February 10, 2011

Faking peace advocacy

The resumption of formal exploratory talks between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and formal talks between the GPH and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) has spurred a flurry of activities in peace advocacy especially on the part of certain “civil society” groups working hand-in-hand with the government.

In the spirit of contributing to a healthy and conducive atmosphere for the peace talks between the government and the two armed revolutionary movements, allow us to dissect the framework and objectives of such peace advocacy and its usefulness in the current resumption of talks.

We understand that a series of consultations had been held upon the instance of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) or in cooperation between certain schools and non-government organizations (NGOs) and the OPAPP, AFP, PNP and other government agencies seeking an exchange of views on “peace and security” issues.

This is apparently part of the current "peace and security" (read: counterinsurgency) program of the Aquino government entitled Oplan Bayanihan and a complementary government-NGO plan for “peace constituency building”.

While Oplan Bayanihan is long on the rhetoric of shifting from an “enemy-centric” approach to one that is “people-centered” and of mobilizing all “stakeholders” in pursuing the Aquino government’s “Internal Peace and Security Plan” it all boils down to the same objective of suppressing the revolutionary forces and the people to keep them from overthrowing the status quo and replacing it with their vision of a just, prosperous, equitable and democratic system.

The basic problem is in the attitude towards armed conflict, or the relationship between "insurgency" and development. The government and the AFP have consistently harped on the line that the “insurgency” is the obstacle to development, to wit: "If only the armed rebels stop fighting the government and lay down their arms, there will be peace and development in our country".

This argument turns the truth upside down and stands it on its head. This kind of thinking is totally blind to the real roots of the armed conflict and is incapable of appreciating, much less grasping, the need to address these roots in order to achieve a just and lasting peace.

Concretely, Oplan Bayanihan says that “there is no direct causal link between low economic status and armed conflict”. What exists are “perceptions of relative deprivation” which are “correlated with the emergence and persistence of conflict in the Philippines”.

Thus, instead of acknowledging and addressing concrete socio-economic and political issues like landlessness, unemployment, grinding poverty and injustice that drive people to take up arms against the government, the government will work on changing “perceptions” that the system is not working for the people by bringing in or improving government services including the much ballyhooed “anti-poverty” programs pushed by the World Bank.

While OPAPP and the AFP seek to mobilize "civil society" support for and pay lip service to the attainment of a just and lasting peace, their statements appear to seek merely an end to violence without necessarily eradicating its only too real causes.

A document, “Working Paper for Peace Constituency Building”, prepared by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations (J3) for a planning meeting of government agencies and NGOs reflects this same point of view: “The resumption of the peace talks is a golden opportunity to finally put an end to the violent conflicts that have ‘hostaged’ (underscoring mine) the country’s development for so long…”

According to them, the goal is to “mobilize a constituency for peace and security (and) make the silent majority declare their commitment to peace.”

Yet the document is silent on what constitutes peace and security in the first place. Is it the suppression of dissent, the cooptation of revolutionaries and reformers and the entrenchment of the ruling system?

One specific objective is “(to) apply social pressure to (sic) armed groups to give up violent acts”.

Obviously this refers only to the CPP-NPA and the MILF since the AFP and the PNP are clothed with the authority to engage in acts of violence while cloaked with impunity in undertaking extrajudicial killings, torture and other human rights violations in the course of their so-called “internal security operations”.

But what about the kind of state terrorism resorted to, for example, by the AFP’s Special Operations Teams or SOTs in the rural and even some urban areas?

“The SOTs most of the time disguise themselves as rebels to sow terror on the civilian populace in order to malign the revolutionary groups. Development projects are implemented in a piece meal basis. It was not for the purpose of improving people’s life but as a tactic to pacify and neutralize the people’s cry for change.” (Total War, Ma. Socorro Diokno).

What underlies this brand of peace advocacy is a reprise of the “active non-violence” line peddled by the likes of die-hard anti-communists Jesuit priest Fr. Archie Intengan and PDSP’s Norberto Gonzales that condemns the revolutionary violence resorted to by an exploited and oppressed people against the violence of class exploitation and oppression but obscures the latter, much less draws the connection between the two.

The purpose is only too clear, the government hopes once more to appropriate for itself the mystique of “peace” advocacy while at the same time misrepresenting revolutionary movements as “violence-prone” and purportedly consumed by the desire to topple the government in order to seize power.

They would deny the revolutionary movements the political legitimacy of waging revolutionary armed struggle precisely to overhaul society for the betterment and liberation of the people.

Instead of just the OPAPP, AFP, PNP and other government instrumentalities repeating this, they would like the “silent majority” led by government-organized, -subsidized and otherwise -approved NGOs to echo this erroneous line.

In the final analysis, who are the real actors and beneficiaries of the quest for a just and lasting peace?
Is it not the Filipino people, especially the toiling masses, who, by varying means of struggle, are trying to achieve their aspirations for national and social liberation?

The peace negotiations must address the underlying causes of social unrest and armed conflict. Failing to do so, no amount of fake peace advocacy can change the unbalanced equation. #

Published in Business World
11-12 Februrary 2011


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