Philippines fighting worst in 5 years while US plays both sides
As the Red Corss has warned over the worsening situation in Southern Philipines where muslim separatist and government clash, curent US administration plays both sides selectively.
2008-09-05 14:53:06 - GENEVA (AP) - Southern Philippines has witnessed its worst fighting in five years, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless and in need of humanitarian aid, the international Red Cross said Friday Nearly half a million people have been caught up in the violence on the southern island of Mindanao, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross said. Many have fled their homes and are too afraid to return because they fear fresh clashes between government forces and Muslim separatists, ICRC spokeswoman Carla Haddad told journalists in Geneva. Troops launched air and ground assaults targeting three Moro Islamic Liberation Front commanders and their units after the guerrillas raided predominantly Christian towns Aug. 18, shooting and hacking to deaths dozens of civilians. The fighting «is the worst since 2003,» Haddad said. At least 57 civilians, 17 government soldiers and more than 100 guerillas have been killed in the fighting since mid-August, according to the Philippine military. Haddad said aid groups are concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation.
The ICRC, which works with the Philippine Red Cross, aims to increase aid supplies to meet the needs of about 325,000 people, she said. Meanwhile, the U.N.'s World Food Program on Friday announced that it has increased food supplies to hundreds of thousands of displaced. «People are sheltering in tiny tents made of palm leaves and covered with tiny plastic sheeting,» Haddad said. «It's the rainy season, so they're cold. And it's a sad Ramadan for many people. Government forces have been ordered to ease their aerial and ground strikes during the Muslim holy month, which just began.
US plays both sides in the Philippines By Herbert Docena: MANILA - Three weeks ago, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) stood on the verge of signing a breakthrough agreement that could have moved both sides closer to the closure of a three-decade-long war. The Moros, minority Muslims who have been marginalized since being incorporated into the country, have been fighting the central government for greater self-rule since the 1970s. Pushed to a stalemate, both sides have since 1976 struggled for a settlement through peace negotiations punctuated by bouts of bloodshed. Over 120,000 people have died. With previous agreements having failed to end the conflict, the latest deal, called the proposed the establishment of a "sub-state" for Moros in an "associative relationship" of "shared sovereignty" with the Philippines. This proposal falls short of the MILF's original goal of independence but is farther than anything the government had previously accepted. Though endorsed by both negotiating panels, the agreement drew widespread condemnation. Opponents saw the agreement as dismembering the country or as a ploy to extend the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The government has since junked the agreement and both sides now totter on the precipice of full-scale fighting. Between the MILF and the Philippine government has stood the United States. In light of the controversy generated by the MOA-AD, its role, interests, and strategy has come under renewed scrutiny. Is the US abandoning a traditional ally in the Philippine government in order to support the Moro movement for self-determination?
Advancing US interests
US involvement in the peace process between the two sides dates from 2003, ostensibly as part of the so-called global war on terror. US officials have tagged Mindanao, the region in the southern Philippines where most Moros live, as the "next Afghanistan." It is where the Abu Sayyaf Group, designated a terrorist organization by Washington, operates. Members of the regional terror grouping Jemaah Islamiyah have also been reported to be training in or transiting through the region, supposedly with links to the MILF. With the consent of both MILF and the Philippine government, the US State Department deployed the US Institute of Peace (USIP) to facilitate the peace talks. In the last five years, USIP staff met frequently with both negotiating panels, providing them technical expertise, engaging the public on the talks, and extending other forms of assistance to the process. Not unrelated to the USIP's work, as the institute makes clear, has been the expanding and deepening US military presence in the country, including in Mindanao. Since 2001, the US has quietly but steadily established new forms of US military basing in the country through more frequent exercises and warship visits, assured access to facilities, and the stationing of US Special Forces in the south. Alongside this has been the increased infusion of US development and humanitarian assistance to Mindanao, in the form of schools, roads, water wells, and other infrastructure. In reporting on its work, the USIP openly boasts of its unique capacity to be "an instrument for advancing US interests". The institute is special, according to its report, because while it can claim to be separate from the U.S. government, it plays a role in the US government's internal division of labor that no other government agency can. Thanks to its "quasi-governmental" status, the institute supposedly succeeded in earning the confidence of local actors so much so that even members of the Philippine government panel reported inside information about cabinet discussions to them. The USIP "offered a new policy instrument of the US government" which could be "incorporated more frequently into the toolkit of US foreign policy", notes the report.
