By Maulana Bobby Alonto

As the Armed Forces of the Philippines intensifies its aerial and ground bombardment of Moro communities in Mindanao and starving of Moro refugees with military food blockades to collect the multi-million peso rewards on the heads of MILF commanders Ameril Ombra Kato and Abdurrahman ‘Bravo’ Macapaar, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has been repeatedly announcing to the public the ‘new peace strategy’ of her regime in confronting the conflict in Mindanao. The President, says her spokesmen, has changed the rules of the game. No longer will she be holding peace talks with armed groups but directly with the communities. Also, any dealings with the MILF shall be in the context of DDR: demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (rehabilitation, as her spokesmen erringly put it).

From these pronouncements, it is clear that the Arroyo regime has abandoned the Mindanao peace process. After the aborted August 5 MOA-AD signing ceremony in Malaysia, the nationwide anti-Moro and anti-Muslim campaign, and the consequent fighting in Central Mindanao, Jesus Dureza, the presidential mouthpiece, informed all and sundry that the regime would no longer sign the MOA-AD “in its present form or in any other form”. Arroyo even followed this up by disbanding the government peace panel.

Here, there is no room for misinterpretation. Insofar as the Arroyo regime is concerned, the MILF-GRP peace negotiation is plain and simple kaput. Just like that. There is really no ‘new peace strategy’. There is no more ‘primacy of the peace process.’ Everything else is pure rhetoric. The reality is that it’s back to the old but profitable business of war. I am pretty sure the warmongers are jumping with joy. Behind the scenes, there would be a lot of back-slapping: “We’re back in business, boys! We’re back in business!”

No in-depth analysis is needed to understand that Arroyo’s ‘peace strategy’ is pure nonsense. It’s a lot of bull, to use a Yankee colloquialism. Peace negotiation with communities? What communities? Moro communities? The political aspiration of the Moro people has always been articulated and represented by the Moro liberation movement. Hence, if government wants a negotiation it has to deal with the Moro liberation movement. That means the MILF. That the regime will be negotiating with ‘communities’ – assuming these are Moro communities – and not with the Moro liberation movement is like performing shadow boxing.
This begs the question: What about DDR?

By putting forward DDR, the Arroyo regime has made it obvious that it does not want to conclude a peace agreement. What it wants – nay, demands – is the surrender of the MILF. But no revolutionary organization worth the name would succumb to such an outrageous demand or condition. And the MILF is a revolutionary organization. Brother Al Haj Murad, the Amirul Mujahideen and Chairman of the MILF, has made this very clear on several occasions. The Arroyo regime knows that the MILF would outrightly reject this absurd precondition for the resumption of talks. So by demanding for the impossible, the regime really does not want the talks to resume. Or, reconsider signing the MOA-AD. It appears now that everything was orchestrated, including the aborted signing, so that the talks would crumble. And it did crumble. That’s the harsh reality. That’s the inside story.

So where does that leave us? As I said, back to a state of war. Before the onset of the Holy Month of Ramadhan, I could hear these foreboding words of our brothers reverberating in the four corners of the Moro Homeland:

“Brace yourselves, brothers and sisters, the ‘Castilians’ are coming! They will bomb our homes, pillage our communities, put torch to our masajid, haul or young boys to prison as ‘terrorists’, and portray us as Dracula in their daily moro-moro. So brace yourselves! Man the barricades!”

Today, as we watch from a distance the smoke-filled air over the devastated Moro villages of Maguindanao, North Cotabato, Saranggani, Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, these words of warning have come alive. The brown ‘Castilians’ are already here causing mayhem. And even during Ramadhan! But thank Allah, Most High, there are brothers ‘manning the barricades’.
But seriously, now that the peace process under the Arroyo regime is dead as in dead, the persistent question that a young former Moro neighbor is bugging me with is: will there be life for the peace process after Arroyo?

Pondering over this question intently, I saw that my former neighbor has a point – as a matter of fact, all the relevant points – in pestering me with this question. I asked myself also the same question until it dawned on me that the only way to answer this is to have a rundown of who the Filipino ‘presidentiables’ are in 2010, the year Arroyo leaves office (and I hope for good).

