SLUG: 3-571 Joel Rocamora
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HOST: A kidnap-for-ransom gang with alleged ties to the al-Qaida Islamic militant network says it is responsible for an airport bomb attack that killed 21 people and wounded more than 100 in the southern Philippines Tuesday, but Manila is dismissing the claim. Military officials said the Abu Sayyaf group does not operate in Davao, the city where the attack occurred. They said the country's largest Muslim separatist group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, is more likely to blame. Five M-I-L-F members are among at least nine suspects whom the government says it has detained for questioning. (CN-81)
HOST: Joel Rocamora is with the private, non-profit research group the Institute for Popular Democracy in Manila. He says peace talks with Muslim separatists had been broken off last month following a government offensive in central Mindanao in which more than 100 people were killed and tens of thousands of others displaced:
MR. ROCAMORA: The response of the MILF is you just broke the ceasefire, all bets are off, no more negotiations, no more ceasefire, we will go ahead and do what we want to do. Bombings of electricity transmission lines, bombings of airports, bus stations, even medical clinics are, in my opinion, the direct result of the military attack on the MILF in Pikit, in violation of the ceasefire and ongoing negotiations.
MR. BEATTIE: So, what is the future of those negotiations now? Is there any possibility of further talks, or is this now going to be a military campaign?
MR. ROCAMORA: I think that the MILF, quite understandably, at this point in time is not particularly anxious to get back to the negotiating table. I mean, they got their nose bloodied in Pikit. Over 160 of their people were killed, and they want to get back some of their sense of pride. Eventually, probably, negotiations will start again. But, in the meantime, you have a situation where you have a secretary of national defense in the Philippines whose idea of peace negotiations, whether with the MILF or the Maoist guerrillas, is you attack them militarily until they get to the point where they are, for all intents and purposes, ready to surrender. And that attitude towards political armed groups just doesn't work. And it especially doesn't work in Muslim areas because Muslims have been engaged in various armed struggles going all the way back to the Spanish Colonial period 400 years ago.
MR. BEATTIE: Doesn't the military understand this, that this is a very difficult insurgency to suppress?
MR. ROCAMORA: I think some military officers understand this, but the current Secretary of Defense Angelo Reyes apparently does not understand this. We also have a president, President Arroyo, who does not behave as if she is commander-in-chief of the Philippine armed forces. I know for a fact that before the February 11 attack on Pikit, the President sent one of the members of her cabinet to the area where the military had massed up and told them not to attack. The military attacked anyway, despite her orders, violating her orders, and it was only later that President Arroyo said, oh, well, yes, actually, I changed my mind and wanted them to attack anyway.
Everybody in the Philippine political scene understands that one of the problems precisely is that President Arroyo does not control the armed forces and, in particular, does not control the secretary of national defense, who is a retired general.
HOST: Mr. Rocamora says the Philippine army does not have the capability of enforcing peace on Mindanao. He says the solution to Muslim demands for independence is political, not military.
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