The attack of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement against the detachments of the military in selected areas of Maguindanao last Monday (August 6, 2012) was condemned by various sectors as a challenge against the peace initiatives of the Pnoy Administration. There were two reasons why the offensive did not get the sympathy of residents in the areas concerned and in ARMM and Central Mindanao as a whole: This happened on the holy month of Ramadhan when the Muslim faithful are still observing their religious obligations, and since the BIFM has been disowned by the MILF, the ceasefire agreement does not apply. This means that the military will most likely respond to the offensive by armed force, in the process of making the BIFM forces answerable to their actions, leading again to massive displacement of civilians residing in the area.
As of the second day of fighting, a number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) were again crowding the designated evacuation sites which are mostly public school buildings. Aside from disrupting classes of students, the displacement makes it doubly difficult for the IDPs to perform their religious obligation of fasting and Iftar (buka). In some areas, houses of residents were even burned.
In terms of economic effect, many businessmen plying the Cotabato City- Shariff Aguak route have been prevented to conduct business due to the military operations in the area. Losses in terms of business and agriculture will again haunt the residents, not to mention the expense in fire power incurred by the military. Armed conflict is always a losing proposition, which is why the government and the MILF opted for the peace dialogue as a process to iron out differences.
However, the present peace process was not able to effectively respond to a group of MILF outcasts who decided to form the BIFM. This group remains to be a thorn in the process. During the MILF Leaders Assembly held last month, the MILF Chairman gave the assurance that the BIFM leadership has given their support to whatever agreement is entered into by the MILF. Whatever happened to that commitment? What could be the political statement that the BIFM wants to bring to the fore this time? Is it to show the world that they are still a force to be reckoned with?
The Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles lamented the fact that the attacks occurred when the Peace Process is proceeding smoothly. In her statement, Deles said that “This act of aggression of the BIFM is meant to derail the peace process between the government and the MILF. We assure the public that these incidents will not affect the substantial gains that we have carefully and persistently built with our counterparts, foremost of which is the ceasefire mechanism that continues to hold on the ground and kept the peace for our communities.”
The GPH-MILF continues to be the longest running peace dialogue in the Philippines, if not the world. It has been observed, analyzed, copied by peace advocates worldwide. It has become a sort of laboratory on how conflict can be managed, with theories and mechanisms tested to improve the process of maintaining peace. It is therefore a sad turn of events if a minor show of force by the BIFM would bring all these efforts back to square one.