The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC), led by Bishop Efraim Tendero, recently sent a letter to His Excellency President Benigno Simeon Aquino III on August 31, 2013. As a national network of more than 30,000 churches and organizations, PCEC decided to address several issues of importance to the Philippine people. Its letter appealed for the abolition of the pork barrel system, the dismantling of patronage politics, and encouraged the President to take a lead in the passing of the Freedom of Information Bill.
Shortly after the PCEC letter was sent, a war started in Zamboanga City. The MNLF rebels, led by MNLF Commander Habier Malik and Ener Misuari (a nephew of MNLF founder Nur Misuari), pushed their way into Zamboanga on September 8 and 9 to launch what they referred to as a “war for independence” (Sinapit, InterAksyon.com, September 28, 2013). The war lasted for 20 days.
According to military reports, 52 MNLF fighters eventually surrendered, about 223 of the fighters were captured, and 100 killed. On the civilian side, at least 10,000 structures, homes, and buildings were razed in the city. The situation was officially declared a “humanitarian crisis” by the United Nations (Sinapit, InterAksyon.com, September 28, 2013). 110,000 people were in evacuation centres by September 22 (Arguillas, MindaNews, September 26, 2013). 18 soldiers and 5 policemen were killed. Nine civilians died and 57 were listed as injured (Sinapit).
This war is far from over. In Zamboanga City hospitals have been damaged and overrun with casualties, schools were closed and are attempting to recover, businesses have suffered losses, and people have been traumatized in their roles as pawns of competing factions. In addition to the crisis for the people of Zamboanga, the war functioned as a crossroads for competing interests with the government and the work of power players to maintain their grasp on business investments and a way of life well beyond that of most Filipinos. It is confusing and difficult to analyze all of the factors that contributed to this debacle.
The current Philippine government is on an admirable pursuit of peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Talks have progressed from last October 2012’s creation of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB). The MILF has viewed these developments as indicators that the government is listening and is seeking to resolve the tensions that have existed for at least a century. President Aquino said in his inaugural speech, “The first step is to have leaders who are ethical, honest, and true public servants. I will set the example.” There is hope building for the success of the GPh-MILF negotiations.
It was the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who entered Zamboanga City on the eve of resumed talks between the government of the Philippines and the MILF. Publically, it is well known that the MNLF feel that their talks regarding the 1996 agreement appear stalled or failed. The MILF negotiations centre on establishing, for Filipino Muslims, the rights to self-determination, to Bangsamoro identity and a defined homeland. The constitution of the Philippines allows for the state to recognize the rights of unique cultural communities and is pursuing justice with the Moro people in this context.
Filipino political scientist Priscilla A. Tacujan asserts that when governments broker agreements with one group within the country over another, resentment will build in those groups who feel isolated. “When [the government] extends group entitlements to ethnic groups based on group rights and group identity, it sharpens ethnic differences and fuels ethnic wars. When it grants autonomy to secessionist groups based on the principles of self-determination and cultural separatism, it institutionalizes ethnic divisions” (Tacujan, Small Wars Journal, September 25, 2013). She wonders whether seeking to solve the “Muslim problem” through laws and rights will further entrench divides or increase competition between groups. She makes a point that others are also raising but it is too linear and assimilationist for the Philippine context. Around the world indigenous peoples are demanding their rights according to the constitutions of their countries and international law and deserve to be heard. The current Q and A update on the GPh-MNLF peace process on the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) website indicates that the GPh is inviting the MNLF to become part of the negotiations with the MLF (Updates Q and A). It is crucial that support is given to ensure full participation for all interested and impacted parties.
To compound this issue of competing cultural/religious groups for recognition by the government, there is also the dynamic of competing oligarchs and business people. The PCEC appeal letter states clearly that the government is also enmeshed in the corruption issue known as the “pork barrel scandal.” The Priority Development Assistance Funds – which are discretionary funds for Senators and Congress people – and that are often “treated as a slush fund for ensuring political patronage and successful re-election” have warranted the name “pork barrel” (Campbell, Time World, September 11, 2013). Although this has been part of Philippine government culture for decades, the scale of it has tipped the scales of acceptability for the Philippine people. Is it simply coincidence that on the commencement day for the National Bureau of Investigations’ (NBI) probe into alleged mastermind Janet Lim Napoles’ role in this, one of the witnesses against her is stuck at the Zamboanga airport and is unable to attend? A small, but powerful, segment of Philippine society has much to lose if the funds supporting the pork barrel system are abolished. Was the oligarchy behind the orchestration to ensure that the witness against Ms. Napoles was unable to attend the investigation?
