To realize her goal, her government is negotiating peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and waging war against the Abu Sayyaf and rebellious groups of the Moro National Liberation Front in Mindanao and Sulu. Against the communist insurgency, her government has declared an all-out war of eradication after abandoning peace negotiation since 2004.
Will she succeed doing in 29 months what she has failed to do in the past seven years of her presidency and what other presidents had failed doing from 1970 to 2001?
The Abu Sayyaf
The more than ten years of punitive campaign against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Basilan is most expensive in terms of lives, money and economic cost. The military’s superiority in manpower and firepower seemed ineffective in a cat-and-mouse warfare.
The Abu Sayyaf has shown much resiliency. Many times, the President had declared it finished after the death of its leaders. But every time, it would resurface with new leaders and renewed ferocity.
In 2001, American Special Operations forces were sent to Sulu and Basilan under the Visiting Forces Agreement to train the Filipino soldiers in anti-terror warfare. Since then, the Americans have become resident forces permanently stationed in Zamboanga City. Despite the American assistance, the military has been unable to annihilate the Abu Sayyaf.
The American military assistance in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf is part of its worldwide war against terrorism. The Abu Sayyaf is a link in the chain connecting the Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia and the al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The U.S. is as interested, if not more, as President Arroyo in the eradication of the Abu Sayyaf. The Americans must be impatient about the progress of the military campaign against the Abu Sayyaf. Perhaps, the Americans are raring to join combat operations. However, this is not allowed under the VFA.
The United States, under President George W. Bush, is spending American lives and billions of dollars in wars abroad to keep America safe from terrorism. This doctrine has made Bush unpopular, at home and abroad. However, the Americans have to live with it until the next president will be able to get the country out of the mire without losing face.
In Pakistan, for instance, the U.S. has spent more than $10 billion since 2001 in subsidizing the Pakistani forces’ fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the Northwest Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan. Despite the huge expense, the Taliban and al-Qaeda are winning the war there.
Recently, the U.S. alarmed by the growing presence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan urged “President Pervez Musharraf to allow the Central Intelligence Agence greater latitude to operate in the tribal territories” unilaterally or “by joint operations with Pakistani security forces”. Musharraf rejected the proposals. (The New York Times, January 27)
The U.S. can not accept defeat in its war against world terrorism – the compelling reason for its asking Pakistan greater participation in its fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda within its tribal territories. The U.S. must have spent less for assistance to the Philippine military in Sulu and Basilan than it has spent in Pakistan; but, surely, it does not like to see the Abu Sayyaf undefeated.
What if President Bush would ask President Arroyo to allow the CIA and the Special Operations forces greater participation in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf and their allies? Will Arroyo have the guts to rebuff Bush?
After more that ten years of negotiations – interspersed with disastrous wars – the GRP and MILF negotiating panels resolved their disagreements on Ancestral Domain, the last talking point. But before they could formally sign the Memorandum of Agreement embodying the 19 consensus points, Malacañang introduced a new position anchored on constitutional process.
The MILF panel refused to meet the GRP panel. The negotiation was not only derailed but good will was also shattered. Malacañang has been scrambling for a new proposal to save the peace talk but so far it has not come out with one acceptable to the MILF – none that can supplant the 19 consensus points.
The longer the impasse stays, the more the risk that hawks would sabotage the ceasefire. And the more likely that President Arroyo would not realize peace in Mindanao as among her legacies when she steps down on June 30, 2010.
Should the MILF remain firm in its position that Malacañang honor the 19 consensus points as agreed by its negotiating panel, will President Arroyo succumb to the hawks in her cabinet and the military to wage an all-out war to annihilate the MILF?
The Moro rebellion and the communist insurgency both flared up in 1972 after the declaration of martial law. They both have the support of the masses. Then President Fidel V. Ramos negotiated peace with the National Democratic Front, the umbrella organization of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, at the same time that he negotiated with the Moro National Liberation Front in 1993.
When Ramos stepped down on June 30, 1998, the GRP-NDF peace talk held in Netherlands and in Oslo, Norway had concluded the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and this was signed during the Estrada administration. The negotiation sputtered under President Joseph Estrada and President Arroyo.
Any hope for the resumption of the GRP-NDF negotiation is gone. Encouraged by the military report that under the two-year stint of Gen. Hermogenes Esperon as AFP chief of staff the NPA forces have been reduced to 5,760 men and the guerilla fronts to 87, President Arroyo extended Esperon’s tour of duty by three months to finish off the insurgency.
Esperon vowed to dismantle 17 NPA guerilla fronts during the three-month extension of his duty. Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano, who will take over as AFP chief of staff, will continue the campaign to reduce the NPA to an insignificant 25 fronts by 2010.
Why leave 25 fronts? If 17 can be dismantled in three months, by the end of 2008 only 19 will have been left. Can the 19 not be wiped out in 2009?
That President Arroyo has ordered the AFP to crush the CPP-NPA forces it is likely that she would resort to the same force to end the Moro rebellion should the MILF play tough. The hawks have already made some threats and are just waiting for the order of the President.
If that happens in her last three years, President Arroyo will be resurrecting the Marcos era — fighting the Moros and the communists at the same time. Marcos failed.
Contrary to the report of Esperon, CPP-NPA spokesman Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal said that they are in the process of expanding and consolidating their forces. He challenged Esperon to identify the guerilla fronts which have been wiped out. We are hearing a propaganda war.
Peace begets peace; force begets force. Indonesia signed peace to end the Achenese rebellion.Using force, Sri Lanka could not subdue the Tamil rebels. There are more instances. Can President Arroyo bring peace by ignoring this reality? (“Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to [email protected]).