Counterinsurgency has priority over peace talks

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

Eight months have passed since the auspicious resumption by the Aquino government of peace talks with the National Democratic Front that Gloria Arroyo had suspended in 2005.

But now the talks are stalled again, despite last February’s reaffirmation by the two sides of 12 previously signed accords and agreement to accelerate within 18 months the pace of negotiations on the remaining topics of the agenda.

Both negotiating panels have publicly aired mutual recriminations and accusations, revolving around differing interpretations of what they had already reaffirmed and signed. But let’s not dwell on the details of the disputes.

Not that they are not important. There is a bigger reason why the Aquino government has allowed the negotiations to stall, just when they were set to take off towards attaining further agreements that “address the root causes of the armed conflict.”

That bigger reason is: the peace talks are not the key element of President Aquino’s “peace process.” A negotiated political settlement with the NDFP (representing the CPP, NPA and 17 allied revolutionary organizations) is not his preferred way “to attain a just and lasting peace.”

P-Noy’s preferred way is for the AFP to achieve victory in the field, disguised as “winning the peace” rather than “winning the war” (unwinnable over 40 years), through a plan patterned after the US Counterinsurgency Guide of 2009. This is the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP), or “Oplan Bayanihan.”

First, let’s clarify that the peace process and the peace talks are not one and the same; they are not interchangeable. The peace talks constitute just one element of the peace process.

Under the Philippine Development Plan 2010-2016, the peace process has two defined tracks. Track 1 entails the resumption of peace talks with the MILF and the NDFP, and completion of the signed final peace agreements with the MNLF and the CPLA (Cordillera People’s Liberation Army).

Track 2 is a “complementary track… to address the causes of conflict” in conflict-affected areas through the PAMANA (Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan) Program. PAMANA aims to cover 218 municipalities in 43 provinces over four years. Its objectives: to reduce poverty in conflict-affected areas, improve governance, and empower communities and strengthen their capacity to address issues of conflict and peace through activities that promote social cohesion.

PAMANA is administered by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, headed by Ging Deles. The OPAPP also oversees the peace talks, both with the NDFP and the MILF.

The OPAPP, which was under the Office of the President until 2010, has been set apart on its own this year. In the Congress-approved 2012 national budget, it is allotted P569,639,000. Of this total allocation, P329,343,000, or 58 percent, is for the PAMANA implementation.

A whole lot of money is involved. What’s more, in its interventions on households and communities, PAMANA is being carried out alongside two other programs. These are the P39-billion CCT (conditional cash transfer) and the Kalahi-CIDSS (Kapitbisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services) programs, both administered by the DSWD headed by Dinky Soliman. How effectively will the funds be spent, and on whom?

Worth noting is that a large chunk of the OPAPP budget, P100 million, is set aside for the GPH-MILF peace talks (subject to the submission of a special budget). No amount, however, is allotted for the GPH-NDFP peace talks. Doesn’t this speak volumes about the latter’s relative importance, or lack of it, to the P-Noy government?

What about the IPSP?

Unlike previous counterinsurgency programs, the IPSP mandates the AFP to “catalyze” the involvement of the “broadest spectrum of stakeholders”; enjoins it to adhere to human rights, international humanitarian law and the rule of law, and to uphold the “primacy of the peace process.”

Yet, note the following points stressed in its “strategic concepts”:

1. “This, however, shall not prejudice the AFP’s primary role in the context of the peace process to ensure that the group with whom the government is talking peace will not use force or the threat of force as leverage at the negotiating table.”

2. “…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.”

3. “The AFP’s internal peace and security end-state against the communist insurgency is to render (the NPA) irrelevant and show the group the futility of their armed struggle… convince them to abandon the armed struggle and instead engage in peace negotiations with the government.”

(In contrast, the AFP’s end-state vis-à-vis the MILF is for the government “to achieve a negotiated political settlement… and attain just and lasting peace in Mindanao.”)

4. “Intensified and relentless pursuit of the NPA is intended to exhaust their armed capabilities and diminish their will to fight… The expected decline of the NPA and their growing irrelevance shall then be sustained through efforts to address causes of conflict.”

In a signed message, P-Noy endorses the IPSP. He says: “I call on the entire Filipino citizenry to roll up our sleeves and pitch in. Let us join the AFP in translating this national aspiration to reality.”

Need we say more?

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