by Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
January 18, 2011
READ FIRST PART HERE
SECOND OF TWO PARTS
Oplan Bayanihan is based on flawed premises and a denial of the historical roots and basis of the armed conflict in the country. Oplan Bayanihan offers no clear and precise analysis of why people take up arms against the government in the first place. Failing to understand the root causes of the armed conflict will inevitably lead to a failed response.
In the section on “Strategic Environment” which deals with the socio-economic and socio-political context of the armed conflict, Bayanihan describes the “economic environment” of the country. It admits that there is “inequitable distribution of wealth and unequal economic opportunities” that “result in a wide income gap between social classes”.
However, Bayanihan also 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”.
For the AFP, it is the “perception of relative deprivation” and not concrete socio-economic and political issues like landlessness, unemployment and injustice that drive people to take up arms against the government. For the AFP, solving the “root causes” of armed conflict boils down to changing people’s perceptions without having to change their socio-economic conditions.
For example, building a road in a barrio can create the perception of development even if farmers remain landless and at the mercy of their landlords.
Even injustice is perceived by the AFP as a mere “exploitable” issue by the revolutionary forces. To again quote Oplan Bayanihan, “the slow dispensation of justice, especially in rural areas pushes people to rely on extra-legal means of retribution and restitution.. For instance, parochial concerns such as land disputes can escalate and lead to the degeneration of internal peace and security in a wider area. The inadequacies in the justice system therefore provide threat groups another exploitable issue to discredit the government and encourage armed dissent.”
Land disputes, such as those in Hacienda Luisita, cannot be considered parochial or simply an “exploitable issue” against government. The issue of landlessness has historical roots based on state policies and is the biggest hindrance to national development and poverty eradication. The AFP and the government policy-makers show an utter lack of understanding of this social phenomenon, and whatever response they may undertake will likely be superficial.
The “development work” advocated by Oplan Bayanihan is not aimed at addressing the socio-economic and socio-political root causes of rebellion nor is it aimed at changing the economic conditions of the people. The aim is to change the people’s “perceptions” of government towards “winning their sentiments” while marginalizing the “insurgents”. There is a common term for this. It’s called psy-war.
Oplan Bayanihan professes a paradigm shift through its “whole of nation” and “people-centered” approach. These concepts are not entirely new and are lifted from the US Counter-Insurgency Guide of 2009.
The US Interagency COIN Initiative uses the “whole of government, whole of society” concept in carrying out counter-insurgency operations. It also distinguishes between an “enemy-centric approach” and a “people-centered approach”
The “whole of nation approach” aims to engage the different stakeholders who will share the concept, responsibility and burden of achieving peace and security. Bayanihan describes the stakeholders as the government, the non-government organizations and “civil society” groups and “the entire Filipino citizenry”. It aims to harmonize (shared concept) and mobilize (shared responsibility) both government and non-government assets for the counter-insurgency thrusts of the AFP.
The IPSP enumerated the different government agencies whose “function and roles directly impinge on internal peace and security”.
The DILG is said to take the lead in the matter of good governance. The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process or OPAPP helps in facilitating peace negotiations while the DFA gets foreign support for the counter-insurgency initiatives. The DSWD will assist internally displaced persons (IDPs) and other individuals affected by armed conflict. The DPWH will be involved for the construction of infrastructure while the DOH and DepEd will be involved in the delivery of other services.
It would be interesting to see how the CHR will play a role, if any, in all of this. The CHR is supposed to be an independent commission and has no business being employed in AFP counter-insurgency operations.
Other government stakeholders are the LGU’s which are described as being “closes to the people and most critical actors in the attainment of internal peace and security”. They are said to be responsible for the “satisfaction or perception of deprivation of the local populace”. Again, here we note that it is merely the “perception of deprivation” that Bayanihan is concerned with, nothing more.
Lastly, there are the AFP and PNP, the main pillars in the counterinsurgency drive.
