Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dangerous Fronts: Deconstructing peace in Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan

Dangerous Fronts:
Deconstructing peace in Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan*

by Chen Imperial

(This article was first published in print in issue 24 of the Philippine Collegian
on 5 February 2011.)

Artwork by Jano Gonzales

The new administration is fond of packaging policies under the theme of “hope and genuine change,” and its efforts to curtail insurgencies are no different. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) now claims to have crafted a counterinsurgency program that will no longer cost the lives of thousands of civilians.

President Benigno Aquino III has unraveled his own counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan (OB), which will run from 2011 to the end of his term in 2016. Aside from the usual military tactics, OB differs from other counterinsurgency programs by emphasizing non-combat strategies such as building roads, schools and delivering social services to conflict-ridden areas such as Samar and Sulu to achieve peace. OB focuses on “winning the peace, not just defeating the enemy,” say several AFP officials.

Perks and promises

OB is a replacement of Gloria Arroyo’s notorious Oplan Bantay Laya I and II (OBL), which gained widespread condemnation from human rights groups for causing gross human rights violations (HRVs). Even United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston criticized OBL for blurring the distinction between legal progressive groups and armed rebels which resulted to more than a thousand extrajudicial killings and other HRVs since 2002.

Unlike OBL, OB is under the premise of protecting human rights, says the AFP. The program is in line with Aquino’s national security objectives which include defending human rights and civil liberties. “This could be one of the most daring challenges [for the AFP], as it involves a change in our way of thinking,” says AFP chief of staff Gen. Ricardo David Jr. during OB’s launch last December 2010. The OB places emphasis on AFP’s adherence to human rights and the international humanitarian law.
OB is patterned after military models in the United States, (US) specifically the US Counterinsurgency Guide of 2009, according to progressive groups. The guide provides US allies and other countries strategies and frameworks to end counterinsurgencies in their respective territories.

The program banks on two strategies: the whole of nation approach, which “entails a multi-faceted and multi-pronged approach” in solving the counterinsurgency problem and the people-centered security or human security approach that “puts people’s welfare at the center of [OB] operations.”

As such, OB involves a multi-stakeholder approach where various stakeholders such as government agencies, civil society organizations and the general Filipino citizenry share responsibility with the military in ending the different insurgencies. The AFP even involved civilian participation in the formulation of OB through inputs from different civil society organizations and communities.

In fact, the OB manual was made available to the public since its launch, the first time the military opened its counterinsurgency plan to “signify the AFP’s intent to draw on the [largest] support [from] stakeholders.” OB’s implementing guidelines however, remain confidential.

Dual tactics

Unlike previous counterinsurgency programs, OB puts “equal emphasis to combat and non-combat dimensions of military operations.” In his speech during OB’s launching, Aquino stressed that delivering social services and building rural infrastructure would stop poverty and eventually solve the problem of insurgency.

It is ironic how the framework of OB actually reflects one of the causes of insurgency—the lack of social services in local communities, says DJ Acierto, public information officer of human rights group Karapatan. The military has to render social services when other government instrumentalities should have done it in the first place, she adds.

The dismal state of social services in the country, particularly in far-flung areas, stands as a condition that gives rise to armed struggle, according to progressive groups. The lack of basic services stems from the misallocation of funds in the national budget; most of the pie goes to military spending and paying off debts that do not really benefit the people.

Aquino’s 2011 budget is no different. If anything, it shows that the government prioritizes debt servicing and military spending at the expense of social services.

Moreover, OB may be used to justify military presence in local communities under the guise of providing social services, according to Karapatan. In October last year, a barely 18-year old boy in San Juan, Batangas was reportedly harassed by the military, leaving him mentally incapacitated. The boy twice refused to join the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit, an auxiliary force of the military.

Under OBL 1 and 2, Karapatan has documented 1, 244 cases of EJKs and thousands of other HRVs such as enforced disappearances, torture and forced evacuation. Even then, members of the military remain free and unpunished. Though the OB claims to uphold respect for human rights, the military’s track record of HRVs leaves much room for doubt.

The AFP claims that “legitimate use of force has and will always be within the bounds of universally accepted principles” of human rights, focusing only on armed groups. However, this same use of “legitimate” force has been used by the military to justify the numerous HRVs it has committed. For instance, despite overwhelming evidence, the AFP continues to deny any liability in the death of UP botanist Leonard Co and his companions, and those of the thousands of unarmed legal activists during the two phases of OBL, says Acierto.

Wrong remedy

Time and again, the government relied on ineffective remedies to the “dilemma of insurgency.” Counterinsurgency plans take different forms under different administrations but operate on the same premise of crushing the armed movement through brute force.

While OB admits that a purely military solution is not enough to end the insurgency, it fails to address the roots of armed conflict in the country. According to the OB manual, “there is no direct causal link between low economic status and armed conflict.” Instead, such conflicts are reduced to mere products of “perceptions of relative deprivation,” where the people only perceive government neglect because of the absence of development projects.

OB acknowledges that insurgencies are “largely driven by structural problems in Philippine society such as unequal development, non-delivery of basic services, injustice, and poor governance.” However, the AFP’s plans of action are superficial solutions to win the sentiments of the people without having to heed their legitimate calls, says Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Secretary General Renato Reyes, Jr.

“The AFP again misses the point on why armed conflict persists in the country [by not seeing it] in terms of historic and real problems of injustice, landlessness and oppression. The AFP is denying the historical socio-economic and socio-political roots of the armed conflict,” says Reyes. Thus, there is more to solving social problems than merely launching “development projects” aimed to change the people’s perception.

To achieve genuine peace, the government should address the core issues of rebellion and implement solutions to structural dilemmas that give rise to armed rebellion. Hence, it should focus on genuine agrarian reform, decent wages, right to self-determination and social justice, among others.

Oppressive socio-economic and political conditions fuel the people’s resistance. The time has come for the government to abandon its flawed and destructive methods that do not really achieve peace, and finally heed the demands of its people.

* Url: