As “peace talks” get no traction, Philippine government war on people’s resistance slated to expand

Revved-up counterinsurgency

AT GROUND LEVEL, by Satur C. Ocampo (The Philippine Star) | January 19, 2013

“I am now in a position to influence the implementation of (Oplan) Bayanihan as chief of staff because I now become its operational commander. Unlike when I was the CGPA (commanding general of the Philippine Army), I had a limited role as the force provider. But now I will have a direct hand in the implementation of Bayanihan.”

Thus declared Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, who became AFP chief last Thursday, regarding the Aquino government’s six-year counterinsurgency program for which he is credited as key author. Basically the program is lifted from the 2009 US Counterinsurgency Plan applied in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One can gather from his statement both a sense of relief and gratification: relief from frustration, as Army commander having had an ancillary or “limited role as the force provider,” and gratification for finally being put fully in-charge of implementing his own plan.

Hence the go-go spirit exuded by Gen. Bautista. He told the press he would “hasten the tempo” of the AFP’s 44-year-old campaign against the Left armed revolutionary movement, with the end-goal to “render irrelevant” the NPA and its armed struggle.

Going by the timeframe of Oplan Bayanihan, officially known as the Internal Peace and Security Plan, Bautista has to work really hard and fast. (His stint as AFP chief ends on July 20, 2014.) The plan calls for the “substantial completion” of the end-goal within the first three years of the program, or in 2011-2013.

This is because within 2014-2016 the AFP aspires to relinquish its lead role in counterinsurgency “to appropriate government agencies” so that it can “initiate its transition to a territorial defense-focused force.”

This second goal is now made more pressing by the government’s dream to attain a “credible” defense capability to buttress its face-up with China over disputed territorial claims on islands in the West Philippine /South China Sea. The dispute, however, should be resolved primarily through diplomacy.

In his speech at Thursday’s command turnover rites, Bautista added another “emerging concern” requiring serious attention — climate change causing worse natural disasters. In sum, he cited three “thrusts” for the AFP: “winning the peace, securing our national territory, and assisting in disaster response and rehabilitation.”

“Winning the peace and not just defeating the enemy” is Oplan Bayanihan’s supposedly “primary focus in the conduct of military operations.” Moreover, it avows that the AFP’s use of force “will always be within the bounds of universally accepted principles such as International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights, and the rule of law.”

These parameters ought to apply as Oplan Bayanihan stresses the following:

1. “There shall be no diminution of the importance of combat military operations in addressing the challenges posed by armed threat groups to internal peace and security”;

2. “The AFP shall continue using legitimate force and conducting combat operations with even greater vigor but only against armed insurgents”;

3. “Intensified and relentless pursuit of the NPA is intended to exhaust their armed capabilities and diminish their will to fight”; and

4. “The expected decline of the NPA and their growing irrelevance shall then be sustained through efforts to address causes of conflict.”

It’s on these scores that Gen. Bautista as AFP chief will be judged. Can he stick to these human-rights-and-legal imperatives he has himself prescribed and still achieve his goals?

The way towards that is already murky.

Over the past two years of its implementation, Oplan Bayanihan has been the object of sharp criticisms locally, nationally and internationally, of denunciations and calls for its immediate termination precisely for having spurred continuing human rights violations.

Human rights defenders and monitors here and abroad, church leaders, people’s organizations and various sectors all say the new plan — hyped up as a “people-centered” and “whole-of-nation” approach to counterinsurgency — is no different from Gloria Arroyo’s notoriously failed Oplan Bantay Laya I and II.

As of end-December 2012, the human rights alliance Karapatan has documented at least 137 incidences of extrajudicial killings and 154 frustrated extrajudicial killings. In addition, it observes:

“There are still incidents of bombings and indiscriminate firing, the use of schools, chapels, medical facilities and other public places for military purpose. People are still forced to leave their homes because of military atrocities in their communities.”

Karapatan also notes the “increasing number of illegal arrests and detention based on trumped-up charges.” In December to early January, it points out, 28 persons were thus arrested and detained in Cagayan Valley, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental, Quezon province, and the National Capital Region. Among them are members of the government-employees organization Courage, the drivers’ organization Piston, the trade union center KMU, and ACT-Teachers party-list group.

Yesterday members and supporters of these organizations marched to Mendiola to denounce the arrests and demand the immediate release of those detained.

Meantime, the head and 10 bishops of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines scored the DILG for failing to arrest the head of an AFP-backed paramilitary group in Bukidnon who had publicly acknowledged killing, on March 2, 2012, Datu Jimmy Linguyon, barangay chair and local UCCP council chair. The arrest warrant was issued in April.

It looks like the AFP is making more enemies, not peace.

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