On the ground level, lives have been lost and property destroyed during the forceful military strike. In the space of 20 days the city of Zamboanga went from struggling to build peaceful relations to open expressions of discrimination and hostility to the “other” in the community. There are many victims here. The situation is indicative of how peace processes can easily go awry if they are not constantly and authentically nurtured.
The Zamboanga war revealed the many crossroads that exist regarding competing interests, interests that now threaten to derail possibilities of reclaiming peace in this region. There are many rumours and innuendos circulating in attempts to explain what happened and why. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has gone on record of accusing Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce-Enrile of allegedly financing the Zamboanga rebellion in order to divert the public’s attention from the “pork barrel” funds scam (Ager, Inquirer.com). Enrile has strong ties to the military system given that he was the defense secretary during martial law under then President Ferdinand Marcos. Enrile faces plundering charges by the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly funnelling millions of pesos to Janet Napoles’ NGOs. The Filipino concept of pakikisama (or networking through alliances) is exposed as Enrile makes linkages to assist him in diverting attention to what is truly at stake.
As well, it is no secret that President Aquino and Vice President Binay have discarded their initial alliance and are now political enemies. In fact, President Aquino is now “grooming” Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas for the 2016 presidential election. Because of the animosity between Aquino and Binay, a valuable opportunity to establish a ceasefire early on in the Zamboanga war was missed. Political manoeuvring has become a detriment to the people of Zamboanga City and Mindanao. Sites are set on concretizing political positioning for 2016 instead of focussing on local people’s survival and well-being. As investigations continue into the causes of the Zamboanga war it is clear that the forces at work are, indeed, complex.
Where to go from here?
Nine areas that could be addressed to President Aquino/GPh, NGOs, MILF leaders, and the mayor of Zamboanga city:
:: MNLF Participation in the GPh-MILF Peace Process. It is clear that the GPh needs to focus on addressing the big picture of needs in the Zamboanga peninsula and in Mindanao. The MNLF have been invited to participate in the Transition Committee, which will draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law (Padua, PhilStar). Are there relationships that your connections could pursue to encourage the MNLF to address their issues within that context? In the situation of the Zamboanga war it is apparent that the “spoiler” culture–an environment in which dissatisfied parties deliberately sabotage the processes of others–needs to be addressed if anyone will be able to move forward constructively.
:: Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB). Despite the September war in Zamboanga current negotiations between the GPh and the MILF are continuing and the identity decisions for the Bangsamoro are close to being finalized. The conclusion of that process will transition the region into a political entity that will allow for election of leaders for the Bangsamoro region. This will require a dramatic switch in methods of engagement for change and development for the well-being of the people. No longer will the assumed response be armed conflict or un-cooperation with the government. NGOs, it is important to utilize your connections in order to encourage MILF leaders to consider the next structure of leadership, which will be the political structure, in order to avoid the oligarchy dynamics of Manila that could easily fill a leadership vacuum in Mindanao.
:: Transparency. The allegations of Enrile’s involvement in instigating the war in Zamboanga has enhanced fear and mistrust of the intentions of Malacañang. Given the current issue of the “pork barrel scandal,” businesswoman Napoles’ involvement in that scandal, Jinggoy Estrada’s charges of plundering by the Office of the Ombudsman, and exposure of the patronage system it is vital that President Aquino be urged to speak out clearly regarding the issues that are plaguing the political well-being of the country.
:: Trauma Healing. The people of Zamboanga are traumatized. Every sound heard strikes fear into residents. Journalist Julie Alipala writes of a woman who cut down the trees around her house because the sound of the branches against her house struck too much fear into her and her children (Alipala, Inquirer News). Many of your organizational connections have resources connected to trauma healing. Malacañang needs to be petitioned to provide funds for trauma healing programs immediately. Trauma can lead to acts of desperation.
