Spare civilians from Lanao clashes, peace group appeals

REACTING to the ongoing military clashes in Lanao del Sur, that has now reportedly displaced more than 2,000 residents since the firefight between alleged extremists and disgruntled Moro rebel elements against government forces erupted in Butig town over a week ago, the Mindanao-based peace advocacy group Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) today urged conflict actors to spare civilians from the battles and asked the government and its peace process partner the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to ‘move quickly and protect innocent civilians’ who have been caught in the crossfire.

IID executive director Gus Miclat said, “Thousands of people have already been displaced by this recent clashes and most of them are now in evacuation areas. Some aerial bombings were conducted and missiles fired are not programmed to distinguish civilians from combatants.” Miclat also positively noted the repositioning of MILF forces to give way to government troops to pursue the armed elements that initiated the fighting.

IID appealed for the quick delivery of humanitarian aid in the affected areas saying that concerned government agencies should at all times be prepared in case the conflict goes out of hand.

Government troops reportedly added checkpoints in Butig, Lanao del Sur for additional security following armed confrontation between government soldiers and members of the Maute Group, which started on Feb 20.

Miclat added that the ongoing armed conflict in Lanao could be a result of huge frustration among the Bangsamoro over the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in the 16th Congress similar to what happened in 2008 when the Supreme Court junked the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).

Miclat stressed, “We should not condone any acts of violence but unless the government finds a win-win solution, a sound political settlement to address this century-old conflict, the war in Mindanao will continue to haunt the entire nation. This conflict is cyclical and we cannot apply the same band-aid remedies over and over again. We have to resolve the conflict at its roots. We have to find a concrete answer to the Bangsamoro question, which is a fundamental recipe for genuine peace to thrive in Mindanao. The BBL could have addressed this. ”

He asked, “Where are those honorable lawmakers who opposed and diluted the BBL? Where are those rowdy and tactless politicians during the Mamasapano hearings that think they know better about Mindanao? While Mindanao is again at the midst of another combat, those who opposed the BBL are now too busy campaigning for the elections and convincing the electorate of their shallow platform for peace in the South.”

“While it is urgent for the government to take some immediate and necessary measures to address the ongoing clashes in Lanao, it is equally imperative for the central government to fulfill its promises of peace in Mindanao which could start by implementing the conditions set within the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB),” Miclat concluded.