COTABATO CITY — It’s very difficult hearing the news about my beloved Maguindanao. Relatives and friends have sent text messages about the destruction brought about by the offensives perpetrated by government troops, private army and paramilitary groups on the side of Governor Andal Ampatuan and his son Datu Zaldy Ampatuan, governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
More than 4,000 families have evacuated coming from Mamasapano, Shariff Aguak and other adjoining municipalities. Students of Cotabato State Polytechnic College have also sent messages that one of their schoolmates was hit and wounded as government and Governor Andal troops advanced in Mamasapano municipality. Moro women from Cotabato have sent messages about the death of a Moro woman, wife of Zeid Pakiladatu, an MILF commander from Datu Piang whom Governor Andal had accussed as the one who killed his son in 2002 and responsible for June 28 bombing attack against the ARMM governor in his hometown Sharif Aguak.
My aunts have also sent messages that one of my relatives was hit and wounded in the fight. He was forced to join the offensives against the MILF in the town of Shariff Aguak because he was one of our mayor’s Cafgus. Apparently, Governor Andal elicited support from from all the mayors in Maguindanao to provide additional private army and Cafgus to combat Ameril Ombra and Zeid Pakiladatu, MILF commanders. He has also launched a five-million bounty hunt against the two commanders.
According to MindaNews, 16 out of 28 mayors in Maguindanao have given their Cafgus to Governor Ampatuan. One of them is our Mayor Nasser Imam of my ancestral hometown Matanog. He is an ally and a future addition to the Ampatuan clan.
Throughout these clashes I have yet to hear Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo order a ceasefire and tell the Ampatuans that their offensives are destroying her government’s peace deal with the MILF.
The Arroyo government is boasting that a final peace deal will be signed before the end of this year, the formalities will take place in September 2006. One of the issues that float about the talks is the government’s offer that it will respect the MILF’s jurisdiction over Bangsamoro areas, giving sole authority within the ARMM.
The Ampatuans are the governors of the most coveted seats to rule the Moro people and control their resources, the governorship of Maguindanao and ARMM. They have been the most favored allies of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo since 2002. In the 2004 election, they gave her the highest votes within the ARMM provinces, thus giving her a one million vote margin against Fernando Poe, Jr.
I can understand why the government is not lifting a finger to stop the skirmishes in Maguindanao. Apparently, an ally who can give a leverage in the national election is more important than the peace negotiations or the lives of the Moro people. Defending an ally that can do the dirty work for the government, like annihilating their so-called enemies and critics, has been the trademark of the Arroyo administration.
I am reminded once more of the human-rights violations that took place in Basilan when Mrs. Arroyo called for a military crackdown against the supporters and sympathizers of the Abu Sayyaf in year 2001. To present terrorists, the military in the Southern Command implemented saturation drives in communities, arrested and tortured residents, forcing them to admit they are supporters of the ASG.
Throughout the military crackdown, the Arroyo administration never pointed a finger to one of the founders of the Abu Sayyaf, the governor of Basilan, an ally of the Arroyo and one of the governors who have helped Arroyo propel to power.
Just like on the issue of human-rights violations against political activists, she has not only condoned human-rights violators like General Jovito Palparan, she even gave him medals for his work in annihilating political activists. Despite the cries of human-rights violations, she has even stepped up the offensive against political activists by calling for an all-out war against the New People’s Army and their supporters.
The key to keeping the peace in Maguindanao is to pressure Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to put a stop in the offensives, to order her armed forces to stop the offensives and to reprimand the Maguindanao officials that provided arsenal and private armies to the governor and order them to withdraw the armed troops.
If she can tell the governor to give her an election advantage, she can also ask the governor to stop the offensives, can she? For the sake of innocent Maguindanaoan families, and for the sake of peace to reign in Maguindanao.
(Amirah Ali Lidasan is the national vice-chairperson of the Suara Bangsamoro Partylist Organization. She wrote about the abuses at Camp Bagong Diwa in her previous column for Davao Today. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)