ZAMBOANGA CITY – CIVIL society groups in Southern Philippines have called on the government and Moro rebels who have been locked new battles since early August to implement the cessation of hostilities agreement and its mechanism on the ground in respect to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started on September 1.
“Both the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)] should implement the ceasefire agreement and the address ceasefire violation,” said Amina Rasul-Bernardo, director of the Philippine Council on Islam and Democracy.
“Continued military operations during Ramadan shows to the Muslim citizens of this republic that this is a government which does not respect Islam. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a religious obligation. How are we to fast when fighting erupts daily and innocent civilians have to flee for their lives?” she asked.
As this developed, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has reiterated that their operations against Moro rebel guerillas in Mindanao will be “surgical and précise”, not to endanger the lives of the civilians and in observance of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“As always, all military operations shall be executed with precision, targeting only confirmed locations of lawless elements and with the greatest consideration and with utmost respect for civilian lives and of their observance of sacred religious celebrations like Ramadan. Your Armed Forces shall do its best to prevent the desecration of such sacred religious event that is observed worldwide,” said AFP chief of staff Lt. Gen. Alexander B. Yano in a statement.
The military has earlier announced that there will be not let up in the pursuit of errant MILF commanders during the observance of the Muslim sacred month. Ameril Umbra Kato, Abdullah Macapaar alias Kumander Bravo, and Sulaiman Pangalian, are in the military’s target for the operation after they led several attacks against civilian communities in the provinces of North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, and Sarangani.
Fighting in some parts in Mindanao was triggered by the failure of the signing of the ancestral domain agreement between the government and Moro rebels early August.
Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo said majority of Catholic leaders in Mindanao are opposed to the military’s continuing operation during the month of September. At the same time representatives of the Anak Mindanao Party-list Mujiv Hataman and Pasay City Jose Antonio Roxas have proposed a Ramadan ceasefire.
Yano defended the government stand, saying that the decision for the non-observance of suspension of military operation was “borne out of the desire of the government to protect all residents in Mindanao, especially in areas most affected by the criminal attacks of the lawless MILF groups. It is thus imperative to restore peace at the soonest possible time to bring back normalcy to the people’s lives.”
“It would not do any good to halt military operations now while lawless groups are in close proximity and pose imminent grave threat. Such decision was taken to ensure a peaceful Ramadan celebration not just this year but for years to come,” he said.
On the other hand, the leadership of the MILF said they have ordered their more than 12,000 armed members to be in defensive positions, claiming that the military operations have now escalated towards different MILF camps.
The MILF complains that government’s punitive action against Commander Kato and Commander Bravo has hit other units of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces such as the 104th Base Command, 107th Base Command, MILF Central Committee Task Force Ittihad based in Maguindanao and Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Elements of the government- MILF Ceasefire Committee, and 117th Base Command due to its indiscriminate manner of operations.
“Uncoordinated movements, unusual consolidation of forces, attacks, firing or artillery, air assaults and harassment against MILF and civilians, destruction of properties, abuse of civilians, and violations of human rights and international humanitarian laws had been committed by the AFP in the midst of its operations against identified MILF groups,” the MILF said in a statement.
The MILF also warned the government not “to set foot and occupy the Peace Negotiating Panel Satellite Office of the MILF at Butig, Lanao del Sur or else the ceasefire will totally break up.”
The warning was given by senior high ranking official of the MILF in Lanao del Sur in the wake of massive consolidation and movements of the military around the satellite office the past days.