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


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