Freed today after 40 days in the jungles of Lanao del Sur was missionary Fr. Giancarlo Bossi. While this is cause for relief and rejoicing, still missing after 82 days is farmer-activist Jonas Burgos.
Neither Burgos nor Bossi have been the only victims of abduction in the strong republic that is the Philippines, but they have certainly been the most prominent faces in recent memory. They represent the twin forces between which ordinary Mindanaoans are caught in today.
Fr. Bossi was taken on June 10 near his parish church in Payao. While it immediately raised the specter of Islamic separatists, the real reasons probably fell well below the religious divide. A human rights official I spoke with not long surmised that it could have simply been a losing candidate out to recover his electoral expenses.
If it took a long time to secure Fr. Bossi's release, it's because of the hierarchy and web of complicity among MILF leaders and their interplay with the military and local government. Who really took Fr. Bossi? Up to now, no one really knows.
Most likely, when Fr. Bossi became too hot to handle, he was transferred from the fringe operatives to the MILF mainstream (if it can be called that) for use as a political pawn. In the meantime, you have the typical deeds of misdirection: The Abu Sayyaff took him. No, a lost command did. He's in Basilan. He's in Sulu. He's...oh, wait, here he is!
In the face of all this, we have the utter helplessness of the military and local government. The MILF is so intricately woven into the fabric of Muslim Mindanao as to be indistinguishable from legitimate authority. The MILF is not so much a secessionist movement -- I doubt they have the economic or industrial capability -- as it is a shadow government. In many areas of Muslim Mindanao, the MILF is the government.
Not until the grisly beheadings of ten marines is the military finally mobilizing in force in the area. Now that Bossi has been released will they be stronger in their resolve? Or will it simply peter out as a concession to the local 'authorities' for this 'favor'?
As a precursor to the mobilization, the military now favors peace talks with the CPP-NDF and the NPA. Only right, after all, since they can practically face only one enemy at a time. Is this vacillation the hallmark of a strong republic? It seems, rather, that attention has been focused on the Communists simply because they were the weaker enemy.
It's this link that bears on Jonas Burgos' abduction. From the beginning, the finger has always been on the Intelligence Services as the perpetrators, despite continued denials and disavowals by the military hierarchy (note the similarities in action with the MILF hierarchy).
There were hints and rumors that Jonas Burgos was the recipient of vital intelligence information (as to their nature we don't know) and only today did the military leadership let drop that Burgos was a member of the NPA.
Is this sufficient justification for abduction? In the military mind, it apparently is, Human Security Act or not. For all this talk of writs of habeas corpus and amparo and the sovereignty of the constitution, Jonas Burgos has yet to surface. Heaven help the next person branded rightly or wrongly as a Communist!
This is where we ordinary citizens are caught between. On the one hand, the military; and on the other, a shadow government. Both can act with impunity because neither of them has any shadow of accountability.
As Tarzan says: "In jungle, strong always win." Welcome to the strong republic.