SWS surveys say Pinoys prefer peaceful means over military ops

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/17 August) – Despite the tragedy in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that left 66 persons dead on January 25 this year, Filipinos continue to prefer peaceful means over military operations in dealing with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the June 2015 survey of the Social Weather Stations, as well as 14 other SWS surveys on the same issue since 1999, show.

The findings are contained in the publication “Filipino Public Opinion on the Bagnsamoro Basic Law and the Mamasapano Incident” published by SWS and The Asia Foundation (TAF).

Launched during the 30th anniversary celebration of the SWS at the Philippine Social Science Center in Quezon City on August 13, the monograph contains results of the three survey rounds: the study on Core Bangsamoro territories and nearby areas from February 22 to March 1, 2015; the First Quarter Social Weather Survey from March 20 to 23, 2015; and the Second Quarter Social Weather Survey from June 5 to 8, 2015.

SWS graph on surveys on how to deal with the MILF, from December 1999 to June 2015.
SWS graph on surveys on how to deal with the MILF, from December 1999 to June 2015.

TAF Country Director, Dr. Steven Rood, who presented the findings at the launch, said the SWS surveys on the issue since 1999 have debunked “the myth in the country that military means are popular.”

“The data are clear. The average Filipino citizen was in favor of the peace process until January 26, 2015 (when Filipinos woke up to the news about the Mamasapano tragedy a day earlier). That’s really what happened. If you look at the data asking them about the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, asking them about the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, you will see that there is favorability,” Rood said.

Referring to the surveys done after the Mamasapano tragedy, Rood noted that “when you ask them about Bangsmoro Basic Law … they turn negative.”

Still, he said, the people in the Bangsamoro “are in favor of the Basic Law, of the various provisions of it. They feel hopeful about the ability of the Basic law to bring peace in Mindanao.”

The BBL is a law that will apply only to the areas that will be under the Bangsamoro, including the core five provinces and two cities that constitute the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Rood added that despite Mamasapan, surveys show that nationwide, Filipinos “believe the peace process will benefit the Philippines as a whole (although) people down in Mindanao think it more… and very importantly, and I’ve been saying this for the better part of the decade, people prefer peaceful means to deal with the MILF.”

Debunking the myth

“It’s very important that we say this because it is a myth in in this country that military means are popular,” he said.

He explained that the “all-out war” waged against the MILF by then President Joseph Estrada in 2000 “did not raise his popularity (ratings).”

“It’s a terrible myth, that’s a dangerous myth because it might tempt some politicians to advocate for all out war but consistently, even now, the average person prefers peaceful means to military means,” he said.

In the March 2014 SWS survey, the number of Filipinos who preferred peaceful means was higher, at 62%, while those who favored military operations was only 9% and 29% said military and peaceful means were equally effective.

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) of the government and the MILF was signed on March 27, 2014.

In the March 2015 survey – done after the Mamasapano tragedy – those who favored peaceful negotiations declined by 17 points from 62% in March 2014 to 45% in March 2015; those who preferred military operations rose by 11 points from 9% in March 2014 to 20% in March 2015; while those who said peaceful and military means were equally effective rose to 35% from 29%.

“Despite the drop in March 2015, the ratio of those who prefer peaceful negotiations to those who prefer military operations is 2 to 1. This finding is worth emphasizing in the ace of a many calls for ‘all-out war,’” the SWS monograph said.

The 45% in March and 48% in June 2015 who favor peaceful means are low compared with 62% in March 2014 but MindaNews noted from the SWS data that these figures were not the lowest between 1999 and 2015.

June 2003 posted the lowest for those who preferred peaceful means, at 38%, while the Arroyo administration’s war against the MILF in Buliok was still ongoing. Only 26% preferred military operations then while 37% thought peaceful means and military operations are equally effective

Up and down

The June 2015 survey saw an increase of 3 points for those who prefer peaceful means, from 45% in March 2015 to 48% in June 2015. It also showed a 1 point decline for those who prefer military means, from 20% in March 2015 to 19% in June 2015; and a 2 point decline for those who said both peaceful and military means are as effective – from 35% in March 2015 to 33% in June 2015.

SWS surveys from 1999 to 2015.
SWS surveys on dealing with the MILF, from December 1999 to June 2015.

On the nationwide disposition toward the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) which government and the MILF signed on October 15, 2012, the SWS surveys showed that the general approval of the agreement since the December 2012 surveys on the FAB “was abruptly lost in early 2015.”