As for the non-government stakeholders, Bayanihan believes that NGO’s and CSO’s “fill the gaps in the dispensation of tasks and functions of the national government agencies and local governments”. As such, they will be utilized in the counter-insurgency campaign for the “delivery of services” and “sustainable development” projects.
As for the third stakeholder, “the entire Filipino people”, Bayanihan considers them the ultimate beneficiaries of the internal peace and security efforts” and thus their participation is “imperative”.
“People-centered approach” and “human security”
Bayanihan claims to be “people-centered” , focusing their so-called “human security” which is broadly defined as “freedom from fear and freedom from want”. Bayanihan claims to put the people’s welfare “at the center of its operations”.
This concept is also derived from the US COIN Guide which uses the term “population-centric approach” as differentiated from the “enemy-centric approach”. It defines enemy-centric to mean emphasis on the “defeat of the enemy as its primary task and other activities as supporting efforts.”
Meanwhile, a population-centric approach means “to shift the focus…from defeating the insurgent organization to maintaining or recovering the support of the population.”
However the US COIN guide says that in reality, counterinsurgency campaigns “are rarely purely enemy-centric or “population-centric” and will require a combination of both approaches.
Under the “whole of nation, people-centered approach”, programs such as the “conditional cash transfer” can be used as counter-insurgency tools given their palliative but ‘high-impact’ nature. Infrastructure projects, such as the US MCC-funded road construction in Samar can also fall within the scope of counter-insurgency operations (as admitted by the local AFP themselves).
There is also the concern that Oplan Bayanihan will militarize the delivery of services and “development work” done by government agencies and non-government organizations. “Development work” in communities can also be used as a cover for intelligence gathering and profiling of residents. It would also be interesting to know the kind of NGO’s that will engage the AFP within the framework of Bayanihan.
This early, reports that the AFP’s “peace and development teams” implementing Oplan Bayanihan in Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley have been conducting ‘census’ activities in the community, extracting information from a local NGO. The local NGO Sildap cried harassment after they were repeatedly visited by fully-armed soldiers who were trying to extract information.
Combat and non-combat operations
Bayanihan claims that while it gives equal importance to non-military multi-stakeholder approach in the conduct of counter-insurgency operations, there will be “no diminution in the importance of combat operations”. However, these would be more “focused” and “tailored” to meet particular “threat groups”.
As the US COIN guide says, “COIN functions… include informational, security, political and economic components, all of which are designed to support the overall objective of establishing and consolidating control over the environment.”
The IPSP calls for the use of “focused military operations against armed threat groups”. The military operations take on the form of combat operations complemented by a wide array of non-combat initiatives aimed at establishing control over the environment.
Make no mistake, the AFP will continue to use force and state violence, but this time couched in concepts such as “sustainable development”. It vows the “intensified and relentless pursuit of the NPA”.
The AFP’s Special Operations Teams “shall transition to peace and development teams (PDT)” and will be at the “forefront” of Bayanihan. The AFP will also continue to implement the Triad Operations concept of simultaneous conduct of combat, intelligence and civil-military operations (CMO).
Bayanihan defines CMO’s as “planned activities undertaken independently or in coordination with civilian entities in support to(sic) the accomplishment of AFP mission to gain popular support and weaken the will of the enemy to fight. It is characterized by activities that influence the beliefs, emotion, behaviors, attitudes and opinions of selected target audience; it establishes and maintains good relations between military forces, civil authorities and the civilian populace to facilitate military operations in support to the accomplishment of the AFP mission”.
Bayanihan aims to apply “social pressure” on the NPA, for them to abandon armed struggle. The AFP invokes a patently ahistorical assertion that “the use of armed struggle to attain political ends is not acceptable to the Filipino people and to any civilized society”.
In relation to the NPA, the IPSP recommends the use of non-combat military activates involving “public information campaigns, civic action programs, development related projects and collaborative activities with government and non-government stakeholders, among others.”
