Talk, not shoot!

The Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

"Two kinds of war hit Pikit this month. The first one has ended, for now, while the other war is now raging in Poblacion Pikit. Mothers, children, the elderly are waging a new war - the war against poverty and malnutrition." Thus early this week said Fr. Roberto "Bert" Layson, parish priest of Pikit and coordinator of the Oblates' and the Archdiocese's Inter-Religious Dialogue Ministry who, along with volunteers, is directly attending to the needs of the evacuees.

Though what he said is true, Fr. Bert may have written the obituary of the "first war" in Pikit too soon. For even before the fall of the Moro Islamic Libertion Front's (MILF) Buliok complex last weekend - the MILF's operations and command center - all MILF field commanders were ordered to go mobile and attack military but not civilian targets. This has resulted in small-scale clashes in different parts of the provinces of Maguindanao and Cotabato, including the outskirts of Pikit.

Thus the exodus of civilians out of their villages continues. Thus, too, continues the refusal of many evacuees to return to their villages even if the military has declared them "cleared" and therefore "safe." For how can those villages be "safe" when MILF bands are just in the vicinity, ready to pounce on newly established military detachments?

True, the evacuees have shelter, food and medicines, no matter how congested their evacuation centers are. But they have other needs which they have to buy. Those who were fortunate enough to bring along some of their work animals, which they would need when they return to their farms, opted to sell them. But all they got from unscrupulous traders were give-away prices. If these people are not the poorest of the poor, we do not know the meaning of the word.

It must be added that the war has not only affected civilians living in combat zones but also those out of them. Because of the skirmishes, three major road arteries have been closed on and off - Cotabato City-Isulan, Aleosan-Kabacan and Parang-Malabang highways - thus preventing the free movement of people and goods. Moreover, with the toppling by the MILF of seven National Power Corporation steel towers - are these not civilian targets? - many cities and towns have been experiencing long brownouts. Obviously, both factors contribute to the slowdom of economic activities.

But as if all this is not bad enough, there are reports that the Armed Forces of the Philippines is considering an attack on the upper portions of the then MILF stronghold - Camp Abubakar, now Camp Datu Duma Sinsuat. For military planners, now is the best time to do this as the MILF's central command has been broken and its troops are on the run. Besides, the AFP has a good excuse now. Last Tuesday, a military convoy coming from the camp was allegedly ambushed by the MILF, killing seven soldiers and wounding eleven.

If this happens, then the war will spill over to Lanao del Sur, the mountains above the camp being the boundary of provinces of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur. Then more civilians will be forced to troop to evacuation centers. In fact, even just on the strength of these reports and following the ambush, many villagers have already left for safer grounds. This will certainly turn into a deluge once the first shot is fired.

To the military, all this is just collateral damage vis-a-vis its final objective: to bring the MILF to its knees. But has it ever considered that even if they can subdue the forces of the MILF, it can not subdue its spirit? Proof of this is that the MILF has been at this for the past three decades. Which is really just a continuation of their forefathers' struggle to regain their rightful place under the sun.

If there is anything that we need the least, it is war. Thus, the sooner President Arroyo puts a stop to military adventurism and instead push hard for the completion of the negotiations with the MILF, the sooner we will have peace. Then the sound of cannons and the deprivations of evacuation centers will become just painful memories of the past.