By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Squeezed between President Aquino’s belligerent speech against the Supreme Court’s decision declaring his and Budget Sec. Florencio “Butch” Abad’s pet program the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and the equally destructive Typhoon Glenda was an important event: the launching of Kapayapaan, a campaign for a just and lasting peace. Why is it important?
Well first of all, there is a civil war raging all over the country. Those in Metro Manila may not feel it, but if one goes farther away from the nation’s capital, even in some cities and town centers, the armed conflict has been a reality for decades. Succeeding administrations have tried everything from the Marcos dictatorship’s “nip in the bud” strategy to the first Aquino administration’s Oplan Lambat Bitag 1 and 2, and now the second Aquino administration’s Oplan Bayanihan, but all have failed to strategically defeat the New People’s Army (NPA). Despite the repeated pronouncements by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that it has reduced the forces of the NPA considerably, the latter is still able to engage government troops in battles. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) even say that the NPA and its revolutionary forces have been increasing.
Second, impunity in the violations of human rights still prevails. It is, in fact, getting worse again. And the reason for this is that the government sees Red in any act of protest against its policies, programs, and projects. Extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, and other violations are usually preceded by the tagging of the victims as communists or members or supporters of the NPA. Intensive military operations by the AFP usually result in multiple violations of the rights of peoples and communities.
Third, the armed conflict is costly and it takes away government resources that could have been allocated for development and social services. A major chunk of the government budget is being allotted to military-related expenditures. A major part of the efforts of the government, not only the AFP, but even that of the Department of Social Work and Development and the local government are geared toward counterinsurgency. The most powerful Cabinet cluster is that concerned with national security. If one puts together all the budgets that are being allocated for counterinsurgency, it is consistently one of the biggest allocations, second only to foreign debt servicing.
Fourth, the armed conflict is deeply rooted in issues affecting the majority of the population: landlessness, injustices, poverty and hunger, worsening unemployment, sell-out of the nation’s sovereignty and patrimony, environmental destruction, human rights violations. Thus, it is only through addressing all these basic issues that are affecting the majority of the population could the nation achieve a just and lasting peace. A just peace would therefore, benefit all.
Given the Aquino administration’s record in implementing, or rather the non-implementation of, land reform, his persistence in implementing neo-liberal policies of deregulation, liberalization, and privatization despite the crisis, worsening poverty, hunger and unemployment it brings about, the administration’s promotion of destructive mining to attract foreign investments, and its kowtowing to the demands of the US for greater access of US troops, warships and submarines, fighter jets and drones, and war materiel to facilities in the country, it appears that it has no intention of addressing these basic issues.
President Aquino is even capable of violating the country’s own Constitution and defying and threatening the Supreme Court, as shown in his speech last Monday, just to get his way. Actually, it is no understatement when critics said President Aquino is leaning toward authoritarianism.
It would take no less than political pressure from the people to force it to address these issues. And the peace talks could be one platform where the people could put forward these issues for both the GPH and the NDFP to address.
Kapayapaan’s three calls – Resume the GPH-NDFP peace talks. Honor all previously signed agreements. Address the roots of the armed conflict – if pushed by the people and eventually heeded by the GPH and the NDFP, could go a long way toward solving all these issues.