There was a high of +26 net rating (49% approve, 23% disapprove) in March 2014 compared with the figures in March 2015 of -24 (23% approve and 48% disapprove).

The March 2015 survey, done after the Mamasapano tragedy, already specifically asked about the BBL which was submitted to Congress in September 2014.

In June 2015, the figures from March 2015 improved a bit at -23 (24% approve, 47% disapprove).

Changes in the opinion of Filipinos nationwide on some proposals in the FAB between March 2014 and March 2015 were also noted.

While having a new police force for the Bangsamoro posted a +18 net rating (47% approve, 29% disapprove) in March 2014, its net rating by March 2015 declined after Mamasapano, to a low of -16 (31% approve, 46% disapprove).

Another major point that the SWS surveys showed that “in comparison to the overall nationwide results, in the Core Territories of the Bangsamoro, approval of the proposed BBL ranges from pluralities to overwhelming majorities,” notwithstanding the Mamasapano tragedy.

While the overall figure in the March 2015 nationwide survey on the approval of the BBL showed a -24 net rating (23% approve, 48% disapprove), the figures in the core area of the proposed Bangsamoro – the area that will be governed by the BBL — are all positive.

Positive in the Core

The lowest figure was recorded in Sulu at +18 (31% approve, 14% disapprove), and in Isabela City in Basilan, also at +18 (38% approve, 20% disapprove); followed by Tawi-tawi at +30 (52% approve, 22% disapprove) and Basilan at +48 (59% approve, 12% disapprove).

Cotabato City posted a +71 (76% approve, 18% disapprove), Lanao del Norte near ARMM (or the six Lanao del Norte towns that voted yes to inclusion in the ARMM in the 2001 plebiscite) at +77 (83% approve, 6 disapprove); Maguindanao where the Mamasapano tragedy happened, posted a +80 rating (83% approve, 3% disapprove); Lanao del Sur registered a +86 (90% approve, 4% disapprove) and the highest was posted in “Cotabato near ARMM,” referring to the 39 towns in North Cotabato that also voted yes to inclusion in the ARMM in 2001, at +91% (93% approve, 2% disapprove).

Rood said it is important to bring the data to the public’s attention to “remind everybody that the constituents of the Bangsamoro … want the Bangsamoro law.”

Addressing MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, who was guest of honor as chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, the 15-member joint GPH-MILF body that drafted the BBL, SWS President Mahar Mangahas said, “your presence underscores the duty of opinion polls to give special respect to minority groups. Democracy is for all, not only for the majority.”

Mangahas said SWS is gratified “to be of assistance in furthering peace with our Moro sisters and brothers ….” but addressing Iqbal again, said: “Allow me to advocate Chairman Iqbal that the Bangsamoro develop its own independent capability to regularly generate scientific statistics about the conditions and opinions of your peoples. Let us know how we can help you.”

Bangsamoro voice

Iqbal acknowledged that the MILF’s struggle has been difficult and cited as among its major problems “our lack of voice in the great events of our national life.”

“Worse, lawmakers and policy makers will prescribe medicines, so to speak, for our problems which we know more than anybody else,” Iqbal said, as he asked the audience to “look at the two versions of the proposed BBL now under deliberations in Congress.”

“If these are the ones made into law, surely the whole mess in Mindanao will continue,” he said.

The substitute bills to the BBL – HB 5811 and SB 2894 – have both been criticized for providing a Bangsamoro that will be “less than the ARMM it seeks to replace.”

Iqbal said he hopes they can “acquire once again our voice as a real partner of the Filipino people.”

“For the longest time, our voices have been stifled, muffled and scrambled. We have been relegated to the margins of the national life and discourse, we have been rendered as if we were invisible. That is one of the reasons why we do not have peace in Mindanao,” he said.

He thanked SWS for giving them a voice in the national discourse, adding that “slowly and surely, the collective voices and opinions of the Bangsamoro, long silenced and disregarded, (are) now being heard by the rest of the country.”

He noted that the purpose of surveys is “not to maintain the status quo but to change for the better. In other words, it is liberation.”

The government and MILF under the FAB agreed that the status quo in the relationship between the national government and the Moro people is “unacceptable” and that they would work on a new autonomous political entity called the Bangsamoro, to replace the ARMM. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)