“We are not going to back down in the fight so that we can give justice to our Marines and bring peace and progress to our country,” the President said this and more in Pilipino in her opening statement at the meeting of the National Security Council last August 14.
“While we understand calls to stop the military offensives, we should also understand that our country won’t have security if we will not be able to give justice to our soldiers who died fighting for the Republic. Instead, the terrorists will be emboldened if they will not be made to pay for their criminal act against our heroic soldiers.”
Appealing to the public, she said: “In our fight against enemies who threaten our peace and progress, it is important that we unite and not be swayed by those who seek to divide our Armed Forces and country through deceitful and false propaganda.
“Our country is facing chaos. Let us not surrender her to our enemies who seek only to destroy and promote selfish interests.”
Belittling the Abu Sayyaf, she said”: “Ongoing operations against rearguard actions of a despised and defeated group are meant to clear the path for these provinces’ journey to peace and progress, which terror has delayed for so long.” (Bold italics supplied.)
“The operations will continue unabated, unceasing. We have to apply the law. The instruction of the President is to continue the preparation for the total security of Mindanao,” said Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro to reporters.
“I understand the position of the bishops but we must also understand that we are fighting terrorists here. There is no way but to continue the operations against the Abu Sayyaf,” said AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon.
Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, chair of the Senate Committee on National Defense, seconded the “no let up” resolve of the President and the military. Let the Armed Forces of the Philippines finish its job in Sulu and Basilan, he said.
“I’d rather that we allow the military to do its job without being disturbed while operations are going on. Any lapses, any shortage, any shortfall of the military and the government should be addressed later on when the situation settles down a little.”
The calls to stop the all-out offensive in Sulu and Basilan have been misunderstood. Stopping the all-out offensive does not mean stopping the operations against terrorists and terrorism to secure peace and progress. It only suggests the change of strategy – more of sober planning and cautious execution, less of naked fury and reckless bravery.
Biazon is right: Government needs “to assert its authority over its territories and communities”. But it is not true that “those who questioned military action did not understand the situation in the area.” They understand more than mere extermination of the Abu Sayyaf.
Those calling to stop the all-out offensive are concerned about the unnecessary loss of lives among the combatants and the collateral damages. Thousands evacuate leaving their crops about to be harvested; their losses from dislocation and miserable life in evacuation centers are unquantifiable. Billions of pesos spent on relief could have been invested for development.
Those are what the callers for the stoppage of all-out offensive understand about the situation in Basilan and Sulu. The unleashing of 9,000 soldiers against 150 to 200 Abu Sayyaf “bandits” is viewed as a futile overkill – a repetition of similar overkills in the past that yielded nothing.
Cry for Blood
But the President, the military and others of similar persuasion see the situation the other way. They are angry. The cry for justice for the slain soldiers is, in reality, a cry for blood – a cry for vengeance. That will only lead to more chaos, more fury, more deaths and destruction.
Isn’t it ironic that in seeking “justice to our Marines” – the 14 who died in Ginanta last July 10 — five junior officers and 10 enlisted men had to die in Sitio Kurellem of Unkaya Pukan town last August 17? With a better strategy, the deaths could have been avoided. As the pursuit continues, more soldiers will die in the name of “justice to our Marines”. Justice or vengeance?
Will justice through all-out offensive be attained? This was done many times before to no avail.
Will the present operation of the same brand end differently? When the Abus are about to be cornered, they will hide their weapons and blend with their relatives. The military will declare them totally wiped out. But at their convenience they will dig out their weapons and regroup.
More blood will be spilled without attaining peace and justice unless there is a change of strategy. The message of the Catholic bishops and other callers is clear: Violence is not the answer to violence.
The President, in her statements, has confused the issues. She is more emotional, theatrical and rhetorical than sober and clear.
First, she said that our country will not have peace, security and progress unless we are “able to give justice to our soldiers who died fighting for the Republic.” Failing, we will only embolden the Abu Sayyaf. Is justice to our soldiers slain in combat against insurgents and rebels the key to peace, security and progress?
In justice to our soldiers, they should be given A-one weapons, led by able commanders, and given timely and adequate support in battle. The lack of these obviously led to the July 10 and August 17 debacles in Basilan – the death of 29 Marines including five junior offices, recent graduates of the Philippine Military Academy. These debacles embolden the Abu Sayyaf.
Second, she warned against those “who seek to divide our Armed Forces and country through deceitful and false propaganda,” alluding to the media and critics. I think what are divisive are reports and statements coming from the military and Malacañang which are later proven contrary to facts.
Third, she appealed against surrendering “our only country … facing chaos … to our enemies who seek only to destroy [her] and promote selfish interests.” Is she just referring to the Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Liberation Fronts? There’s an allusion to the political opposition and her critics that only confuses the issues around the Mindanao Problem
Fourth, she described the military operations in Basilan and Sulu as “against the rearguard actions of a despised and defeated group” and “are meant to clear the path for these provinces’ journey to peace and progress, which terror has delayed for so long.” Beautiful rhetoric! But is it true and the whole truth?
What the callers want is the very peace and progress that military operations have failed to attain a century since, not counting the three centuries of Spanish-Moro wars. They want it done without bloodshed. They want the missing links to peace and progress forged and set in place.
The Moro rebellion and the Abu Sayyaf terrorism are not the causes of the “chaos” but the effects. Exterminating them will not clear out the “chaos” which is rooted in political, social and economic injustices, neglect and discrimination the Moros have long complained of. Only by addressing the roots will the “chaos” clear away.
What have long been missing are clear policies that will effectively address the roots of the “chaos”. Acts of appeasement and accommodation to show the “magnanimity” of Manila will not root out the causes. Only sincere, open dialogues will expose the roots. That the callers are suggesting. The roots exposed will be the core of the policies for Muslim Mindanao.
Forging the links, the policies, is the joint responsibility of Congress and Malacañang – Congress deliberating and the President implementing. Laws and other acts of Congress are necessary in implementing the policies.
What is sad today is this: Members of Congress join critics in questioning what are happening in Basilan and Sulu. They leave the policies to the President and the military. Hence, the President is addressing the “chaos” as military commander-in-chief ordering an all-out war as planned by the generals.