Book Review: Oplan Bantay Laya: The US-Arroyo Campaign of Terror and Counterinsurgency in the Philippines (IBON Books, IBON Foundation Inc.)
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — The US government has blood in its hands, the newly published book by Ibon Foundation reveals.
The fourth in the research institute’s series on State Terror and Human Rights in the Philippines, Oplan Bantay Laya: The US-Arroyo Campaign of Terror and Counterinsurgency in the Philippines (Oplan Bantay Laya for brevity) is a compilation of original and reposted articles on Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), now considered by human rights advocates here and abroad as the bloodiest counterinsurgency (COIN) program implemented by the Philippine government.
No less than United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston affirmed what human rights group Karapatan has been saying all along – that the spate of extrajudicial killings is sanctioned by the OBL. Alston who visited the country in February 2007 blamed the Arroyo government’s COIN program for the killings.
The OBL’s core principle does not distinguish civilians from combatants. In crushing what the military calls “political infrastructures” of the Left, leaders and members of people’s organizations and party list groups are targeted for neutralization.
According to Karapatan, Arroyo’s OBL has taken the lives of 1,205 unarmed individuals, mostly activists and members of progressive people’s organizations.
Instead of scrapping it, however, the Aquino administration has extended the OBL until January 2011. The killing of five activists under the Aquino administration and the Armed Forces Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Ricardo David’s statement declaring a three-year deadline to end the insurgency have been viewed as a continuation of the OBL.
The book Oplan Bantay Laya not only explains why OBL is the most vicious COIN campaign but also puts in proper context the role of the US government in the state’s brutal campaign against the Filipino people.
For those who have been closely monitoring the “special relations” between the Philippines and the US, the revelations of the book do not come as a surprise. For ordinary Filipinos, however, the facts stated in the book may prove to be shocking. In the first place, both the US and Philippine governments have been downplaying the extent of “support” of the US government to the Philippine government’s (COIN) campaign.
In her article “Blood Trail: The US’ Active Role in OBL,” Jennifer del Rosario-Malonzo points out that the US is employing the Foreign Internal Defense (FID) approach to the Philippines, one of the five levels of military interventions of the US in its so-called client states.
The FID is the next most intrusive form of “assistance” next to Direct COIN Intervention, notes Malonzo. According to the US COIN Guide, the FID involves the deployment of teams, often originating from the US Special Operations Command, to support the client government. It differs from civil-military assistance in that it is normally military-led, but still includes very substantial interagency input and support.
Hence, the presence of US troops in the Philippines is not solely for so-called joint military training exercises as has been pointed out by progressive groups but for participating in combat operations against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the New People’s Army (NPA).
US forces, Malonzo says, participate in the AFP’s tactical and combat operations. “US Special Operations Forces are… conducting ‘asymmetrical warfare’ in communities they want to infiltrate by combining intelligence gathering, civic action and public relations, infrastructure projects and psychological operations for COIN.