:: Role of the Media. It is crucial to consider the role of the media in understanding current events. We depend on the media to enhance our understanding of current events. The crisis articles written were often emotion-filled and even exaggerations of the situation. People on-the-ground report that once the government declared the “mission accomplished” only three news agencies were allowed in. These were the three largest Philippine media companies. They were given only 3-mintues in the “war zone” area and were driven in by a military car. NGOs need to advocate for the president to begin to allow for open and diverse news reporting of the events that are troubling the region in the name of transparency and trust building.
:: Military Spending and Military Presence. Disaster capitalism–business sectors profiting from opportunities arising from war–is emerging out of the Zamboanga war. War machinery manufacturers are making vast amounts of money given that the Philippine government is currently buying attack helicopters, warplanes, warships, and other types of military hardware (Manosing and Inquirer Global Nation) in a time when they can make those purchases appear necessary. There is concern that the United States might use this time of fear to negotiate a stronger presence in the Philippines. In addition to military spending, the government forces exhibited exorbitant amounts of military strength in Muslim neighbourhoods in Zamboanga during the war. Anecdotal evidence from the time reveal that, at times, 5,000 soldiers were in the area along with military helicopters and other types of machinery despite the small size of neighbourhoods (Pantoja interview). The continuing development of a military culture in the Philippines brings the danger that all conflicts begin to be seen through a lens that indicates that the response needs to be administered through a show of strength instead of employing dialogical methods. NGOs could initiate community education programs on “Culture of Peace” at the local level. As well, President Aquino needs to be pressed to persevere in enabling all levels of the military to be trained in peace skills.
:: Economic Development. As a result of military actions, many of the Muslim neighbourhoods have been burned to the ground as is evident from aerial photographs of the city (Peacebuilders Community, Inc.). This type of situation can exploit residents who do not have access to legal assistance to support their land claims and lay the ground for commercial development. The Zamboanga mayor must be appealed to for the creation of support mechanisms for the victims who have lost their homes in order to ensure that corporations do not abuse these citizens.
:: Sacrifice of the Ceasefire. Although President Aquino and Vice President Binay began their political terms as allies it is obvious now that they are political enemies. The media exposed that the rivalry between those two offices resulted in a tentative ceasefire being erased from the table (Pareño). The focus for the country needs to be aimed at utilizing all possible resources for peace. Actions based on 2016 is distracting politicians from working constructively in this highly conflicted situation. What happened with the ceasefire possibility must not be allowed to happen again. President Aquino and Vice President Binay need to be pushed towards cooperating together and leaving a legacy of peace in Mindanao.
:: Discrimination and Community Relationships. Zamboanga City has worked hard to nurture peace between the peoples of that city, in particular the Chavacanos and Tausugs. At times this is a fragile peace. The crisis in Zamboanga in September unleashed hostilities within that city, altering the delicate balance of relationships between rich and poor, Christian and Muslim, Chavacanos and Tausug. NGOs could encourage the initiation of strategic discussions with community and religious leaders regarding ways to heal the brokenness of those relationships. As well, national leaders need to be held accountable for the “ripple effect” of their war decisions.
