Saturday, September 20, 2008

Filipino Civilians Raise A Militia To Defend Themselves

In 1775, a man by the name of Paul Revere rode out from Boston to Lexington to warn civilians that British regulars were coming to attack and capture American patriots and their gun powder. He rode out in the middle of the night to warn civilians to "arm themselves". As the poem goes, "TO ARMS! TO ARMS! THE BRITISH ARE COMING!"

Thanks to his warning, militias were able to form and fend off the invading British advance.

In 2008, the Philippines is facing a similar dilemma. A 10,000-strong band of Muslim bandits are harassing Christian and Muslim villages. Only this time, Paul Revere has been replaced with the typical Nokia cell phone and the text messages read, "ARM YOURSELVES! THE TERRORISTS ARE COMING!"

Islamic terrorists connected to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) burned down houses and killed civilians in Dualing village, Aleosan town of North Cotabato, Philippines on August 14, 2008. Over 1,000 guerrillas swooped in and occupied the area. They were protesting the Philippines government's stalled peace talks. Their violent reaction was the result of a failed peace plan that was rejected by the Philippines Supreme Court. The peace plan would have seceded some territorities to the MILF as autonomous regions.

The Military Response and MILF Deniability

The military overtook the fortified positions of the rebels in less than a week, signaling the MILF's weak capabilities to be able to go head to head with a full response from the Philippines military. Backed by attack helicopters and armored vehicles, the MILF was pushed back further south.

Officially, the MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said on an August 20, 2008 TV interview with ABS-CBN that the attacks on North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte were the result of "frustrations of MILF ground commanders" and that he ordered them to stop. He also stated that he did not sanction those attacks.

He said the two commanders, Abdurahman Macapaar alias 'Commander Bravo' and Commander Ameril Umbra Kato, led the violence that killed up to 38 civilians. However, they will not be released to the Philippines government because they are revolutionaries and an investigation would be done under MILF's jurisdiction.

The Civilian Response: The Awakening of the Rat

The civilians in North Cotabato were innocent and had no part in signing the failed peace deals -- yet they were the ones targeted by the MILF. While the government was able to secure the villages after the attacks occurred, it was too late, the civilians were killed and the houses were burnt down.

The calls for justice has been ringing around the Christian cities and towns of Mindanao. The elders of these towns have faced similar atrocities before. In the 1970s and the 1980s, communist rebels and Islamic extremists attacked Mindanao villages, collected "revolutionary taxes" from businesses, and killed anyone that didn't pay. I was there. I witnessed the mass graves, and the communists attempt to extort money from my family. The military (those that were not corrupt) was too stretched to be able to respond.

When the government is not able to defend its own people quickly enough, the people must stand up to defend themselves. This idea of bearing arms for self defense should be a constitutional right as it is with the United States' second ammendment. The Bible tells us that we should not live by the sword, but we have to balance this in context -- that we should protect our children and protect our family. You put the two things together what you find is a person that doesn't want to fight, but will fight out of self necessity in order to protect the family.

This is the very essence of a civil defense movement in the 1970s and the 1980s called Ilaga (the 'rat' in English). When civilians defended their neighborhood as a united front, they fended off heavily armed communist rebels and Islamic terrorists.

The criminals once thought the towns they preyed on were weak, yet as the calls for justice continued to call out from the graves of the oppressed, the criminals saw their days were numbered and the communist and Islamic strongholds of Mindanao quickly were eradicated as they no longer had strongholds to hide in. The militias made it easier for the military to conduct military strikes. When guerillas couldn't find hiding places in towns, they had to cluster together and that's when military strikes are most effective.

The Reformed Ilaga Movement

The Ilaga movement were predominantly Ilongos or Hiligaynon. Ilongos from the Panay island and Negros Occidental areas went to Mindanao in search for a better life (similar to the 'Western' frontier expansion in the 19th century by U.S. farmers). They moved to Mindanao to buy cheap farm land for their families since most of the lands in the Visayas were already owned. However, when it came to harvest, abusive Islamic criminals demanded their share. Here's a Laguna resident explaining what the hardships Illongos faced:

"A friend of mine was there in the 70's when it all started, he was only a kid back then. They went to Mindanao, their whole family of 17, to buy and till land, because during those times and up till now the lands in Panay and Negros were already mostly if not all, owned. They bought the land from the Muslims and worked on it, and when harvest time arrived the Moros also arrived. They demanded that half the harvest be given to them because it was their ancestral land. My friends' family refused. 15 of them were slaughtered, including women and children. Only 2 survived, my friend and his cousin. They were raised by Ilonggo friends who were mostly Ilaga, so thereafter they joined. He told me they have avenged the debt the muslims owed them plus interest."

The calls for the old heroes to awaken have been heard. As you can see from the picture below, young and old have heeded the call. You see World War II class weapons mixed in with modern weapons. The Reformed Ilaga Movement has vowed to bring the two rebel commanders to justice and while the MILF's 10,000-strong army might be a strong opponent, the Ilaga movement's membership easily exceeds 20,000. The single detachment below was a group of 300 militia members -- all of which can freely move in Mindanao without being harassed by the government.

An Opportunity for Peace

Once the adrenaline runs out and the perpetrators are captured, at the end of the day, the farmers need to go back to farming and the military can go back to its exercises and civil infrastructure projects.

Those that belong to the MILF need to realize that they belong to a democratic country -- if they want to be a part of it, they are welcome to, but if they continue to go against it, they will only land in jail, or worst, six feet under the ground.

The claims of ancestral domain will never come back -- it's politically impossible and violence is the wrong way to convince the world otherwise. It only brings shame to the native Moros, and a shame on the Koran. Stop dying over land your ancestors had, but rather, be successful and cultivate the land that you already have.

Store your weapons and enjoy peace, or the cycle of violence just continues to go on and on and on.