MANILA, NOVEMBER 26, 2003  (STAR) BY THE WAY BY Max V. Soliven - I’m perturbed – and somewhat disturbed – by two newspaper items which surfaced yesterday.

One is the report from Kuala Lumpur, an Agence France Presse dispatch we published in this newspaper, stating that Malaysia will be sending seven military officers to Mindanao to assess the Muslim "separatist rebellion" there.

What’s this talk about Malaysia deploying "ceasefire monitors" in Mindanao? Don’t tell me the GMA Government with our Surrender Gang, still headed by now Defense Secretary (General, ret.) Eduardo Ermita, is asking foreign – indeed Muslim – military observers to assess the status of our "domestic" Moro rebellion.

Sanamagan. Are we letting the Muslim, not just Malaysia but the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), where the GMA Administration has been begging inclusion into under "observer status", run our country already? Someday, who knows, the world press may be covering the "Christian rebellion" here.

The Moros have, in fact, already taken over Virra Mall and the Greenhills shopping tiangge, a.k.a. the "pirate" DVD center. I’ve no quarrel with this, since the vendors and even the touts in that area call themselves "the peaceful Moros" and "traders". They are mostly Maranaos, with a few Taosugs thrown in. The trouble is that, within a Muslim community, you don’t know whether infiltrators might have slipped in.

Yesterday, if you toured the scene, you would have found the Greenhills Moros prostrated on the sidewalk spilling over onto the pavement next to the Greenhills theater and Virra Mall, performing their final Ramadan devotions. (Muslim prayer is five times a day.) They weren’t poor Moros, apparently, because their Pajeros, "Crosswinds", and other SUVs were double-parked nearby.

Today is the end of the month-long fasting period of Islamic "Lent", the Eid al-Fitr – their equivalent of our Easter Sunday. I hope the only firework exploded will be that of festivity.

Like us Christians – such as Protestant versus Catholic – Muslims can be combative with each other, even in splitting hairs in religious matters. In Iraq, for instance, the Sunni and Shia Muslims are quarrelling over the day on which Eid should be celebrated.

The Sunni Council of Muslim Scholars there, for example, declared sightings of the "new moon" (signaling the advent of Eid and the conclusion of Ramadan) as early as Sunday night in the Sunni-dominated northern town of Mosul. Thus, the Sunnis and Shias are commemorating Eid on different days. Here, our Moros are almost a hundred percent Sunnis, so today’s the day.

What dismays me is a convincingly-documented article by International Herald Tribune correspondent Raymond Bonner which also appeared yesterday in that internationally-circulated daily. It was headlined: "New Attacks Expected to Hit Southeast Asia."

The subhead stated: "Group tied to Qaeda is growing stronger."

In his piece, datelined Manila, Bonner noted that US officials in Southeast Asia "are bracing for new terrorist attacks as they gather fresh information about Jemaah Islamiyah, the radical Islamic organization based in Indonesia."

What’s interesting is that the writer reveals that "recruitment and fund-raising for the group is on the rise, and in the last few months, men, money and arms have flowed to the group through the Philippines, a center for training and money-laundering."

If the Philippines is such a terrorist center, why are President Macapagal-Arroyo and her merry men acting as if "peace" has broken out in Mindanao already? Why, for instance, Bonner asked, is "the Philippines . . . slow to acknowledge the presence of terrorists here (in RP)?"

He pointed out that "when a newspaper article about Jemaah Islamiyah camps in Mindanao appeared in June, the country’s national security adviser, Roilo Golez, issued a stern denial, saying if there had been any camps, they were shut in 2000."

"Officials held that stand for months," Bonner reported, "although the United States, Australia and other countries were providing the government with evidence that Jemaah Islamiyah recruits were still training here, Western officials said."

"Earlier this month," the IHT article underscored, "Andrea Domingo, the Philippine commissioner on immigration, said that the government had evidence of 30 foreigners training in Mindanao. But last week, a Philippine military spokesman again insisted that the camps were closed three years ago." (What military spokesman? From Ed Ermita’s office? Or the Malacañang War Room chief, Maj. Gen. Victor Corpus? The Oakwood mutineers "demanded" that Corpus be "fired", but instead he pretended to resign, and, suddenly, not only was he resurrected, but he got promoted! This is a government of wonders!)

Here is the government’s own Immigration chief, former Pampanga congresswoman "Didi" Domingo, courageously revealing that 30 foreign terrorists are being trained in Mindanao, right under our very noses – but she got repudiated by this sanamagan of a military spokesman. Perhaps that’s why Commissioner Doming is reportedly resigning soon to return to politics, in frustration at her warnings going unheeded. She may run for Mayor of her hometown of San Fernando City, Pampanga.

* * *

"A few days after US President George W. Bush visited the Philippines last month," the article continued, "President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo acknowledged publicly that the (terrorist) group was training in Mindanao." (She must have been pointedly asked by Dubya in their one-in-one why she kept on ignoring that fact.)

"Bush and other Americans have praised the Philippine government for its cooperation against terrorism. But privately, US officials have delivered stern messages to Arroyo that her government is not doing enough, Western officials said."

Bonner discloses: "US officials have said they are disappointed and somewhat puzzled that the Philippine government has not shut the camps in Mindanao."

Whaat? Is this because those terrorist training camps are being operated by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government is currently sucking up to the MILF in the expectation that it can announce a peace "agreement" (sponsored by Kuala Lumpur, remember) soon?

What sort of game is being played? Is it stupidity – or is there treachery afoot? The problem is that accusing people of treachery has become so commonplace that when there is real treachery occurring, its exposure sounds more melodramatic than real. As in the case of coups d’etat or mutinies, so many have cried "wolf" so often that we may be caught by surprise, or caught napping, when the wolf is finally at our door.

* * *

Why is our government turning a blind eye on those terrorist camps in our archipelago, which endanger not just our neighbors in Asia, but the continental US and perhaps even Europe as well? Having "lost" Afghanistan, is al-Qaeda planning to shift its nerve-center here? It’s easy as pie to sneak subversives in and out of the Philippines.

For Bonner insists that US officials "expect new attacks against Westerners, with Americans and Australians at the top of the risk list . . . The Philippines is also considered a prime target. Isamuddin (better known as Hambali, captured by the CIA in Thailand in August), a member of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle, has told his interrogators that the Israeli Embassy and a Manila hotel were on the group’s list of targets . . ."

A senior US official added that "it is not a question of if, but when and where". Some new information, it was also said, "came from the interrogation in Manila of Taufik Rifki, Jemaah Islamiyah’s finance and logistics officer in the Philippines. Rifki was seized last month in Mindanao. Commenting on what’s been dredged up by grilling this new captive, an official declared: "He’s been a gold mine."

In the light of the GMA government’s nonchalance about those training camps in Mindanao, do you think it’s still "true" that the Americans back GMA’s re-election bid?

Can we give credence to the rumor that they’ve been contacting FPJ?

Maybe California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has already rung up his fellow actor to say: "Hasta la vista, Fernando-Baby!"

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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