Manila – The US Charges d’Affaires in Manila has incurred the official wrath of the Philippine government for publicly suggesting that terrorism and extreme poverty in Mindanao could turn it into the next Afghanistan. According to a transcript of Mr Joseph Mussomeli’s interview with SBS-TV Australia, the US diplomat warned that Mindanao was fast becoming a “Mecca” for terrorism.
The interview was aired on April 5 but the transcript was released on April 11. Responding to questions about the Moro Liberation Islamic Front (MILF), the Jemaah Islamiah and the Abu Sayyaf, Mr Mussomeli told his interviewer: “The threat is more long-term…certain portions of Mindanao are so lawless, so porous (are) the borders that you run the risk of it becoming like an Afghanistan.”
His remarks drew rapid fire from Philippine officials. On April 11, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunya said: “Such negative hyperbole to describe the Mindanaosituation is out of tune with what is happening on the ground.”
Mindanao Senator Aquiline Pimentel Jar expressed concern that Mr Mussomeli’s remarks could be a prelude to the US’ deployment of combat troops to fight terrorists in the southern Philippines.
In an official expression of Manila’s displeasure, Mr Mussomeli was summoned on April 12 by the Department of Foreign Affairs where he was given a note verbal indicating the Philippine government's "deep concern" over his statements on Mindanao.
Mr Mussomeli told reporters later he had nothing to apologise for. He said his statements were taken out of context and distorted.
At least two Philippine newspapers felt that Mr Mussomeli was simply calling a spade a spade. A commentator in the Philippine Daily Inquirer said: “The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Abu Sayyaf, and lately the Moro National Liberation Front, have turned some parts of Mindanao into a ‘no-man’s land’. So, you blame Mussomeli for telling the truth?”
The Manila Times wondered why the government was making such a big fuss over his statements. The newspaper said “there is nothing insulting or surprising” about the diplomat's remarks that Mindanao may become like an Afghanistan.
It noted that “most Mindanao is not safe, because of these armed groups and goons”.
“The terrorists do not even have to do battle with government troops. They could easily blow up markets, bus stations and other public places. The war is so costly to the government that Manilais rethinking its strategy against the insurgency.”
* What did Mussomeli say wrong? (Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 14)
* Mussomeli spoke the truth (The Manila Times, April 13)
*RP summons Mussomeli for 'new Afghanistan' tag on Mindanao(Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 12)