But what interests have the USIP, the US military, and the other US government agencies been advancing? Analysts have advanced two possibilities. The US is now supporting moves toward the creation of a more autonomous - or even an independent - pro-US Bangsamoro state as a hedge against a more pro-China Philippines. Or the United States has only been manipulating the peace talks to deliberately foment and prolong conflict between Filipinos and Moros in order to justify its sustained intervention in Mindanao. Both assume common underlying geostrategic objectives: access to natural resources, including potential oil reserves, as well as military basing.....
Now the question is: which side is the US on? ... Since 2002, 300-500 US Special Forces have stayed on indefinitely in Mindanao to help Filipino troops in their day-to-day operations. Their target: the alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf, the more politicized factions of which continue to espouse the original goal of the MILF, which is Bangsamoro independence. On several occasions, members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the other Moro movement that has a peace agreement with the government, have been targeted in operations assisted by the US. In at least one documented case, even Moro civilians, including children, were among those killed. In short, the US military is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Filipino soldiers, not Moro fighters...In other words, the US has been quite clear in its support of the Philippine government. Does support for the new agreement between the Moros and the government in Manila signal a change in this policy? Although US support for a Bangsamoro state is not inconceivable, Washington would only embrace this option if three conditions are met. First, the Philippine state can no longer be counted on to provide the US what it needs. Second, a newly autonomous or an independent Bangsamoro state will turn out to be pro-US. And third, the potential benefits of abandoning an old ally in favor of a newly created one outweigh the potential costs...
Finding new friends
There is no shortage of Moros ready to outbid Filipinos in offering Bangsamoro territory and cooperation in support of US foreign policy goals. Indeed, the US has been busy identifying, grooming, and financing Moro leaders - showering them with scholarship opportunities, bringing them to the US, employing them, and funding their nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). As in other sites of US political intervention, the work of USIP and other agencies in "strengthening intra-Moro communication and unity" is a deliberate political project to build relations with, build the capacity of, and build unity among those moderate pro-US Moros in an attempt to make them better resourced and more influential than the alternatives.
Similar to Moro leaders in the past who preferred being part of a separate colony or protectorate of the US to being part of the Philippines, some Moro leaders today can be expected to justify supporting the US - or at least, not antagonizing it - as a pragmatic policy for advancing Moro nationalist goals. For instance, neither the MNLF nor the MILF leaderships have categorically opposed the expanding US military presence in Mindanao...
the United States might take such a gamble if it expects to gain more from the creation of a new state than it loses from dumping an old reliable ally. Consider the US need for basing. Although the US military presence has expanded for the first time to Mindanao in recent years, a quick look at the map shows that this presence covers the entire country. In Mindanao, it extends even to areas that are not to be covered under the proposed Bangsamoro sub-state.... US involvement in the peace talks and its openness to the solution posed by the MOA-AD could simply reflect a need for its Philippine ally to be stronger and more stable in order to advance US interests more effectively. A Philippines bogged down fighting various separatist and communist movements is less able to participate in the "war on terror" and more broadly in containing China....
Faced with the possibilities of an antagonized pro-China Philippines or an independent Bangsamoro state with leaders who have uncertain loyalties, the US strategy seems clear. A more stable Philippines - with a Mindanao that is "peaceful" and open for business and with pliant but less subordinated Moro elites at its helm - fits the overall US geopolitical strategy for the region.