Strike a balance

The wars on drugs and violent radicalism in Mindanao by the administration of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte are yielding positive development. With some qualifications, these campaigns deserve the support of everyone. We cannot imagine a country full of drug addicts and extremists!

It has to be conceded that drug trafficking and the number of drug users are reduced to a good level. Similarly, the strengths of violent radical elements or popularly tagged as “terrorists” in Mindanao are neutralized or reduced significantly. These are milestones under the current administration.

However, in the case of the GPH-MILF peace process, the over-emphasis on results and perhaps also on secrecy rather than on process and the strict observance of the ceasefire agreement especially the Terms of References of the Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) in the conduct of these campaigns, created many complications on the ground. For instance, if the time on target is 14 hundred hour, which means 2:00 PM, and coordination is done only one hour before -- and the operating troops are already on the ground, then what can we expect from this situation?

In several instances, fighting between government and MILF forces ensued from this late or delayed coordination. It is good, as always, the timely intervention of GPH and MILF CCCHs and AHJAGs, as well as the International Monitoring Team (IMT), prevented the escalation of the fighting.

Like the previous administrations, primacy of the peace process is still the policy of the Duterte administration. The only difference is that under the current dispensation, wars on drugs and on violent extremism take greater attention, which is a highly commendable decision. There is little way to examine other approaches which can be effective; or are there other ways to handle these problems effectively.

Be this as it may, we would like to see a balanced approach. Good results for these twin campaigns are greatly desired but not at the expense of sacrificing another valued engagement, the search for genuine and lasting peace in Mindanao. The government and the MILF are already partners in overseeing that the three tracks of implementations are pursued vigorously namely, the ceasefire or security-related track through the CCCH, AHJAG, IMT, and the Local Monitoring Team (LMT), the normalization process track including transformation of MILF camps into peaceful communities, decommissioning of MILF weapons and combatants, disbandment of private armed groups, etc., and the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).    

By striking a balance between good results and observance of protocols of the GPH-MILF peace process has no substitute. In long term, this is more beneficial to the parties and for the search for the peaceful settlement of the Bangsamoro Question in Mindanao. The parties have to nurture and maintain their high trust and confidence with each other. Thanks to the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014, which was the reckoning point for the real partnership of government and MILF. Before that signing, peace panels of government and MILF cannot speak together in one forum.          

Moreover, while there are tangible achievements on the wars on drugs and violent extremism, but the final victory takes a long haul. War on drugs involve men and groups who are crazy over money and users or addicts who are also insane. In the same vein, extremism starts with idea, fuelled by frustration and global injustice, and the manipulation of the powers that be in the world. A close study of Abubakar al-Baghdadi would tell us that he was once held in custody by the United States Army in Baghdad but for unknown reason he was freed in 2009 after Abu Mus’ab Zarqawi, the successor of Osama bin Laden, died during US aerial campaign in Iraq. An idea will not die with the physical death of the one professing it. Thus, the twin campaigns are not easy for picking.