I abhor Philippine politics because it’s neo-colonial (in Islamic terminology, it is jahili politics) and therefore rotten. So, I never took interest in finding out who the presidentiables are lining up for the elections in 2010. I never even vote in all elections, national or local. I spent the best years of my youth in the struggle against Filipino regimes and presidents who had our Moro homeland invaded and devastated. I am one among the many Moros who holds a Filipino passport by force of circumstance.

But going back to the issue, if the peace process were to be revived it will be under a new regime, a new sitting president. The MILF-GRP negotiation was jettisoned by Joseph Estrada in 2000 when he waged all-out war against the MILF; but it was revived when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took over the presidency in 2001. The perception now is when Arroyo steps down in less than two years’ time there is the likelihood that the peace process will also be revived back to life. Or will it be?

But to satisfy my former Moro neighbor’s persistent question as well as my own curiosity, I made a short list of Filipino presidentiables using as yardstick their recent reactions to and/or views on the MOA-AD.

The first on the list would be Vice-President Noli de Castro, being next in line to the exiting Arroyo. As an aside, I don’t think he is even worth being considered a serious contender for the presidency. To the bourgeois elite, De Castro lacks the qualification, particularly the ‘intellectual sophistication’, for becoming president. In the recent brouhaha over the MOA-AD, he was conspicuously silent. He had no stand of his own and played safe staying quietly at the sidelines while his political colleagues in and out of government took turns lambasting the Moros, who happen to be the compatriots of his Moro wife. But then again, De Castro’s weaknesses might just be his strengths. To the exploitative Filipino ruling elite, he could be a useful tool, a puppet president.
Intellectually deficient, yes, but that would even make him a good puppet-on-a-string. As such, he would be a glorified servant of the powerful anti-Moro and anti-Muslim blocs, particularly the conservative Church and reactionary Big Business, which dominate the political and economic scene in the Philippines.

Under a De Castro presidency, the peace process might be revived but it will be a peace process with no direction, a peace process designed to perpetuate the status quo in Mindanao. It will all be for show to keep the international donors’ money flowing into the pockets of the corrupt Philippine officialdom. That kind of a peace process is a dead one. So forget it.

The second on the list of presidentiables is Senate President Manny Villar. Senator Villar has not been as vociferous as the other Filipino politicians in opposing the MOA-AD.
Nevertheless, he is against it. He is part of Big Business and the latter has vast economic interests in Mindanao. This being the case, Villar will oppose any peace process that will give the Bangsamoro people the kind of economic concessions and political rights contained in the MOA-AD. To the Moros, short of the MOA-AD agenda, there is no talking point in any resumption of negotiation. But Villar will not stand for resuming talks based on the MOA-AD.

He will ‘play safe’ by demanding that any peace talks be within the framework of the Philippine constitution. Therefore, there will never be a meaningful peace negotiation under a Villar presidency. Besides, Villar will also be looking forward to the next presidential election and I don’t think he can dare antagonize the mighty political and economic power blocs that really rule the country.

The third on our list is Senator Mar Roxas. There’s nothing more to be said about Roxas, a grandson of a Philippine president who also played a part in the colonization of the Bangsamoro Homeland.

Mar Roxas, an Ilonggo, has vehemently opposed the MOA-AD for two basic reasons: 1. inherent dislike for the Bangsamoro people which he probably ‘inherited’ from his colonialist forebears; and 2. fear that that the signing of the MOA-AD will set the stage for charter change leading to an extension of the term of Arroyo, thus aborting his plan to become president by 2010. Under a Roxas presidency, there might not even be peace talks between the MILF and the Philippine government. It should be noted that the Roxas family acquired political power and wealth under the status quo whose ‘bible’ is the Philippine constitution. So, Roxas is definitely hopeless. Perhaps, the only thing he knows about the Moros is that they are a source of ‘ghost votes’ during election time. And indeed, like Villar’s mindset, there is always a second term to look forward to. ‘Ghost voters’ from the ARMM will be useful to Mar Roxas so he cannot afford to give the Bangsamoro people the kind of freedom they want and need that is in the MOA-AD.

The fourth on the list is former senator Franklin Drilon. Like Roxas, Drilon is an Ilonggo. He heads the opposition wing of the Liberal Party. He is also a rabid opponent of the MOA-AD. In his one page-ad in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Drilon’s presentation of the MOA-AD for easy understanding by the public was good. But it was his conclusion that really mattered. He exposed his Filipino chauvinistic animus for the Moros by parroting the lie that the MOA-AD leads to Moro secession.

