Mindanao then

Do you remember who said this? “We will write a new history for Mindanao. We will rectify centuries of historical wrong committed by successive colonial powers and decades of inequities committed by successive Philippine governments.  Mindanao has traditionally been called the ‘Land of Promise’; this romantic name has always been a one-way affair. The rest of the country has always expected Mindanao to fulfill its promises to them.  It is now time for the rest of the country to fulfill its promises to Mindanao; we should now convert Mindanao into the ‘Land of Fulfillment.’

A good 17 years have passed since those words were uttered by a triumphant President Joseph Estrada during a State of the Nation Address (SONA), destined to be his last.  His war plan “Operation Terminal Velocity” against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was a resounding success. During a weeklong battle, in Maguindanao, Camp Abubakar, the stronghold of the MILF, was taken over by the Philippine Armed Forces. “They were not Boy Scout camps,” affirmed the then President Estrada with a dash of sarcasm.”

As it turned out, Camp Abubakar was the base of MILF’s Sharia government from where it controlled 50 other camps.  Pres. Estrada reported it was “a staging area and launching pad for expanding rebellion… off limits to the forces of Philippine government. They owed their allegiance elsewhere.”

The erstwhile president disclosed that he could not just stand by while the MILF ate up more and more of the national territory, “which they were not elected to govern.” When he took his oath as president, he swore to defend the Constitution, the integrity and sovereignty of the Republic. The MILF’s goal was secession and that was non-negotiable. As expected, Estrada blamed the previous administration (of Fidel Ramos)  for being ”naïve enough to tolerate them or too timid to stop them.”

In that last SONA, he said the MILF had cleverly taken advantage of the 1997 ceasefire, committed 227 violations that included the occupation and burning of municipal halls in Maguindanao, bombing a Catholic church in Ozamis City, the take-over of the Narciso Ramos highway. They kidnapped a foreign missionary, Fr. Luciano Benedetti, as early as   September, 1998. Pres. Estrada denounced the unabated murders, ambushes, extortion, control of public buildings and infrastructure, bombings and other terrorist activities that “inflicted severe damage on the country’s image abroad and scared much-needed investments away.” ( It was a tough time for the Department of Tourism!)

To achieve peace, the Estrada administration had to fight fire with fire: “We had to demolish the rebels’ apparatus for making war. Moreover, abstention from military action would have been tantamount to political abdication. In effect, we did not choose the military option. It was forced upon us. But we used it. And we succeeded.”

Pres. Estrada declared: “We upheld the constitutional principle that the Philippines is one state, one republic, with one government, one military answerable to one civilian commander-in-chief, under one Constitution and one flag, in one undivided territory. That is what it is now.  That is what it will be forever.”

After the destruction of Camp Abubakar (and the lechon victory boodle) the former president called for “a brotherly embrace of peace.” In the SONA, he said: “Now that we have won the war, it is time to win the peace. Towards this end, the government has adopted a 4-point strategy in approaching the Mindanao question from here on.”

It was the 4th point that raised eyebrows during the SONA because it stipulated the implementation of a peace agreement with the MNLF, the Moro National Liberation Front, “as a commitment to Filipinos, as well as to the International community.” Then Estrada invited the MILF to “walk away from the battlefield and into the conference room,” in good faith, without preparing for war while talking about peace. The MILF was enjoined to “drop secession, drop your criminal activates, drop your arms, and   drop your secessionist goals. “ With emphasis, Pres. Estrada said that those were not requests but demands. I wonder if he gave Pres. R. Duterte some unsolicited advice. (more)