Agence France-PressePhilippine Air Force to get new warplanes by 2014, Inquirer Global Nation, July 6th, 2012, http://globalnation.inquirer.net/43297/philippine-air-force-to-get-new-warplanes-by-2014#ixzz2jbCr3S3B
Ager, Mailer. Santiago: Enrile bankrolled MNLF rebellion to divert ‘pork’ controversy. retrieved on November 2, 2013 from INQUIRER.net, September 26th, 2013, http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/495777/santiago-enrile-bankrolled-mnlf-rebellion-to-divert-pork-controversy
Arguillas, Carolyn O. “Zamboanga City standoff: more deaths, more ‘bakwits’,” September 26 2013, http://www.mindanews.com/top-stories/2013/09/26/zamboanga-city-standoff-more-deaths-more-bakwits/, MindaNews, retrieved November 3, 2013
Alipala, Julie, Inquirer Mindanao, October 4th, 2013, retrieved November 3, 2013http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/500737/zamboanga-residents-panic-over-mere-noises-in-wake-of-crisis
Zamboanga residents panic over mere noises in wake of crisis, Inquirer News
Campbell, Charlie. Philippines’ ‘Pork Barrel’ Graft Probe Has Lawmakers Squealing
Time World, retrieved Oct 27/13, http://world.time.com/2013/09/11/philippines-pork-barrel-graft-probe-has-lawmakers-squealing/ Sept. 11, 2013
Mangosing, Frances. INQUIRER.net, May 21st, 2013, http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/413115/philippine-navy-awaits-delivery-of-5-helicopters
Philippine Navy awaits delivery of 5 helicopters
Padua, Reinir (The Philippine Star) September 19, 2013, retrieved November 3, 2013, http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2013/09/19/1226331/milf-govt-underestimated-mnlf, MILF: Gov’t underestimated MNLF, PhilSTAR.com
Pantoja, Dann. Interview, November 2, 2013
Pareño, Roel. ABS-CBN News, retrieved Nov 2, 2013, http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/09/15/13/zambo-conflict-reignites-binay-roxas-rivalry, Zambo conflict reignites Binay-Roxas rivalry, from The Philippine Star, 09/15/2013
Peacebuilders Community Inc., THE 2013 ZAMBOANGA CRISIS: A CASE OF ‘SHOCK DOCTRINE’ APPLICATION? October 2, 2013. Retreived November 3, 2013
Sinapit, Jaime. IT’S OVER’ | Military, defense leaders declare end to Zamboanga siege. InterAksyon.com, retrieved Oct 27/13, http://www.interaksyon.com/article/71683/its-over–military-defense-leaders-declare-end-to-zamboanga-siege, September 28, 2013
Tacujan, Priscilla A. Ethnic Conflicts and the Muslim Question in Philippine Politics: Why Current Efforts at Conflict-Resolution Fail. Small Wars Journal, http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/ethnic-conflicts-and-the-muslim-question-in-philippine-politics Retrieved Oct 25, 2013. September 25, 2013
Updated Q and A on the GPH–MNLF Peace Process, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process websiste, retrieved Nov 2, 2013. As of 21 September 2013. http://www.scribd.com/doc/167890661/Updated-q-and-a-Gph-mnlf-Peace-Process
Appendices: Official Statements of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches
PCEC STATEMENT ON THE CURRENT ZAMBOANGA CRISIS
September 09, 2013
The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) is made up of more than 30,000 congregations nationwide who follow Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. We follow Jesus for whom loving one’s neighbor is an expression of loving God, and for which reason he rejected the use of violence and retaliation even against one’s enemies.
We are thus convinced that conflicts are best resolved through peaceful means. We believe that the use of violence in Zamboanga City would only claim and injure the lives of people—whether they be government soldiers, MNLF fighters, or civilians—who are equally valuable before the sight of God.
As we express our solidarity with the people of Zamboanga –
:: We call on all the constituencies affiliated with PCEC and all other Christian churches and mission agencies to pray for the peace of our land;
:: We call on His Excellency President Benigno Aquino III and Mr. Nur Misuari to order their respective troops for the immediate ceasefire and cessation of all hostilities;
:: We call on the evangelical churches, ministry organizations and relief agencies to work together with all humanitarian agencies for the protection of civilians and to provide emergency relief to people affected by this violence;
:: We call all parties to immediately engage in a peaceful dialogue to resolve these conflicts;
:: We call on other parties who have caused, or have contributed to this violence in order to protect their corrupt wealth-and-power interests, to repent before God and change your ways. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7)
PCEC prays that sustainable peace, based on justice, would be reached between the Government of the Philippines and all the Moro fronts through a peaceful, inclusive, negotiated settlement.
PCEC continually supports the current Peace Talks between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, with prayers that the on-going negotiations in Malaysia between their respective panels would not be affected by the crisis in Zamboanga, and that this GPH-MILF talks would result in a successful comprehensive agreement.
PCEC is earnestly praying that the people of the Philippines would quickly learn to settle our conflicts through dialogue and negotiations in the context of a culture of peace.
