October 27, 2011

All-out deception

The shrill call to wage “all-out war”, in reaction to the overwhelming defeat of a platoon of special action forces on a mission to “arrest” a rebel Moro commander in Basilan, is nothing but pure hogwash.

For one it is obvious, except to the military top brass and to those who for various reasons wish to suck up to the armed forces, that it was a botched operation that the military now wishes to blame on the targeted enemy, in this case, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Indeed, the armed forces hierarchy has a lot to answer for in the unnecessary deaths of these young soldiers and junior officers that only a thoroughgoing and honest assessment can fully determine.

For another, had the numbers of killed or wounded-in-action been the other way around, with MILF fighters being dealt a rout, hardly anyone would have asked whether the military’s combat operation against a known MILF commander, albeit branded as a “criminal”, was a violation of the terms of the ongoing peace negotiations and ceasefire agreement between the Philippine government (GPH) and the MILF.

As it is, government officials and media commentators are having a field day accusing the MILF of “treachery” in the Basilan encounter; of coddling criminals if not engaging in criminality themselves because of their refusal to submit to the authority of the government (they are after all, rebels); and of taking advantage of a presumably flawed ceasefire agreement to get away with their lawlessness (in fact the ceasefire had been holding up fairly well to the satisfaction of both parties until this latest firefight).

But let’s get back to basics. There is an ongoing war between the Philippine government and the MILF over the historic demands of the Bangsamoro for the right to self-determination and to their ancestral domain. These inalienable rights of the Moro people have been denied them by the Spanish and American colonialists then by what they call the Manila government post-independence, thus bringing about their marginalization and oppression as a people for centuries up to the present.

This revolutionary war, precisely because it is being waged on just grounds, has been intractable. The most brutal military campaigns and the series of peace talks under several Philippine governments have all failed to quell the Moro separatist armed movement.

This is the objective context in which peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF are being held today. And until an agreement is concluded that addresses the just demands of the Bangsamoro and a final cessation of hostilities and disposition of forces is achieved, fighting can and does flare up even with a ceasefire agreement in place.

A ceasefire can be broken by either side, for various reasons and with varying degrees of seriousness. Ceasefire violations, especially if agreed-upon processes have not been activated to address these, can not be a reason to go on “all-out war”.

President Aquino has rejected the call for his government to go on an “all-out war” against the MILF, something he knows would be unsustainable given the government’s tight fiscal situation and politically untenable as well, what with the US and other foreign governments involved in the GPH-MILF peace talks.

Instead he has coined the phrase “all-out justice” to describe how he chooses to deal with the Basilan military fiasco and satisfy the calls to bring the perpetrators to justice.

He has authorized the AFP to bomb MILF camps in Zamboanga Sibugay and to undertake intensified ground operations in Basilan and Lanao del Norte in order the flush out the supposed perpetrators of the Basilan and subsequent other attacks attributed to alleged bandits/Abu Sayaff/”rogue” MILF commanders.

In this way, he is giving the AFP a face-saving way out of the trouncing they got from the MILF. Yet how can “all-out justice” be attained by means of massive military operations against suspected "criminals" while entire populations are displaced and their rights violated?

In truth, the “all-out justice” call of Mr. Aquino falls squarely under his government’s counterinsurgency program dubbed Oplan Bayanihan. It employs the twin tracks of military operations and socio-economic reform programs under the cover of peace talks supposedly to address the roots of armed conflict between GPH and MILF but only geared towards pacification and cooptation of the MILF.

It allows the military to “punish” the MILF and its civilian mass base for alleged criminal acts while maintaining the illusion of suing for peace.

Meanwhile, peace talks with the MILF, as with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), are actually at a standstill.

In response to the MILF’s toned-down demand for a “substate” or genuine autonomy in lieu of a separate state, the GPH countered with socio-economic projects and an offer to include the MILF in the leadership of the Autonomous Region of Muslin Mindanao whose temporary leaders are to be appointed by Mr. Aquino. This has been rejected by the MILF as completely unacceptable and in fact a negation of all past agreements reached through years of negotiations.

Observers of GPH-MILF peace negotiations, including former GPH panel members, point to GPH difficulty in formulating and presenting a clear and coherent position on major substantive issues in contention.

A main stumbling block is GPH insistence that the agreements be interpreted and implemented in accordance with the GPH constitution and legal processes and the assertion that the GPH is the sole political authority or sovereign power. That is supposedly what is behind the rejection of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) and even the “substate”, also the same rationale behind sending the military and police in force to serve arrest warrants, and now the bombing of MILF camps.

These are concrete examples of the GPH’s Janus-faced position: On one hand, entering into peace negotiations supposedly to seek a just and lasting solution to the armed conflict, "with neither blame nor surrender", tacitly recognizing that the MILF (and NDFP) have legitimate grievances and demands and that their actions in pursuit of their political aims -- including armed opposition -- are not criminal acts; while on the other hand asserting the GPH as lone political authority and its security forces as the lone legal armed forces, etc. thus leading to non-compliance with and violations of bilateral agreements such as the ceasefire agreement in the case of the MILF and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) in the case of the NDFP.

