Recent news reports indicate that the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF) are on the verge of forging a peace agreement. They were reported to have made substantial progress on two key issues–power sharing and revenue generation, and wealth sharing arrangements during talks in Kuala Lumpur.
The BIFF, now named Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM), opposed what it considers as the MILF’s defeatist peace-mongering and capitulation to the Philippine government. Umbra Kato, the BIFM’s leader argued the only path was that of armed struggle to win an independent nation-state.
Today, the Associated Press reported that:
“Suspected militants from a breakaway Muslim rebel group set off bombs in the southern Philippines but failed to inflict injuries or disrupt army assaults against its fighters, who went on a rampage last week and sparked clashes that killed 28 people.
Hundreds of troops, backed by helicopters, tanks and artillery fire, forced armed fighters of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement out of two strongholds and were pursuing them mostly in remote areas of Maguindanao province.
Authorities were preparing criminal complaints against Ameril Umbra Kato, the ailing leader of the breakaway rebels and his known commanders, who attacked army camps and outposts and burned and looted villages last week.
The attacks killed four soldiers and three civilians and sparked clashes that initially killed four rebels. Hundreds of troops later pursued the rebels, killing at least 16 more of the militants, who tried to slow down the advancing soldiers with sniper fire”.
It is clear that Kato and his group is a spoiler in the peace process between the government and the MILF. However, can we dismiss the BIFM’s position outright? Assuming that Kato is intransigent, is the military solution the only response? Should criminal charges against him be pursued?
What Kato’s group has done and is doing has been done by the MILF, the New People’s Army (NPA), and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The MNLF already signed a peace agreement with government in 1996 while the National Democratic Front (representing the NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines) is currently engaged in peace talks.
Technically, insurgents are criminals since they violate a country’s penal code to pursue their political program. However, they are distinguished from criminals because they do have political aims. Furthermore, they must not be considered as criminals otherwise the government cannot justify negotiating with them.
In this sense, criminal charges and ‘extreme’ political programs did not prevent the Philippine government from adopting a flexible approach. Why not with Kato and the BIFM?
Or am I just a hopeless, bleeding-heart liberal?