Rebels take strong, silent stance
After taking over 70 civilians hostage, separatist Muslim rebels now refuse to talk with the Government, dimming peace prospects for the island of Mindanao and sullying their image as a religious revolutionary movement.
Professor Jalaluddin de los Santos expressed pessimism yesterday that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front would continue talks. He predicted that Mindanao would have 'no peace, no open war, but disturbances all over'.
'This would definitely discourage investors from coming in and prevent free travel of people and goods in Mindanao,' said the co-founder of the Institute of Islamic Studies at the University of the Philippines.
The professor, who returned this week from the south, said: 'There's a major battle going on in Pikit, Cotabato province, between the military and the rebels.' He said the Pikit conflict could not be treated as an isolated disturbance because fighting was also occurring in other rebel-influenced areas such as Buldon in Maguindanao, Sultan sa Barongis in Cotabato and on Basilan island.
The rebels have always prided themselves on fighting according to the Koran since their leader is a scholar of Islam who has made the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca three times. The rebels are not only drilled in the use of mortars and grenade launchers but also in the Koran's holy verses.
With such rigorous spiritual training, rebels know which activities are haram (forbidden), and kidnapping is one of them, their leaders have always assured government authorities when denying such involvement.
The authorities could not categorically pin a kidnapping incident on the rebels until yesterday's abduction and killing of two of the victims.
'The international community will certainly view this negatively,' said Senator Orlando Mercado, Senate defence committee chairman.
'I don't believe it will help them any if non-combatants become victims in war.' The incident panicked residents of the predominantly Christian cities of Davao and General Santos, which until now have remained untouched by conflict.
Davao City's two largest bus firms, Wina and Grandtrans, suspended their daily trips from Davao to Cotabato City until authorities could ensure road safety.