There will never be a time when I will declare martial law (in Negros Oriental). What I said was that I would take drastic action,” President Duterte clarified in a speech before local government officials in Malacañang on Aug. 7. He was referring to a statement of his spokesperson that he might declare martial law due to the recent spate of civilian killings in that Visayas province.
“You have a ruckus there in Negros,” he added. “Ang sinabi kong drastic action was punuin ng sundalo, like Jolo. Lagyan mo lang ng tropa d’yan, it’s the same… I have one division [between 10,000 to 20,000 troops], tapos magpadala pa ako ng dagdag.”
(In November 2018, through Executive Order 32, the president ordered additional troops to Negros, Samar, and Bicol regions purportedly to quell “lawless violence.” The AFP Central (Visayas) Command sent to Negros Oriental the 202nd Brigade from Bohol and the 11th Infantry Battalion from Zamboanga City. Lt. Gen. Noel Clement, AFP Centcom chief, recently said those additional troops were “enough forces to contain… the insurgency problem there, not actually because of the spate of killings.”)
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo attempted to rationalize Duterte’s statement. It was justified to declare martial law in Mindanao, he said – it has been thrice extended already since March 2017 with security and military advisers hinting at a further extension – because there has been actual rebellion in the region. The situation is not the same as in Negros, he explained, so there’s no need for martial law. “Sa ngayon… unbridled patayan pa lang ang nangyayari,” he added.
Gen. Clement expressed a similar view. “When you talk about martial law there should be rebellion or any insurrection. I think, at this time, that [rebellion] is not happening there,” he said.
However, Clement differed with Panelo (and for that matter with Duterte, who first used the term “unbridled killings”), by claiming that the killings were “within manageable levels… not widespread in the province.”
Moreover, referring to the blamethrowing between the military, the police, and Malacañang on one side and the CPP-NPA on the other, Gen. Clement said: “We can’t continue to accuse each other of the killings]. That’s not the problem there. It has to be addressed from a different perspective, not just to address the killings per se.”
Although he didn‘t elaborate, the remark should be food for thought among his colleagues who should find out what he meant by a “different perspective.” Did he mean, perchance, to look at the killings from a broader social, economic and political perspective, as San Carlos diocese Bishop Gerardo Alminaza and others have been proposing?
Waving aside the declaration of martial law may come as a relief to the people of Negros and their four bishops. They had collectively called for a stop to the killings and warned that imposing martial law would worsen rather than abate the bloodshed.
Yet, adding more troops to the province (similar to what was done in Jolo, as Duterte himself intimated) wouldn’t solve the periodic spates of civilian killings, much less the long-seething social unrest and armed conflict in Negros.
Such recourse to pouring more troops in areas of armed conflict has been proved to be not only strategically ineffective in attaining military victory but also highly costly in terms of lives lost and wasted financial and other resources.
This has been shown in the history of the 50-year-running counterinsurgency drive in the country against the CPP-NPA, under various but basically similar operational plans (oplans) crafted by the military top brass of successive governments since the Marcos dictatorship.
It has as well been proven true in the numerous imperialist wars of aggression carried out by the United States in various parts of the world, whose operational plans and combat doctrines the Filipino military leaders (trained in US war colleges) have adopted as templates for their respective counterinsurgency programs.
Think of the American war in Vietnam from the 1960s-70s, which left the American people traumatized. More than half a million American soldiers were killed in the war, and more returned home psychologically afflicted and physically wounded, maimed, or disabled. Yet the US ignominiously lost that war against largely peasant-soldiers with their formidably enduring mass-base support and highly creative guerrilla warfare.
Or think of the more recent American wars of aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq, consequent to the unprecedented attack in September 2001 by the al Qaida terror group using hijacked commercial airlines to bomb and obliterate New York’s World Trade Center twin towers and harm the Pentagon headquarters. It again caused a national trauma to the American people. The twin wars – which have cost billions if not trillions of US dollars and more US soldiers’ lives – continue to this day, with no definitive victory (military or political) being claimed by the lone world superpower.
To get out of the Afghanistan war for good, the Americans are now trying to negotiate with their prime enemy, the Taliban (which has acquired control of large swaths of that country). They are seeking a commitment from the latter not to use Afghanistan for launching terror attacks elsewhere (read: the US mainland and America’s allied nations).
Since the so-called Marawi siege in 2017, the Duterte regime has been fighting armed groups in Muslim Mindanao claiming to have affiliated with the Islamic State (of Iraq and Syria). It has copied the US counterterrorist methods, using more and more ground troops, supported by aerial bombings and artillery attacks (both land and seacraft based). It has declared martial law, not only in the Muslim areas affected by terror attacks but in the whole of Mindanao.
But when it asked Congress to approve the extension of martial law in the whole of Mindanao, the administration included the New People’s Army as additional target of its “anti-terror” war. Variably, it claims the NPA in Mindanao has been engaged in rebellion (which it invokes as valid ground by itself for continuing to impose martial law) and, at the same time, seeks to conflate the NPA rebellion with the “terrorism” of the extremist armed Muslim groups.
However, the regime’s bid to declare the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization is stymied in the regional trial court, whose approval is required under the Human Security Act of 2007 (which, its authors-sponsors averred, wasn’t aimed at the CPP-NPA). Thus, the regime wants to drastically amend the law to remove this and other barriers.
It seems that Duterte himself is confused, if he isn’t merely confusing the public: he says the NPA has been in rebellion in Mindanao, but not in Negros. And while repeatedly saying he will not declare martial law nationwide, he recently remarked, “I might declare another thing, and that is for you to guess what would it be.”
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Published in Philippine Star
Aug. 10, 2019