“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” (II Thess. 3:16 NIV)
The Board of Trustees, Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches
Bishop Efraim M. Tendero
PCEC National Director
PCEC OPEN LETTER TO HIS EXCELLENCY BENIGNO SIMEON AQUINO III
Dear Mr. President:
We, at the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC), affirm your leadership as our president. We love you. We pray for you. This is what the Bible has taught us.
A PRAYER FOR “MATUWID NA DAAN”.
We believe in your “Matuwid na Daan” as you have outlined in your inaugural speech and as it was demonstrated through many of your actions and decisions in the first half of your term. We praise God for those reforms. We thank God for what you have done so far. We continue to pray for more victories towards your vision.
In that same inaugural speech, you said: “The first step is to have leaders who are ethical, honest, and true public servants. I will set the example. I will strive to be a good model. I will not break the trust you have placed in me. I will ensure that this, too, will be the advocacy of my Cabinet and those who will join our government.” We rejoiced over these declarations and hoped they will guide us into the era of ethical governance. It has been these declarations that embolden us, the Evangelical community, to express the following appeals:
AN APPEAL TO ABOLISH THE PORK BARREL SYSTEM.
We appeal to our President to take the lead in abolishing the lump sum appropriation of more than P25 billion former PDAF or any semblance of pork barrel in our national budget. We also appeal to our senators and the congress representatives to focus on their intended job—which is to create laws. Hence,
• we appeal to His Excellency for the abolition of P200 million annual allocation for each senator;
• we appeal to His Excellency for the abolition of the P70 million annual allocation for each congress representative that are supposedly used for various projects, but have been abused; and,
• we appeal to His Excellency for the ‘special purpose funds’ (SPF) of nearly P450 billion be abolished as well.
These pork barrel funds are better allocated under the “regular” budget for different government agencies. In this way, Congress would be able to scrutinize how the agencies are spending the taxpayers’ money. This would enhance the check-and-balance relationship between the Legislative and the Executive.
AN APPEAL TO LEAD US IN DISMANTLING PATRONAGE POLITICS.
We appeal to our President to lead in the abolition of an unjust system of patronage politics. We strongly say,”Enough with a few families controlling not just the politics but the very soul of towns, cities, provinces and to some degree our country!” Thus, we encourage our President —
• to lead our nation by exploring all legal and legislative processes towards this political transformation;
• to lead us to stop the use of pork barrel funds to finance and sustain this patronage political system and the political dynasties that perpetuates corruption;
• to lead us in eliminating and preventing collusion between members of the Executive and the Legislative, which destroys the check-and-balance relationship between these two branches of the government; and,
• to lead us to be vigilant as our nation prepares for the 2016 general elections — to be vigilant against electoral sabotage and vote-buying that perpetuates patronage politics.
AN APPEAL TO LEAD IN THE PASSING OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION BILL. Finally, we appeal to our dear President to lead in passing the Freedom of Information Bill and to certify to the necessity of its immediate enactment. As you have stated, dear Mr. President, “We will strengthen the process of consultation and feedback. We will strive to uphold the constitutional right of citizens to information on matters of public concern.” We are convinced that this bill is crucial in our fight against corruption because —
• The Freedom of Information Act would help end the culture of government secrecy and corruption and will start a culture of transparency and righteousness.
• The Freedom of Information Act will prevent the government from hiding crucial information from the public.
• The Freedom of Information Act will be a highly effective tool in exposing corruption and allowing us to campaign to prevent abuses of power.
• The Freedom of Information Act will also facilitate informed participation by the public in government decision-making, and more efficient access to government services.
We pray to God that the heart and mind of our dear President will be so open to listen to the People—whom he voluntarily addressed as his ‘boss’. This is our collective will. This is what we believe is the direction of change we need to do as one people—a systemic change that roots out the causes of corruption.
Our dear President, we encourage you to lead us, your people, in this journey towards a radical, national transformation. May God richly bless you as this radical transformation becomes your legacy in the history of our land and our people.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
The Board of Trustees
Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches
(please contact: Bishop Efraim M. Tendero, PCEC National Director, firstname.lastname@example.org. or telephone 9131655-57)