Drillon is a brilliant lawyer. Of all the presidentiables, he is perhaps the most intellectually capable of understanding the ‘Bangsamoro Problem’. But as a typical Filipino trapo (traditional politician) whose reactionary mindset is attuned to that of the anti-Moro Filipino settler-politician in Mindanao, Drillon does not want to understand the ‘Bangsamoro Problem’. He strongly denies and opposes the assertion of Bangsamoro identity. This refusal to understand the ‘Bangsamoro Problem’ he has craftily mantled in the rhetoric of defending the Philippine constitution.

So goes for Senator Cheez Escudero, another presidentiable. Or so they say. The Senate neophyte is popular for his ‘cause-oriented’ opposition to the Arroyo regime. But I guess Escudero’s past association with the deposed Joseph Estrada who had unleashed an ‘all-out-war’ in 2000 against the Bangsamoro people has left an indelible mark on his mind.
Escudero, a self-styled ‘Filipino nationalist,’ is among the most vocal oppositionists to the MOA-AD. By going against the MOA-AD, Escudero revealed his true colors: justice is only good for the Opposition, not the Moros. If he were to become president, we might have another ‘Erap’ in the making.

Another presidentiable on the list is the glamorous Senator Loren Legarda, a vice-presidential candidate who lost to De Castro in the last election. The problem with Loren is that she doesn’t even know whether to become a billboard ad model or be serious in her job as a government official. If she becomes president, a friend predicted that town and city streets as well as highways from Jolo to Aparri would all be adorned with those gigantic billboards displaying multi-colored pictures of hers in different poses endorsing a variety of cosmetic products and the latest fashion or announcing her projects for the nation.
Legarda is close to some members of the Moro elite. She was even given an honorary title as ‘Bailabi So-and-So’ in Lanao del Sur. That, however, doesn’t make her sympathetic to the Moro cause or an expert on the ‘Bangsamoro Problem’. In fact, her true feelings came out when she, too, opposed the MOA-AD. Assuming she becomes president, it is possible she would revive the peace talks though not to endorse the MOA-AD but to promote a cosmetic product! Pardon the pun.

Second to the last on our list is Senator Panfilio ‘Ping’ Lacson, another loser in the last presidential election. Nothing more can be said about Ping Lacson that the public, especially the Moros, does not already know. He was Estrada’s hit man during the incumbency of the former. It was during his watch as head of the Philippine National Police (PNP) under the Estrada presidency that four innocent Moro Muslims were brutally executed gangland-style on a street in Quiapo, Manila, by the police in broad daylight. The poor Muslims who were applying for jobs abroad were suspected, judged and executed all at one time as ‘MILF terrorists’. And this does not even include the many Muslims detained and/or who disappeared when Lacson was PNP Chief.

Ping Lacson doesn’t worry or care about human rights. He is a bully who does not believe in due process, no thanks to his stint as a Philippine Constabulary ‘enforcer’ during the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship. He is one of the architects of Estrada’s all-out war debacle in Mindanao together with Angelo Reyes, then the Chief of Staff of the AFP. Under a Lacson presidency, there might not even be a peace negotiation let alone the revival of one.
At the bottom of the list is Joseph ‘Erap’ Ejercito Estrada. I included the latter because of his recent innuendos that he might stage a political comeback “if the Filipino people demand it”. He still has a lot of fanatic followers who are unbelievably mesmerized by his movie antics being played out in real life. Knowing Philippine politics, it would not be difficult for a political has-been like Erap to invoke ‘the Filipino people’s demand’ and take the center stage in the fight for the Philippine presidency.

In the recent controversy on the MOA-AD, it is evident Erap never learned from his past blunders when he unleashed an all-war on the Bangsamoro people in 2000. From his lair in a posh suburban village in Metro-Manila, he continues to rant not only against the MOA-AD but against the MILF. He boasts that if he were still the president, the ‘Bangsamoro Problem’ would have been solved by his ‘pupulbusin-ko-kayo‘(“I will pulverize you”) military formula. Everyone knows the only ‘victory’ that Erap gained from his foolish military adventurism in Mindanao, Basilan and Sulu was a Pyrrhic one and that was when his troops ‘captured’ at a very high price a small piece of real estate inside Camp Abu Bakr As-Siddiq. He failed to literally reduce the MILF to smithereens as he arrogantly boasted to the public. This ignoramus cannot live a day without being inebriated so much so that he does not realize until now that the MILF’s tactical withdrawal from a small part of Camp Abu Bakr cannot be compared to his humiliating ejection from Malacañang and the subsequent public shame he was subjected to as a result of the venalities of his regime.