We have seen how these programs were implemented during the urban militarization of Metro Manila in 2007. The AFP CMO’s conducted an aggressive vilification (information) campaign against legal progressive groups while conducting civic action programs like school repairs and roadworks. The presence of fully-armed soldiers was intended to intimidate residents. Civic projects were also used to gather intelligence info on the community residents.
The AFP says that the internal security operations “shall be within the national government’s peace framework” and that the military will subscribe to the “primacy of the peace process”.
In the context of Bayanihan, the peace process is viewed as the only viable option for the NPA when it realizes the “futility of their armed struggle”. The goal is to “pressure” the NPA into engaging the peace negotiations and into accepting a framework of surrender or capitulation.
Conversely, Oplan Bantay Laya also raises questions as to the sincerity of the national government when it engages in peace negotiations with the NDF. It appears that the government peace efforts are only aimed at getting the NDF and the revolutionary forces to capitulate, and not at seriously addressing the root causes of the armed conflict.
The AFP vows to pursue its primary role in the peace process, that of ensuring that “the group with whom the government is talking peace with will not use force or the threat of force as leverage at the negotiating table”. The AFP will continue to employ armed force as a necessary means for the Philippine government to gain the upper hand in the peace talks.
Oplan Bayanihan makes repeated reference to the observance of human rights and international humanitarian law, calling them “imperatives” in the pursuit of internal peace and security. It claims that its use of force “will always be within the bounds… of IHL, HR and the rule of law”. It calls for the establishment of Human Rights Offices or desks down to the battalion level. The AFP also vows to use of “deliberate, accurate and precise” military operations aimed “only against armed insurgents”.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Take the case of, the 19th IB’s less-than-accurate operations in Kanangga, Leyte that led to the killing of top botanist Leonard Co and two companions last November 15, 2010. The case has not been resolved and the AFP has since claimed that the death was the result of an alleged crossfire with the NPA even if testimonies and evidence point otherwise. There has been no result in the internal investigation of the AFP, if any was conducted at all. No official has been made accountable.
There also appears to be no change in the way the AFP views the legal progressive organizations as being “communist fronts”. There is no explicit “paradigm shift” in this regard. This lays the conditions for the continued attacks on unarmed activists. Even under the Aquino government, attacks against legal and unarmed activists have continued in the form of extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests and the filing of trumped up charges.
What is disturbing and dangerous with the US COIN guide is that it allows a wide range of US intervention in the internal affairs of a country. Oplan Bayanihan, being inspired by the US COIN Guide, allows such forms of intervention whether as advisory roles, civil-military assistance or direct intervention. Foreign development aid can be poured into the country to boost the counterinsurgency thrusts of the Aquino government.
Another interesting area of study and research would be on the types of NGO’s that engage the AFP in the framework of Bayanihan. How independent are they to the national government? What type of foreign funding do they receive? How do they conduct their “development work”?
The AFP’s Oplan Bayanihan is a reflection of the socio-economic and socio-political thrusts of the current Aquino administration. It is only as effective as the framework of governance being offered by the ruling regime. Since Aquino has not addressed the basic issues at the root of the armed conflict, such as land reform, national industrialization, national sovereignty, social justice and genuine democracy, the counterinsurgency program will continue to fail in meeting its objectives. Aquino’s adherence to neo-liberal policies and subservience to foreign dictates will only worsen the domestic crisis and provide basis for the persistence of the armed conflict.
With the new IPSP, deception will go hand in hand with state-sponsored violence. Bayanihan will use combat and non-combat operations as well as government and non-government efforts to achieve the end goal of containing armed rebellion. Bayanihan denies the historical root causes of the armed conflict, treating them as a mere problems of “perception of relative deprivation”. Whatever “development” that the IPSP advances will only be superficial and aimed at deceiving the people in order to control and suppress them. ###
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