02 Feb The MILF are Human Beings too

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MILF

JUAN SAYS: We do not wish to be identified as Filipinos who are taking the side of the ‘enemy,’ or at least, who are perceived to be the ‘enemies’ at this point. However, in the spirit of peace and justice, we would like to give a voice to the Moros, the marginalized people of the south, because like you and me, they are human beings too.
 
People of the north will never understand the violence that is going on in the south. People from the south have cried for blood, demanded for justice for many years and even challenged all of us to live in the south just to experience what it is to live side by side with these “violent people.” And to that we, people from the north will never know. We have chanced upon a post of one brave woman who did live in “MILF country,” and we have opted publish her post as a point for discussion. After all, the MILF, no matter how savage we look at them are also looking at lasting peace. Brother to brother. Filipinos to Filipinos. Like the writer Rosa Cordillera Castillo, we would also want to give peace a chance.
 

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The MILF is more than just

an armed organization

They are human beings too

 

By Rosa Cordillera Castillo

I am reposting here a comment I made to one journalist. The context might be slightly vague but I do hope that this somehow contributes to the prevailing discourse on the Mamasapano incident:
 
I can speak on this matter with a particular kind of knowledge. I lived in an MILF village and moved around in the Cotabato region for a year or so for my ethnographic fieldwork between 2012-2014. My months of living with poor Muslim Maguindanaons who refer to themselves as mujahideens (they are not the stereotyped crazed Muslim terrorist that the US has successfully ingrained in many minds; jihad means different things among Moros one of which is struggle to improve oneself) gave me an understanding of the complexity of the conflict, its convoluted strands, the precariousness of everyday life, the struggle to be a Muslim in the Philippines, and the difficulty of arriving at easy straightforward explanations for events. So many actors at play, so many interests at stake. Yet despite the decades long conflict, the MILF and the GRP had engaged in negotiations much more than they engaged in war. And I fervently hope that this last peace talks will truly end the protracted war.
 
Alas, politicians, lay people, scholars, and yes many in the mass media, have been spewing rumors and inflammatory remarks that has put the peace talks in danger, and more importantly has put the south once again on the brink of war. I am in the process of writing a longer piece on the matter. But there are several points I want to highlight here:
 
1) The investigation is being conducted and before then, I would refrain from making concluding statements regarding the MILF or the BIFF coddling this or that terrorist, or whether it was an ambush, or an encounter. And no, it was not a massacre, as both of the groups were armed. The International Monitoring Team, which often quickly steps in on such matters as well as the MILF’s own investigation team are investigating the matter. The IMT did it in the aftermath of the Al Barka clash in 2011 and it will do it again. In my many months of living in North Cotabato, I’ve seen the MILF Task Force Etihad step in to stop a clash, whether with the BIFF or even clan feuds, from escalating. The GRP-MILF joint committee on cessation of hostilities had also been instrumental in keeping the area relatively quiet and this has been a marked difference in the lives of many villages.
 
2) Former MILF Spokesperson Eid Kabalu has a fraught history with the MILF leadership. His statement should be seen in this light.
 
3) The “camp” is not a camp in the stereotypical sense of the word. It’s a community. Camp Abubakar and Camp Darapanan are both thriving communities where people reside. Mamasapano is a big municipality and an MILF stronghold. That up to 100 MILF fighters eventually joined the encounter is not surprising. They live in the villages! Of course it is easy to get them to join the fight not like the Army who needs to access the area. And this certainly doesn’t mean the villagers were prepared for the arrival of the SAF. Oh, one last thing, the men had just finished their morning prayer when the SAF arrived. Thus many men were actually gathered in the various mosques in the municipality. Suddenly fully armed men whom they did not recognize arrived and the fighting ensued. Keep in mind that there are Muslim families in these areas whose lives were threatened by the presence of armed men. This event should be read within the long history of government forces wantonly entering Muslim villages, searching for men, harassing people, destroying property, and making arrests. Again, who fired first is subject to investigation. Before that, I would refrain from making judgments.
 
4) The BIFF and the MILF should never be conflated with each other as some reports are wont to do. Half a year ago, the BIFF pledged allegiance to ISIS. Soon after that the MILF denounced ISIS. BIFF and MILF had their own clashes as well. The MILF had tried its best to bring BIFF founder Kato back into the main guerilla forces without success. Rumors have it he passed away in 2012 from illness. Does this mean the MILF was not coddling Marwan? No. Again, I would wait for the investigation.
 
5) Now, it could very well be that some MILF members have been coddling Marwan without knowledge of the higher-ups. This is an issue that the MILF needs to organizationally address. And if the organization knows about it, then condemnation is in order. But right now, everything is in speculation, and once it becomes inflammatory and does not help the peace process at all.
 
6) One report described the encounter as “combined forces” of BIFF and the MILF as though there exists a formal tactical alliance where there is none. One thing that many commentators lose sight of or are unaware of is that these are areas where people belonging to various armed groups are living side by side as relatives. At the moment of firefight with the SAF, one’s kin relations rather than group affiliation might have been the defining factor.
 
7) The MILF itself had already issued a statement regarding the incident and expressed sympathy for those who perished on both sides. Yet national media only talks of the SAF as though Muslim lives do not matter.
 
Which brings me to my last point, the use of hashtag Filipinolivesmatter –“others” referring to many Moros is an exclusion, rather than an inclusion. Many Moros for a very long time have seen their identity as oppositional to the Filipino majority, precisely because of the centuries of oppression, land grabbing, political-economic exclusion, and discrimination they’ve experienced from colonial powers and the Philippine state.

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