Reading List Entry

by Juan L. Mercado

“Primed and Purposeful” is a new book that offers a broad-sweep analysis of Filipino armed groups and their impact, over four decades of conflict, on human security.

By happenstance, the new Aquino administration leveraged a hefty electoral mandate to kick-start stalled peace talks. Malaysia and Norway are facilitating prickly parleys. with Moro and Communist insurgents.

“Progress (was) unlikely during the (Arroyo) administration,” asserts the study published by the Small Arms Survey and South-South Network in Geneva ”Better prospects for peace rest on capacity of successor administration(s) to engage rebel groups. (Otherwise) another long decade of not always constructive engagement appears inevitable.”

Over 4,745 were killed and 1,534 injured in armed clashes across four troubled decades, admittedly incomplete tallies claim. Most were civilians. Over 1.2 million became refugees. ”Rule of the gun stood in the way of ongoing democratization process, begun with such optimism, at the end of the Marcos dictatorship.”

Leakages from government arsenals, porous borders and lax rules make “civilian small arms holdings in the Philippines rank among the 30 largest in the world.”

In 24 chapters, the study documents realities of many Filipinos staring into gun barrels of both rebels and state. It analyzes both the “ideologically driven and militarily strong to the opportunistic and criminal.”

Specialists profile lumad armed groups, Jemaah Islamiyah to, civilian armed force geographic units (Cafgus). They analyze gun buy-backs and children drafted or cajoled for “protracted war.” Included are case studies of private armies iin Abra and “Indonesian and Malaysian jihadi groups.”

The study focuses on Communist and Moro insurgencies. “The CCP-NPA is the longest-running Maoist insurgency in the world.” Today’s Moro conflicts are rooted in Spanish- Moro wars in the 16th to the 19th century — plus 21st century penury. Muslims today cluster in the 10 poorest provinces.

“Expectations are high that conflict will be broughtto a close” in this fifth decade of treadmill clashes, write co-authors Diana Rodriguez and Soliman M. Santos, Jr. Rodriguez is a graduate of London School of Economics. A trial judge, Santos specializes in international humanitarian relations. Here are excerpts:

“Military victory eluded security forces (and rebels) and is unlikely in the future”. Communists are bogged down in strategic defense of it’s ‘protracted people’s war.’ They’ve never achieved a “great leap forward” of mass adherents.

“Revolutionary taxation” is occasionally reinforced by attacks on mining, logging and other civilian businesses. This dented support for the NPA. “More damming” is killings of peasant leaders and followers in Masbate and Bondoc peninsula.

Cordillera’s People’s Liberation Army and others hire out as ‘private armies’ to local business and political leaders. Attacks by so-called rouge units against civilians raised questions about Moro Islamic Liberation Front control over its field commanders.

Early March, AP reported Commander Ameril Umbra Kato, who earlier massacred civilians, threatens to break away from MILF. Militiamen fleeing arrest for involvement in the Maguindanao massacre are with Kato. So far, they’ve not sabotaged the peace talks.

“MILF and MNLF forces are “limited to the containable Muslim areas of central and southwestern Mindanao”. The demographic balance continues to tilt. “Mindanao is now only about 20 percent Muslim in terms of population…This is almost the exact reversal of Mindanao’s demography a century ago.

There are successes like the MILF’s cease fire, for criminal interdiction. An Ad Hoc Joint Action Group rescued kidnapped hostages and averted clashes. The group’s “mandate has expired; (but) the agreement continues to function de facto.

Demise of the Soviet Union and China’s “it-is-glorious-to-get-rich” reorientation have seen international support for rebels wane. Internal pogroms and policy fractures sapped strength and triggered clashes with other communist factions “Armed wings of (Huks and Revolutionary Party) had encounters with the NPA. (These) make the fragmentation on the Communist front worse than on the Moro front.”

Past policies on peace were incoherent. These were often shaped by pacification, counter-insurgency and lately counter-terrorism”, instead of resolving conflict. Peace negotiations were undermined.”

Like traditional politicians, resource-strapped rebels “trade on the promise of better living standards and other benefits. All need public support and far-sighted leaders. Over 7,000 MNLF members were reintegrated into the Armed Forces. But MNLF failed to recreate itself as Nur Misuari and associates replicated self–serving practices of traditional politicians.

Retaining relevance after peace is more difficult than waging revolution. Many unravel after achieving a peace agreement. There should be room for internal reform, such as ensuring respect for human rights.

“Primed and Purposeful” should the make the reading list of policy makers and ordinary citizens. “In a profound sense, all insurgencies hold up a mirror to mainstream society,” an earlier Philippine Human Development asserted.

“(They) challenge it to deliver to minority populations and the deprived what it seems to provide adequately to majorities. By engaging in the peace process, with it’s erstwhile challengers and adversaries, Philippine society itself should emerge a better one.”

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