Nevertheless, Erap is one guy who holds extreme contempt for the Bangsamoro people, the MILF and Islam and if he were to become president again, he would declare the “Fall of Camp Abu Bakr” a national holiday and order all mosques throughout the country to celebrate it with imported wine and lechon.

Negotiation, you say? Under Erap, no way. This man has the mentality of a gangster. Just like the underworld characters he played in his B-grade movies.
I was considering including in my list the likes of Senator Richard Gordon and Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. but their chances of being presidentiables, while not nil, are slim. But even assuming that they stand the chance of becoming presidents, these two also opposed the MOA-AD.

Pimentel is a big disappointment to the Moros because he hails from Mindanao and is an advocate of ‘Mindanaoan’ rights. It turned out, however, that he is no different from the rest of the Filipino politicians. All talk but no sincerity and commitment.

I likewise ignored House Speaker Boy Nograles, who is from Davao City, because though he ranks third or fourth in the government hierarchy, he hasn’t as yet made any open manifestation of joining the presidentiables. It is very unlikely that he would. He is not that popular to the Filipinos in the North. Like Pimentel, Nograles was a fervent advocate of federalism. When he became Speaker of Congress, this advocacy fizzled out like a strong typhoon hitting land and turning into a mere rain shower. Temptations of power have overcome this spineless ‘Mindanaoan’ who cannot even voice out a whimper of protest against the atrocious devastation that militarization is now causing in Mindanao.

Another presidential aspirant not on my list of presidentiables is Bayani Fernando, head of the Metro-Manila Commission (did I get the name of the office right?). In fairness to him, he never said a word for or against the MOA-AD. But the man is a joker, a nondescript character. He is better off trying his luck singing and dancing on TV ? la ‘American Idol’ than vying for the presidency. Or, even better, directing traffic in Metro-Manila. Perhaps the only Moros he knows are those impoverished Muslim ‘squatters’ (refugees from the past wars in Mindanao) he was trying to eject from that reclamation area in Pasay City.
There are also showbiz people and religious leaders of Christian charismatic groups who are toying with the idea of becoming presidentiables but I omitted them. These people are all clowns who think of the Philippine presidency as the apex of their showbiz career or the ultimate pulpit from where bible-thumping preachers-turned-politicians could promise to ‘rain’ manna on the poverty-stricken masses though not from heaven but from Malacañang. This is the crowd that doesn’t give a damn about what happens to the Moros.

I showed my former Moro neighbor my list plus the corresponding observations I made and he concurred with my analysis. Finally, he also agreed with me that only a Filipino president fully in control of government and with the caliber of the late French President Charles de Gaulle or even a Vicente Emano of Cagayan de Oro can we say with a degree of certainty that there is going to be life for the peace process after Arroyo.

I mentioned Vicente ‘Dongkoy’ Emano, the non-Muslim vice-mayor of Cagayan de Oro City, because he was the only official who openly opposed the military operations in Mindanao and who declared that the Moro cause is a just cause. This he boldly declared in a large gathering of Mindanao officials that included Moro governors and mayors whose lips were zipped for fear of displeasing the current regime.

Meantime, however, with the kind of presidentiables arrayed before us, my former Moro neighbor now shares my doubt as to whether 2010 can bring the peace and justice that our people have been longing for; unless, of course, Allah gives us a miracle. He knows best. But until then, this is how the situation stands.

As a footnote, a few days after I last met up with him, I saw my former Moro neighbor carrying a backpack waiting at the public terminal for his ride. It was the end of Ramadhan and the ‘Id’l Fitre congregational prayers had just been concluded. I asked him where he was going and he gave me a glowing smile I would never forget. Then he whispered, “I am joining the mujahideen.” That was all and except for the ‘salaam’ and customary fraternal embrace, he left without another word.