Feb 202013

By Soliman M. Santos, Jr.
Editor’s Note: Santos is a lawyer, peace advocate and legal scholar. He is the author of two recent books, The Moro Islamic Challenge: Constitutional Rethinking for the Mindanao Peace Process (University of the Philippines Press, 2001) and Peace Advocate: 50 Selected Writings, 1986-1997 (De La Salle University Press, 2002).

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s recent orders through Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes ordering the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to start redeploying its troops to New People’s Army (NPA)-threatened areas, coupled with her other statements on the war against terrorism, have translated into a de facto declaration of “all-out war” against the NPA. Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) leader and National Democratic Front (NDF) Chief Political Consultant Jose Ma. Sison then instantly reciprocated in kind with his “analysis, not an order to the NPA” of “all-out resistance” against the “US-directed Macapagal-Arroyo regime.”

This is so serious a matter where the lives of people are at stake but there appears to be no clear and proper policy decision to that effect by the concerned leaderships of both sides (and there is more to say about this below). And yet the signal has been given to the soldiers of both sides to go “all-out” against the enemy. In other words, a dynamic of intensified armed conflict may have been set into motion unnecessarily or prematurely, and may not be easily reversed. While it takes two to tango, the bigger responsibility for the current escalation of war rhetoric and war moves lies with the Arroyo government.

Whatever happened to President Arroyo’s “all-out peace” policy declared during her first month in office and backed up by her Executive Order No. 3 defining policy for government’s comprehensive peace efforts and reiterating the “Six Paths to Peace”? Her “all-out peace” policy was supposed to be the anti-thesis of former President Estrada’s “all-out war” policy against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). She is condemning herself and the nation to repeat the mistakes of recent history by launching an “all-out war” against the NPA.

Notre Dame University of Cotabato President Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr. who chairs the independent Citizens’ Council for Peace, has recently reminded us: “Central Mindanao stands as a glaring example of what an ‘all-out war’ does to its own people. Business was paralyzed, people got killed, livelihood destroyed, people and communities got displaced and alienation and hostility turned for the worst. The war consumed hundred millions or billions of pesos in evicting the MILF. The government spent another billion of pesos for relief and rehabilitation. Yet the problem remains unsolved.”

At that time, Bukidnon Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri said the “all-out war” against the MILF had caused revenues in Mindanao to drop 30 percent, and the tourism industry to tumble 90 percent. The rest of the country and economy was hurting too. Then Batangas Rep. Ralph Recto said the “all-out war” would delay Philippine economic recovery by at least two years. Two years hence, are we going to shoot ourselves in the foot again at a time when economic recovery is still our most urgent task?

President Arroyo, to her credit, has shown political will in her pursuit of the peace negotiations with the MILF, even bringing in Malaysia as a third-party facilitator. This in fact shows that there is an alternative and better course of action: the primacy of peace negotiations over military action. Unfortunately, the reverse is happening on the NPA front and might happen again on the MILF front. The peace process has become subsumed under a national or internal security framework. The peace negotiations in particular, through the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (PAPP), have been subject to the Cabinet Oversight Committee (COC) on Internal Security created by Executive Order No. 12 with a counter-insurgency “Strategy of Holistic Approach.”

The Arroyo government’s objective for the peace process is no longer so much addressing the root causes of rebellion as it is demobilizing the rebel forces. And even before Arroyo, there has been the persistent militarist mentality of degrading the military capability of the rebels in order to be able to impose a peace settlement on them. And now there is the temptation to try to even finish them off with U.S. anti-terrorist logistics support which also funds the AFP’s modernization aspirations. More than thirty years of armed conflict should have shown to both sides now the futility, illusion, and great cost of aspiring for a military victory over the other side. When will we ever learn this one lesson of martial law, the 30th anniversary of which we commemorate this coming September 21?

Most recently disturbing is the “Nine-Point Guidelines Issued by the President Re: the CPP” discussed with the Cabinet last August 13. It is clear from these guidelines that the government has now put military action over peace negotiations in dealing with the CPP-NPA which it now treats more as “terrorist” (“welcoming” and taking advantage of the US classification of the NPA) than as “communist.” It “calls upon the entire citizenry (including ‘other communist organizations’) to get involved in the fight against the CPP-NPA.” At most, it “will maintain open lines of communication with the CPP-NPA” but there is no more even mention of peace negotiations. The aim is to end the CPP-NPA’s armed struggle and “achieve national unity and reconciliation under the Constitution.”

(On the other side, Sison earlier suggested the “all-out resistance of the Filipino people” and the strengthening of “all types of alliances to isolate and remove Macapagal-Arroyo ruling clique.”)

