Basic problems as root causes of armed conflict

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

Thirty-three years ago the late Jose W. Diokno, eminent senator, human rights defender and quintessential nationalist, identified four “basic problems” of Philippine society, thus:

1. Widespread deep poverty among our people and inequality in wealth, privilege, and power;

2. Although supposedly independent, we are not really sovereign. With their military bases, the US government and military were allowed to participate in “internal security activities” and to intervene in our internal affairs. The World Bank-IMF tandem — not the people’s elected representatives — made economic policy, to the detriment of the Filipino people.

3. “We (were) a state, but not yet a nation,” because divisions persisted among language or ethnic groups; and

4. Lack of real freedom, especially for the poor. The formal freedoms “written on the books,” which had been set aside under martial law, weren’t yet restored.

Diokno discussed these problems in an interview with Jose F. Lacaba (published in Mr. & Ms., March 3, 1981) after Marcos had announced the “lifting” of martial law. “A farce,” he called it. (Exactly. Marcos continued to exercise dictatorial powers until the people ousted him in February 1986.)

And what caused these basic problems? Not martial law, Diokno emphasized. “The cause… has always been imperialism – first Spanish imperialism (colonialism), and then, US imperialism.”

“Martial law was simply the product of imperialism,” he explained. On his own Marcos could not have declared martial law, he said, “unless he had had — and he did have — the support of the US government.”

Thus, Diokno concluded: “The ultimate fight is to regain our sovereignty.” To solve these basic problems, he urged the Filipino people to organize and mobilize themselves on the basis of common interests and common aspirations. “That is the only practical remedy,” he stressed, assuring that once that is done “we can break US domination.”

It’s important, I believe, to recall and seriously consider Diokno’s views for two reasons:

First, the conditions he depicted 33 years ago still starkly obtain today, particularly the worsening problems of poverty and inequality, derogated national sovereignty, and lack of real freedom.

Second, Had he not succumbed to cancer in 1987, and had not the initial peace talks between the Cory government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines been sabotaged by the militarists, Diokno could have formulated proposed solutions to these problems as talking points in the negotiations, corresponding to the NDFP’s written comprehensive proposals.

In April 1986 the NDFP responded to President Cory’s call for peace negotiations with the Left revolutionary movement on the basis of “addressing the root causes of the armed conflict.” What Diokno identified as basic problems constituted a substantial part of such root causes.

Diokno was the first government chief peace negotiator and I was his counterpart in the NDFP panel. (Instantly, Diokno and I established rapport. After all, he was my defense counsel in the rebellion case that military lawyers unsuccessfully prosecuted, over eight years, before a special military commission under martial rule.)

Even before the formal opening of the peace talks in December 1986, he and I had discussed an agenda that included respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, plus the repeal of Marcos’ repressive decrees, ahead of social, economic and political reforms.

Notably on sovereignty, the NDFP repeatedly proposed — as basis for a nationwide ceasefire, insisted on by the Cory government — the issuance of an executive declaration ordering the dismantling of the US military bases on or before 1991, when the RP-US military bases treaty was to expire.

That proposal was contained in the NDFP comprehensive peace agenda given to the government panel in December 1986. (By that time Diokno was too ill to carry on with his tasks; Ramon V. Mitra thus took over as government chief negotiator, succeeded by Teofisto Guingona Jr.) After negotiations were cut short by the Mendiola massacre of peasants rallying for agrarian reform in January 1987, the NDFP raised the proposal three more times in a bid to restart the negotiations with the Cory government.

• In April 1987 I announced, as spokesperson, that the NDFP would declare a unilateral ceasefire and resume the negotiations if President Cory issued an executive declaration dismantling the US military bases and preventing the treaty’s extension.

• In July 1987 I reiterated the announcement. The President curtly replied that she didn’t take cues from the NDFP.

• In September 1990 NDFP chair Manuel Romero sent a letter to President Cory, through her then ally Rep. Jose V. Yap, comprehensively presenting its positions on peace talks. To create a favorable atmosphere for negotiations, the NDFP offered to declare a unilateral ceasefire if, in accord with the 1987 Constitution, the government banned US military bases, troops and facilities on or before Sept. 16, 1991.

But Mrs. Aquino adamantly stood for extending the RP-US military bases treaty, against the strong popular demand for its termination. In 1991 she went to the extent of leading a pro-bases rally before the Senate. The latter, however, voted against extension.

Now with her son as president, the government is eagerly pushing an agreement to increase American troop presence here (which began in 2002), and allow US facilities to be built within Philippine military bases/camps.

Moreover, the P-Noy government has kept the GPH-NDFP peace talks in limbo, after restarting them in February 2011 by reaffirming 12 previously signed agreements.

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April 12, 2014

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