SPECIAL REPORT (2): P5 million for peace, P14 billion in 15 months for AFP modernization

COTABAO CITY (Mindanews/08 November)  — Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin may not have intended the contrast but after a soldier asked about the P5 million fund for the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) and no one else came forward to ask, he announced to the troops at the parade grounds of the Eastern Mindanao Command in Davao City on November 4 that of the P331 billion intended for the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in 15 years, only P32 billion had been released since 1995.

But in the 15 months of the Aquino administration, he said, the AFP has received P14 billion.

“Within the year,” said Gazmin, the AFP will have four new helicopters, within the year or early next year, an additional Hamilton-class ship. He spoke of the continuing modernization efforts, of how they would purchase “tanke, eroplano, barko” (tanks, airplanes, boats) and for the individual soldiers, armored vests, new guns, etc..

“Ganon na lang tayo kamahal ng President” (that’s how much the President loves us), adding the AFP will soon be at par with other armed forces in the region.

The AFP has been waging military operations against the New People’s Army (NPA) and the Moro  National Liberation Fornt (MNLF) and later the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the last 40 years but it has acknowledged that military solution has not addressed the root causes of the rebellions. Hence, the peace processes.

The Aquino administration has recently rejected calls for “all-out war” against the MILF following the Al-barka tragedy on October 18.

Borne out of ignorance

“We recognize that these calls, or at least some of them, for all-out war may come from those who do not have a full awareness of all the factors at play. However, my decisions cannot be borne out of ignorance. They have to be based on available facts. It is so easy, out of frustration, to close the door on negotiations at this time. If we go down this path, more innocent civilians will be put in harm’s way. The difficult peace process cannot be enhanced by shedding more blood and generating more ill will. We have to exhaust all possibilities for attaining peace through dialogue. We will not pursue all-out war; we will instead pursue all-out justice,” the President said on October 24.

Two days later, the fuss, nay, hysteria over the P5 million fund for the BLMI, borne out of ignorance and generated by media reports fueling speculations rather than seeking explanations, began.

“I fail to see what the fuss is all about,” Amina Rasul, president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, told MindaNews.

“First, this was no secret project:  it was discussed openly by OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) with the Development Academy of the Philippines and the Bangsamoro Development Agency, donors, among others…. Second, the leadership training would be provided to capacitate the Bangsamoro community leaders in the requisite of governance and managing peace and development.  It wasn’t for sharpshooting or military strategy.  So what’s the fuss all about?”

Irene Santiago, chair of the Mindanao Commission on Women says the hysteria around the P5 million fund “will not be dissipated unless it is placed within the context of peace and how peace is achieved.”

Santiago, a member of the government peace panel negotiating with the MILF from 2001 to 2003, explained that in the aftermath of war, institutions have to be either established or reformed to address the grievances that led to the armed conflict.

Investment well worth every centavo

“These institutions will have to address the fundamental needs for development, security, political participation, and acceptance of identity.  The core issue in the current peace negotiations between the MILF and the government is the relationship between the state and the minority who have felt aggrieved from years of neglect and deprivation.  Therefore, the peace agreement must include provisions for how the Bangsamoro will participate in political, social and economic reconstruction and recovery so that their people and this nation can know peace,” she told MindaNews.

The BLMI, she added, was conceived as a means to develop the capacities of the Bangsamoro to manage and lead their institutions.

“This is critical in ensuring that the peace agreement will work!  Five million pesos? Why are we all crying foul over five million pesos?  Because this should have gone to buying arms?  I say to all who feel cheated as taxpayers: this investment in creating the human potential for lasting peace is well worth every centavo, and more. Investments for peace do not come only after a peace agreement is signed. The foundation for peace must be laid and prioritized even before the peace talks end or else the peace agreement will be just another piece of paper,” Santiago stressed.

Guiamel Alim, a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society said P5 million is a “tiny amount or almost nothing to buy peace.”

“It is a unilateral gesture of generosity by the GPH as a confidence building in the name of peace. Spoilers of peace are those who make unwanted noise about it,” he said.

The BLMI was conceived precisely to avoid the mistakes of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)  which signed a inal Peace Agreement on September 2, 1996 and took over the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) by noon of September 30 that year.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

Tomorrow: Transitioning from revolutionary group to governance team