President Arroyo has just changed the rules of the game, as it were. The existing main “rules” between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the NDF pertaining to peace negotiations were set in their Hague Joint Declaration, the 10th anniversary of which will pass this coming September 1. It speaks of a substantive agenda (including political and constitutional reforms) for formal peace negotiations to resolve the armed conflict and attain a just and lasting peace. It also speaks of “no precondition shall be made to negate the inherent character and purpose of the peace negotiations” and of “specific measures of goodwill and confidence-building to create a favorable climate for peace negotiations.”

Moreover, President Arroyo has also gone against the letter and spirit of her own Executive Order No. 3 which provides for “peaceful, negotiated settlement with the different rebel groups” as the third “Path to Peace.” This shows, among others, that government’s peace policy, certainly a major national policy, should be embodied not just in an executive order but in a law. Existing executive orders lapse with each new president or may be revoked by any President any time. But all Presidents have the sworn duty to faithfully execute the country’s laws. Examples of proposed laws on a national peace policy are Senate Bill No. 660 of Sen. Gregorio Honasan and House Bill No. 11751 of Rep. Jaime Jacob in the past 11th Congress.

Speaking of Congress, it is the highest regular civilian national policy-making authority under the Constitution, having the sole power to declare the existence of a state of war and also, by law, to authorize the President to exercise powers necessary and proper to carry out a declared national policy in times of war or other national emergency. It is about time that Congress, in the best interests of the country and the people, assert its authority to determine and declare national policy on the critical issues of war and peace which affect the whole nation, and not leave this to the President alone.

At the very least, Congress should look into the President’s de facto declaration of “all-out war” against the NPA, if only to determine whether this is usurpation of legislative power, even given the President’s commander-in-chief power to call out the AFP to suppress rebellion. Congress should be challenged to show the same zeal as it did in investigating the May 6-7, 2002 peace-related agreements with the MILF. If peace agreements can be investigated, then with more reason must war declarations be investigated.

(On the other side, Sison says that “the NPA is bound by a series of collective organs of leadership based in the Philippines” but he seems to have preempted them with his “analysis” suggestive of “all-out resistance.”)

The constitutional issue of power to declare war might be also raised with the Supreme Court in a proper case. Even more important than the interplay of legislative and executive powers is the application and interpretation of the constitutional principle that the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy and adheres to the policy of peace, among others. Does this principle apply only to foreign affairs? Can or should it not apply also to domestic affairs?

The primacy of peace negotiations over military action is also an extension of the constitutional principle of supremacy of civilian authority over the military. The Arroyo administration and the NDF must put a premium on their peace negotiations. We call for the soonest possible resumption of the peace panel negotiations which have been suspended by President Arroyo with both the NDF and the MILF. At the same time, any resumed negotiations won’t get anywhere without a framework or paradigm shift on both sides, particularly casting aside government’s counter-insurgency orientation.

The NDF, for its part, must review its own framework for engaging in the peace negotiations for mere tactical or organizational gains which gives rise to questions about its sincerity in this process. It must also change its belligerent style and language which violate the letter and spirit of the Hague Joint Declaration. Sorely lacking on this peace front are a certain level of mutual trust and sincerity that have mainly characterized the Arroyo administration’s peace negotiations with the MILF – which shows that goodwill and confidence can be achieved.

And then the GRP and NDF peace panels should deliver, better earlier than later, concrete gains and benefits for the people, which will in turn sustain public support for the peace negotiations because the people have a stake in its success. One concrete gain with potential benefit for the people in the countryside is the hard-earned but unimplemented Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) between the government and the NDF. Implementation, even if only unilateral by both sides, becomes more imperative in the face of an “all-out war.” Addressing concerns arising from continuing armed hostilities, like the protection of non-combatants, is also a Path to Peace.

But what the people would really like to see are socio-economic reforms and anti-poverty measures, whether arising from the peace negotiations or from outside of it. After all, aside from peaceful, negotiated settlement with the different rebel groups, there are other “Paths to Peace,” including the pursuit of social, economic and political reforms. For example, whatever happened to the recommendations along this line arising from the consultations of the National Unification Commission (NUC) about ten years ago? In fact, such consultations represent another “Path to Peace,” that of consensus-building and empowerment for peace, which includes the mobilization and facilitation of people’s participation in the peace process.

In the final analysis, it is the peace-loving Filipinos, through peace advocacy and peace education, who can and must build and nurture a climate conducive to peace. They should make their voices heard, their faces seen, their names known, in support of “all-out peace” efforts to reverse the dangerous drift down the road to perdition of “all-out war” and all-out resistance. The nation should instead take the various “Paths to Peace,” which is the truly holistic approach, march together along these paths if necessary, to make known that there is a constituency for peace. Kapayapaan. Katoninongan. Paghi-daet. Kalinaw. Wassalam. #

18 Mariposa St., Cubao, Quezon City
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Email: gavroche@info.com.ph


The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted.

18 August 2002

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