Mr. Aquino’s cleverly-worded “all-out justice” policy may not be as hare-brained and as obviously doomed-to-fail as the “all-out war” policy to which it is contrasted but it can only lead to more armed conflict in Muslim Mindanao because the peace it espouses is deceptive and hollow. #

Published in Business World

28-29 October 2011

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

October 13, 2011

Ka Roger (1947-2011)

Gregorio ‘Ka Roger” Rosal, widely known as the spokesperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army, is dead at the age of 64 years, from a heart attack; he died somewhere in a “guerilla zone”, according to the press release issued by the CPP’s Information Bureau. His passing deserves more than a footnote in this nation’s history of a people striving to achieve an independent, just, egalitarian, and prosperous society amidst entrenched poverty and backwardness, exploitation and oppression.

Ka Roger’s homely yet perennially smiling face with his trademark Mao cap; his plain-talking, hard-hitting and infectiously humorous broadcasts explaining the different facets of the armed revolutionary movement or demolishing the Philippine military’s disinformation campaigns; and the many stories about his model life as a committed communist cadre, a red fighter, a Filipino patriot and a man of the masses are all being recounted in the underground, mainstream and electronic media.

Who was Ka Roger that his death would sadden ordinary folk, even those who did not know him personally or the details of his colorful life as a revolutionary?

Why did the Philippine military -- that had launched numerous campaigns to hunt him down, put a five-million-peso bounty on his head, slapped countless trumped-up charges against him and even engineered the abduction of his daughter to force him to surrender – feel compelled to issue an official statement of “sympathy” to his family?

Gregorio Rosal was born to a poor peasant family: his parents were farm workers in a small sugarcane plantation in Batangas. Because of poverty, he left school at an early age working as a house help and later as an itinerant peddler to help support his family. He was only able to step into college at the age of 24 in 1971, in Batangas City, during a time of great unrest and activism for Filipino youth and students.

Eventually, Rosal became caught up in the awakening of his generation: he became a member of the Kabataang Makabayan, a militant national democratic youth organization founded by Prof. Jose Ma. Sison in 1964. By the time martial law was declared in 1972, he had already left school to organize sugar mill workers in his province, was arrested and eventually joined a daring escape from a prison in a military camp.

Once free, Rosal literally went to the hills to join the New People’s Army and he never came down since. His direct contributions to the growth of the revolutionary movement in the entire Southern Tagalog region were so significant that he was eventually promoted to responsible positions of party leadership at various levels in that region.

Ka Roger was also witness to dark chapter in the history of the revolutionary movement in Southern Tagalog, what is referred to as Operation Missing Link, an anti-deep penetration agent campaign that led to violations of democratic rights. According to the movement’s accounts, “(a)lthough he had no direct role…Ka Roger was among those criticized and meted disciplinary action because of his accountability as one of the region's leading cadres and his failure to take a stand against the hysteria. He criticized himself for this with all humility.”

Ka Roger’s highly commendable stint as the spokesperson of the Southern Tagalog Melito Glor Command of the NPA earned him the heavy responsibility of being appointed in 1993 as head of the CPP Information Bureau and the party national spokesperson.

The CPP Central Committee hailed Ka Roger as “indefatigable in bringing news of the Philippine revolution. He would hike for days, cross rivers and seas and go on long road trips to get to wherever he was needed. He granted almost all requests for interviews, any day and at any hour” thus gaining for himself many friends in the mass media.

Further, the Central Committee said, “The ability and patience, the sharpness and intelligence, the patriotism and love of country demonstrated by Ka Roger further raised the prestige of the Party and the revolutionary movement.”

Prof. Jose Ma Sison, founding chairperson of the CPP, had this to say of Ka Roger: “Ka Roger was the frequent voice of the Philippine revolution and the Filipino people…(H)e had a clear and direct style that expressed in simple terms for the benefit of the masses the most complex situations and analysis.”

Ka Roger stood out as a very unassuming leader who, for all the fame he had attained among the revolutionary forces and the general public, remained consistently modest and un-self conscious till the very end.

According to a comrade and friend, Ka Roger was not only humble as a person, he exuded a sense of knowing his rightful place in the people’s movement, in the larger-than-life story of the people’s struggle for national and social liberation. Thus he would assume no airs in this regard.

Those outside the movement who had the privilege of meeting Ka Roger are one in calling attention to his many endearing qualities: his liveliness and sense of humor; his sincerity and honesty in delivering his message; his simplicity and embrace of the hard life of a guerilla.

His sharp mind and clear explanations are the hallmarks of a natural intellectual, someone who had gained wisdom not just from books but from a lifetime of service to the people especially, the downtrodden masses.

His musical talent and inclinations he also put to good use to demonstrate the humanity and creativity of hard-boiled revolutionaries.

Ka Roger’s unwavering commitment to revolutionary ideals and aspirations as expressed in the hardships he endured, the sacrifices cheerfully undertaken, his refusal to bow to or give in to both military pressures and enticements for him to surrender even when he was already very sick gained the respect, if not admiration, of many, even those who may not have agreed with him.

By his storied life be brought fresh meaning to what it means to be a revolutionary.

The Philippine revolutionary movement and the Filipino people mourn Ka Roger’s untimely death. Yet like all human beings whose lives have made an indelible mark, his passing will only serve to immortalize his legacy.

Younger generations of revolutionaries and activists continue to gain inspiration and real life lessons from Ka Roger’s compelling narrative. #

Published in Business World
14-15 October 2011