Aleosan, Philippines – On a muddy, shaded track between fertile farmlands, 30 men lounge in flip-flops and tattered camoflauge [sic], displaying their beaten-up M-16 and AK-47 assault rifles.
They call themselves ilaga or "rats" in a local Philippines dialect. They're vigilantes: Christian farmers who have taken up arms to protect their land and families against Muslim rebels in this troubled corner of the southern Philippines.
Ah, here's how it happened: Indigenous suck-ups to the Spanish colonizers (to the extent of adopting the imperial religion & even "Christian" names) did a bit of colonizing themselves.
The town of Aleosan lies on the faultline of communal divisions in Mindanao. The Moros – as Muslims here call themselves – regard this and surrounding areas as part of their ancestral homeland. But much of Aleosan's land has now been owned and farmed for decades by Christians from the central Philippines, who settled here after World War II with government encouragement.
To add to the fun,
Hundreds of thousands of Muslim civilians remain in makeshift camps, afraid to return to their homes. And Malaysian monitors who helped enforce a cease-fire left Nov. 30 after their mandate expired.Remind anyone of anything?
A very tiny bit of humor in all of this.
After being burned by the Supreme Court, the MILF now has little faith that the Philippines government is a reliable negotiating partner. "We can resume talks," said MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu. "But we doubt very much [that] we can achieve a satisfactory and viable outcome."
Uh, that's Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Break up old colonial borders? Bad idea. For some.
Mr. Cabaya agrees. He says he can accept giving the Muslims more land and autonomy, but he thinks the proposed deal went too far. "I think the conflict will be worse if demands of the MILF are met, because their demand is [for] a separate state," says Cabaya. "It's being disguised as autonomy, but in essence it's a separate state."