately we try to become part of America’s crusade, the reality is that we are not Pakistan, whose strategic value for the US in relation to Afghanistan earned for it a couple of billions in aid.  Neither are we Turkey, whose proximity to Iraq and suitability as a staging platform for a US invasion also merited for it a massive infusion of American military and development assistance.  Thus we have received nothing but pledges.  Now in a bid to bolster our role as George W. Bush’s cheering squad of one in Southeast Asia, we have also made ourselves available as America’s training camp and testing ground for its combat troops and new war equipment.

Under the legal cover of the Visiting Forces Agreement, we are offering our Iraq-bound friends controlled battlefields with live targets and real-life situations.  We are giving them permission to go after real terrorists, as well as hone their skills in community immersion and rehabilitation.  Yesterday it was Basilan; today it is Sulu.

Tomorrow, it may be North Cotabato and Lanao del Sur.  Later, it could be any hot spot in the country where communist rebels operate — all in the name of a collaborative war against terrorism.  This seems to be the scenario.  America won’t ever require permanent bases again; all they need is the open-ended script of continuing joint military exercises.

That our leaders can foist this upon the nation with impunity is disturbing.  Clearly, something happened to our national psyche after Marcos. Not even in their wildest imagination would any of our leaders after 1946 have thought of fielding American soldiers, supposedly here on military exercise, in actual areas of conflict where they would eventually be forced to assume combat roles.  Not only does this violate the Constitution, but more important, it erodes selfrespect.  Filipino communists and Mindanao’s Moros are not foreign enemies.  They are among this country’s peoples, though some may wish to live outside the present social order.  To invite foreign troops to fight them is not only cowardly; it is to betray the nation.

There is no denying that our people are tired of these little festering wars, and sick of the way in which our politicians and generals have mismanaged and exploited them.  The image of a ragtag group of less than a hundred mosquito bandits, thumbing their nose at an illequipped military, is exasperating.  The rumor that this same Abu Sayyaf group routinely splits its ransom take with corrupt military officers and politicians is galling. Today, a majority of our people would probably not mind it if Americans came in to finish a job that we cannot seem to handle ourselves.  This is the same feeling we had during martial law when not a few wished the CIA would assassinate Marcos and rescue the country from his malignant rule.

But this is not only irresponsible; it is also, even from a pragmatic view, a high-risk and unnecessary gambit.  When we project Mindanao as a theater of the global anti-terrorist war, we are giving a false picture of the country that alarms local and foreign investors and tourists.  It sows panic and distrust among our own people.  It privileges military solutions over peaceful negotiations.  But even more important, to allow foreign troops to fight on our soil is to expose ourselves to the real danger of ultimately losing control over the management of our own peace and order problems.  These internal conflicts, which mark the historical fault lines of our young nation, could fuse under pressure from foreign intervention and explode into a full-blown civil war that we would not wish upon our children.

We have nothing to gain in the long run from playing the role of parasite to a foreign power bent on world domination.  In the short haul, it may solve the budgetary problems of an administration.  It may even carve a political career for some generals and ambitious politicians.  But if our recent past is a guide, it should tell us in very clear terms what dependence on outside powers has done to us.  It has prevented us from looking inward and developing our own resources and energies.  It has destroyed our confidence in ourselves. It has prolonged our birthing as a nation.


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