October 20, 2011

Killing the peace process

The cold-blooded murder of 59-year-old Italian missionary priest, Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, who was a champion of indigenous people’s rights, an anti-mining campaigner and a human rights defender, jolts us all to the reality that President Benigno Aquino III's promise of change is nothing but empty rhetoric aimed at deluding the people into complacency and perpetuating the current iniquitous status quo.

Despite the posturing and loud pronouncements for peace and human rights, the Aquino government has done nothing to fundamentally address the real and age-old problems that drive significant numbers of our people to protest and even take up arms against the government. Worse, unarmed advocates and social activists are assassinated with impunity, continuing the pattern and practice of violent suppression of legitimate protest.

In response to resistance by rural communities, especially of peasants and national minorities, to the land grabbing by big mining companies, loggers, landlords and real estate property developers in cahoots with military and civilian government officials, the Philippine government (GPH) utilizes the same-old carrot-and-stick approach, i.e. dole-out and counterinsurgency programs like the Conditional Cash Transfer Program and Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan or PAMANA (Peaceful and Resilient Communities) and Oplan Bayanihan.

Oplan Bayanihan, which Malacañang claims to be a peace-oriented and people-centered internal security program, in reality gives priority to military campaigns aimed at weakening the New People’s Army and reducing it to “irrelevance”, so that the revolutionary umbrella organization, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) will be forced to lay down its arms and join the mainstream.

The GPH-NDFP peace talks are just so much hot air as far as the Aquino government is concerned.

Government's two-track approach to peace negotiations is based on deception and military force, as underscored by the recent Basilan battle where nineteen government soldiers and six MILF combatants were killed.

Government says it was not violating the existing ceasefire agreement because its troops were merely going to serve an arrest warrant on an MILF commander involved in a 2009 Basilan battle where many soldiers were also killed.

Did the GPH/AFP really expect the MILF forces to sit idly by while the "arrest" was being made and not consider the incursion into their claimed territory to effect that "arrest" an outright attack?

On the one hand the GPH has a ceasefire agreement with the MILF; on the other, it invokes and asserts its authority to arrest any MILF element, even an MILF commander, for what it calls a criminal offense when it fact the act in question is part and parcel of the GPH-MILF armed conflict.

The intent by the military to "arrest" was clearly based on the criminalization of a political act, not unlike the trumped-up charges of criminal offenses (murder, illegal possession of firearms and explosives, arson, etc) versus suspected CPP-NPA-NDF members and sympathizers, including or especially NDFP peace panel consultants.

In the case of the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations, there is the JASIG that explicitly provides for immunity and safety guarantees for those involved in the negotiations. Without the JASIG there could be no peace negotiations because the NDFP cannot risk exposing those people it consults and seeks assistance from to military and police surveillance, harassment, arrest, torture, assassination, etc.

The GPH agreed to the provisions of JASIG. In much the same way, the GPH and MILF have a ceasefire agreement that covers similar situations including alleged violations, and provides for measures to address these.
The GPH has been trying to go around the JASIG and even its own laws and jurisprudence to detain and arrest suspected CPP-NPA-NDFP elements by criminalizing political offenses. For too long a time, the GPH has been getting away with it, what with a political leadership beholden to and relying on the state security forces for support, if not its survival.

The recent Basilan incident is what happens when the GPH carries this tack too far, thinking it could take into custody an MILF officer (as confirmed by the MILF leadership) with a special forces platoon.

More importantly, this throws back into light the question of how the GPH or the Aquino government really intends to bring peace to Mindanao and for that matter the entire country.

As in the GPH-NDFP talks, the GPH has been mouthing ad nauseam the call for a "just and lasting peace" by "addressing the roots of the armed conflict".

But MILF Information Committee deputy chairman Khaled Musa says that OPAPP's PAMANA project which is being pushed in Maguindanao is "nothing but plain and simple counter-insurgency scheme aimed at the hearts and minds of the people".

Furthermore, “(t)he Aquino dispensation through the OPAPP wants to solve the Moro Question and the armed conflict in Mindanao through the PAMANA program while it continues to dilly-dally in the negotiation...The government is not serious in the negotiation."

For its part, the NDFP Peace Panel Spokesperson Fidel Agcaoili says: “The GPH only wants to talk about peace negotiations but not to really negotiate seriously and to forge agreements on basic social, economic and political reforms. It merely wants pacification and capitulation of the revolutionary movement…”

Like the Arroyo regime before it, the Aquino regime set off by raising our people's hopes in the peace process, admitting and vowing to rectify the mistakes of its predecessor.

Close observers of the peace negotiations with the MILF and NDFP will attest to the fact that both have bent backward considerably to "meet the government halfway" so to speak.

From its starting position of independence, the MILF has proposed the Bangsamoro "sub-state" as a compromise political settlement. The NDFP, for its part, proposed as early as 2005 an alliance and truce based on a "concise agreement for an immediate just peace" with provisions that are more bourgeois democratic than socialist.

The Aquino government has rejected both proposals. Instead, it appears poised to scuttle the talks completely and put the blame on the MILF and NDFP even as its spokespersons pay lip service to continuing with the talks.

The conclusion that emerges is that the GPH is not inclined to truly address the roots of the armed conflict through a negotiated settlement. What it is really doing is to implement token development and social services programs to draw away the mass or support base of the MILF and NDFP and intensify military operations to downgrade their military capability until they are compelled to accept a negotiated solution dictated by the GPH.

It is an old, worn-out scheme that is bound to fail again. #

Published in Business World
21-22 October 2011


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