‘Curing the symptom rather than the disease’

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

Last Thursday, AFP Chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista called a command conference at Camp Aguinaldo to assess the military operations in the first half of 2013 under Oplan Bayanihan, the Aquino government’s counterinsurgency plan.

The assessment was a mixture of success and failure. Nonetheless, Bautista declared the AFP was “on track” in meeting the plan’s deadline in 2016, when President Aquino’s term ends.

As culled from various media reports, here’s the picture:

• The AFP increased its “engagements” against the New People’s Army to 350 in the first semester, up from 312 in the same period last year. Of the 350 engagements, 252 occurred in Eastern Mindanao, where Bautista said majority of the NPA members operate.

• The number of NPA members “apprehended” numbered 99, compared to 50 in the first semester of 2012.

• During the period, the NPA increased its “tactical offensive” operations against the AFP to 173, from 162 in the first semester last year.

• Bautista placed the number of NPA members at “more than 4,000.” A check by the Philippine STAR on AFP records, however, reveals that the number has remained at that level in the last three years.

About that Bautista explained: “We have significant numbers of surrenderees from the ranks of the NPA… (but) there have been continuous recruitments and it’s unfortunate the recruits they’re getting are from the youth, from farmers and indigenous peoples.”

Note: The Karapatan report on human rights violations in the first three years of P-Noy’s term shows there were 142 incidents of extrajudicial killings. Of the 142 victims, 80 were peasants and 27 were leaders of indigenous peoples.

• The AFP chief said 29 of the country’s 81 provinces (declared by the AFP as “insurgency-free” provinces) have been handed over to local government units, which assumed the lead role in maintaining peace and security in their respective jurisdictions. He added that 13 more provinces are targeted for similar turnover by the end of 2013.

In declaring that Oplan Bayanihan remained on track, Bautista adverted to its six-year timetable: 2011-2016. However, he papered over the fact that the plan, officially titled “Internal Peace and Security Plan,” sets two phases. It says:

“For the first three years of implementation (2011 to 2013), AFP efforts shall focus on addressing internal armed threat groups. The substantial completion of the AFP’s objectives for the first three years will allow it to devote the remaining years (2014 to 2016) to handing over the lead role in ensuring internal peace and security to appropriate government agencies and eventually allowing the AFP to initiate its transition to a territorial defense-focused force.”

Obviously, the AFP hasn’t “substantially” completed its first objective, admittedly with only 29 provinces turned over to LGUs. Granting that 13 more would be added by end-2013, the total would be only 32 out of 81 provinces. Not a “substantial completion.”

Moreover, the AFP has to work faster — because Oplan Bayanihan’s stated “strategic intent” or “end state” (a term derived from the 2009 US Counterinsurgency Guide, after which the IPSP was patterned) is to “render(ing) the NPA irrelevant, with the communist insurgency abandoning the armed struggle and ultimately engaging in peace negotiations with the government.”

P-Noy’s installing Bautista at the topmost AFP post last January was apparently intended to rev up the implementation of Oplan Bayanihan, of which the general is credited as its “key author.” Rightly so, Bautista declared upon his appointment: “I am now in a position to influence the implementation of Bayanihan as chief of staff, because I now become its operational commander.”

Noticeably, after Bautista took direct operational command there has been a flurry of field reports on alleged successes of Oplan Bayanihan programs and activities designed to induce NPA leaders and members to surrender.

Since May, AFP brigade commanders have been reporting the surrender of some NPA local unit leaders and members to avail of the military’s “Guns for Peace” program, initiated in April. Under this program, each “surrenderee” is paid cash for every weapon he yields to the AFP or to LGU authorities. The cash offerings reportedly ranged as follows: P200,000 for a light machinegun; P60,000 for a M-14 rifle; P50,000 for a M-16 rifle and .45 caliber pistol.

In addition, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, which oversees the government’s “peace and development program” under PAMANA (Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan), has pitched in. The OPAPP reportedly provides P50,000 to each NPA surrenderee as a “customized package and means of livelihood” through its Comprehensive Local Integration Program, which started in July 2012.

Also, according to several local media reports posted in the Internet in batches, provincial governments that have cooperated with the AFP and OPAPP (such as those of Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Leyte, and Davao del Norte) have reportedly offered P10,000 financial aid and P25,000 livelihood support for every surrenderee.

Alas, this surrender-via-financial-inducement is a slide back to the old counterinsurgency mindset of “curing the symptom rather than the disease” — which failed. By re-adopting it the AFP and OPAPP have practically abandoned P-Noy’s mantra: “address the root causes of the armed conflict.”

But who knows, P-Noy himself may have abandoned it.

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E-mail: satur.ocampo@gmail.com
July 13, 2013

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