PHILIPPINES: Moro liberation fighters under siege

Issue 

PHILIPPINES — The following is abridged from an account of the situation in Mindanao distributed on May 3 by the Revolutionary Workers Party of the Philippines (RPMP).

The situation in our country, especially in Mindanao, is becoming worse. Trends indicate that there will be no let up in the military confrontations between the Philippines Armed Forces (AFP) and the Moro Islamic Front (MILF).

On April 30, the MILF declared an indefinite postponement of the peace talks with the Philippines government. The MILF cannot continue the talks while its camps are surrounded by elite troops of the AFP. Starting on April 29, the attacks on the MILF's main camp, Camp Abubakar, commenced from three sides.

The MILF has announced the activation of "Plan Zero Hour", an all-out military offensive against the government, within and even outside of Mindanao. The AFP also had their plan, "Plan Phoenix", intended to wipe out the MILF militarily by launching an all-out war against it.

As of May 1, almost 70,000 individuals from four provinces have been displaced. Many are women and children. The number of evacuees continues to grow.

President Joseph Estrada is very unlikely to call off the offensives as this would cause widespread demoralisation in the AFP ranks; their casualties are also mounting.

Complicating the situation in Mindanao and in the country in general are the activities of the extremist Islamic group, the Abu Sayyaf. The MILF leadership has publicly denied any relationship with the group.

The Abu Sayyaf's aim is to establish an Islamic state in Mindanao. To attain it, it has to eliminate all the Christians and their vestiges in Mindanao.

The Abu Sayyaf started in early 1993 as a motley gang of individuals sharing extremist Islamic ideals. The group gained notoriety when it started its terror campaign of kidnappings, assassinations and bombings, targeting primarily Christian missionaries but even ordinary civilians.

Of late, the group has reactivated its activities by kidnapping 30 people on the island of Basilan, including more than 20 foreigners, to pressure the government.

In 1994, we exposed the possibility of the government being behind Abu Sayyaf's creation. We identified five agents of the AFP inside the Abu Sayyaf leadership, one of whom became its operations chief, Edwin Angeles.

The Abu Sayyaf exists to muddle the issue of the right to self-determination struggle being waged by the MILF. The Abu Sayyaf's extreme understanding of Islam puts the conflict onto the plane of Christian-Muslim animosity.

The Christian populace, as expected, are reacting negatively, being hardly able to distinguish the MILF from the Abu Sayyaf. So, instigated by the AFP, the Christians are forming armed vigilante-type groups to fight against the Muslims.

The existence of this fringe group diverts [attention from] the real issue and pushes the situation to the brink of a religious war. The latest Abu Sayyaf kidnapping has been at the centre of the daily news for more than a week, while the main camps of the MILF have been slowly, silently and covertly surrounded and are now being attacked.