May 20, 2010

Wistful thinking

AFP Chief Gen. Delfin Bangit’s admission that the AFP will not be able to meet de facto President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's 2010 deadline to defeat the New People's Army (NPA) comes as no surprise. The military claims of success in its counterinsurgency campaigns have been belied by independent media reports of the NPA’s tactical offensives resulting in firearms seized and AFP troops captured, killed or wounded. Moreover, the underlying socio-economic causes of the longest-running armed conflict in the Southeast Asian region to date make a military solution untenable ab initio as any student of history knows.

Mr. Bangit subsequently backpedals and attempts two explanations for the military’s admitted failure.

First, he says that the insurgency is not just a military problem, its roots being poverty and lack of government services, ergo a military solution cannot be the only solution. Second, he says that the military did such a good job securing the May 10 polls it did so at the expense of its drive to wipe out insurgency by June 30, the end of Mrs. Arroyo’s term of office.

Both reasons won't wash. These (poll duties and non-military solution) were elements known to the counterinsurgency planners long ago. Is he saying these were not factored in by Mrs. Arroyo when she gave the orders and by the AFP when it mapped out its implementing and operational plans?

What was the whole point in the AFP's crowing until last week that they were well on their way to meeting the deadline? Clearly the military and the Arroyo regime have been pulling our legs all along. Or so they thought.

But by saying they cannot do it alone, Mr. Bangit is once again pointing the accusing finger at the civilian component of the "counter-insurgency plan". While there is a lot of truth to Mr. Bangit's claim that civilian government agencies are not performing their function of fostering the socio-economic development of NPA-controlled or influenced areas, he does so in an attempt to cover up, as all his predecessors have done, the fact that military operations have failed dismally to achieve their objective of "rendering inconsequential", much less decimating the NPA.

Rather, the gross human rights violations committed by the AFP and paramilitary forces under its supervision, as well as the injustices and iniquities committed by the government against the people, have only served to infuriate and drive more and more people to the mountains to fight alongside the NPA or render them support.

The case of the Morong 43 (forty three health professionals and community health workers arrested en mass while allegedly training to make explosives) is only the latest example of the gross abuse of authority and human rights violations by the military, apparently with the go signal of Malacañang, with the AFP flagrantly defying even the orders of the courts and the human rights commission.

After the illegal arrest of the 43 health workers, the AFP bragged that the catch had crippled the NPA in the whole island of Luzon. With the arrest, they said the NPA had lost its capability to launch attacks against the AFP. Shortly after, the military lost several lives and firearms in Mindoro and Rizal provinces as a result of NPA ambuscades.

It seems it has only itself to blame for issuing statements that aim to deceive the public, but instead lull its own troops into complacency. This is a microcosm of what is happening on the national scale. From the looks of it, the NPA are still very well entrenched and active in many parts of the country, belying AFP claims that it has destroyed scores of the NPA's guerrilla fronts.

The fact is the regime's National Internal Security Plan (NISP) was bound to fail from the start. It has as its main ingredient the Oplan Bantay-Laya (OBL), the military component of the NISP. Conceptually, it is no different from the failed counterinsurgency plans from Marcos' Oplan Katatagan to Aquino's Oplan Lambat-Bitag, Ramos' Oplan Mamayan and Estrada's Oplan Makabayan. They were all patterned after the failed US Vietnam War campaigns and what the US now calls "stability operations".

The inherent flaw in all these counter-insurgency plans, with Oplan Bantay Laya only its most monstrous mutant, is that they are basically anti-people. They are meant to quell resistance against social iniquities and injustice, and protect an oppressive and exploitative system.

What distinguishes OBL from its predecessors is the policy of employing military force to "neutralize" (read: assassinate) progressive leaders and activists in the urban areas, resulting in hundreds of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, all perpetrated with impunity, during Arroyo's nine-year rule. This cloak of impunity likewise covered and emboldened countless cases of abuses and human rights violations by state security forces nationwide.

Mr. Bangit's latest revelation that the military cannot defeat the NPA by itself is quite true. His stating it now, however, is a virtual indictment of the US backed-Arroyo regime under which he unquestioningly and loyally served.

Could it be an overture to the incoming administration of Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino? Despite the fact that Mr. Bangit is known as Mrs. Arroyo’s lapdog, his “non-partisanship” in the last elections --i.e. the AFP under Mr. Bangit did not undertake to perpetuate Mrs. Arroyo as president under various scenarios -- shows that he could still be useful in leading the government counterinsurgency drive.

After all, Mr. Aquino does not appear to be headed towards breaking new ground in so far as resolving the intractable and deeply-rooted armed conflicts in the land. Mr. Aquino, in a recent speech on his concept of a coherent National Security Policy, said that the key to success in counterinsurgency and attaining “peace” is by ensuring that government delivers adequate services to the people, government and the military is graft-and-corruption free and the latter gets all the support it needs to pursue the military effort.

Mr. Aquino will soon be confronted by two questions that will define his administration: (1) Will he prosecute Mrs. Arroyo and her henchmen for the human rights violations they committed under OBL? (2) Does he have what it takes to depart from this US-imposed and nurtured policy framework on counterinsurgency?

Can he and will he, once vested with full executive power, do what he could not as much as propose in his nine years as a legislator? #

*Published in Business World
21-22 May 2010


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