Five priority issues for the next President

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Last of Two Parts

(The first part was published yesterday, Thursday, October 22.)

BEFORE discussing the last two issues, there’s another life-and-death concern made tragically current by Typhoon Lando’s 60 or so casualties: disaster readiness. Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento rightly relieved Benguet’s police chief for poor preparations for Lando.

But the respected former Calbayog, Samar, mayor should also check if the DILG has addressed the lack of funding and initiatives for local government preparedness cited by state auditors last year (see http://www.manilatimes.net/presidentiables-briefing-disaster-readiness/208392/ and http://www.manilatimes.net/presidentiables-brief-disasters-agenda-2/209048/). The Benguet police chief may have fallen short in calamity measures partly because of Sarmiento’s own agency.


Turning to the fourth and fifth priority issues in this two-part article, they are quite simply the most delicate and potentially dangerous. They could spark terrorism and war.

The first issue is already grappling with violent conflict: the struggle for lasting peace and ethnic harmony in Mindanao. And the second concern is ratcheting up force deployment by big powers in East Asia: the intensifying rivalry pitting China against the United States and Japan.

On Mindanao, President Benigno Aquino 3rd could not rush Congress into enacting the Bangsamoro Basic Law needed to implement his peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Even if Congress passes the BBL to replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with the envisioned Bangsamoro, it would be challenged in the Supreme Court, nixing the Aquino-MILF timetable to elect the Bangsamoro’s ruling parliament in May, instead of new ARMM officials.

With rebel expectations for Bangsamoro’s swift creation unfulfilled, there is fear of extremist elements mounting attacks and gaining clout in the MILF. Thankfully, MILF Vice-Chairman Ghazali Jaafar said in March that renewed fighting was just one possible response to BBL’s delay or demise. Others: renegotiating with Aquino’s successor, and going to the United Nations.

The Front’s chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal added: “The MILF will not disengage from the peace process no matter what will happen to that Bangsamoro Basic Law.” Plainly, the MILF would be foolish to reignite war and discard the huge concessions Aquino gave. And the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) backing Muslim interests would shy away from the MILF if it resorted to wanton violence.

Don’t downgrade the MNLF
Still, terrorism and war remain serious threats, from isolated extremists or the MILF itself, if its radicals gain clout. So the next President must formulate a roadmap to preserve the internationally monitored ceasefire forged in 2003, review and renegotiate the peace agreement with input from all stakeholders, and build long-term security and development in the south.

This column’s September 15 Mindanao issues briefing raised questions to address in renegotiating the MILF pact (http://www.manilatimes.net/briefing-on-mindanao-renegotiating-peace/218811/):

“Will more funds and powers for the Bangsamoro government, plus its own mechanisms for public service and accountability, reduce or worsen the extensively documented and widely known waste and corruption undermining progress in the ARMM?

“Will the proposed Bangsamoro security force crack down on lawlessness and terrorism, [or]will longstanding ties among armed groups allow threats to flourish, especially if the military presence is reduced?

“And will the rise of Bangsamoro really persuade extremists to let go of demands for secession as well as portions of the Republic allegedly grabbed from the Muslims? Or will the MILF’s gains only embolden the radicals?”

In his rush to get a peace deal, Aquino would pretty much hand over Muslim Mindanao to the MILF, alienating Christians, Lumad, and the Moro National Liberation Front. The next president should think thrice about setting aside the MNLF, which accepted peace and autonomy two decades ago, in favor of its secessionist splinter group. Why not instead echo the OIC’s call for both Fronts to harmonize their positions?

The danger of devastating war
Whether from wishful thinking or the eagerness to make peace and impress the world, the Aquino government showed lack of prudence in assuming the MILF would give up its decades-old secession goal, and not exploit its clout and concessions under the peace deal for Bangsamoro independence.

Yet prudence and reason should have told those who cared to listen that long-time separatists could just be paying lip service to autonomy so they can gain more power and resources for a renewed struggle.

The same lack of prudence seems evident in Aquino’s policy of escalating American military deployment in the Philippines amid Washington’s growing rivalry with Beijing. The assumption seems to be that this big-power test of wills and might would not trigger a major conflict, in which the Philippines, hosting US forces, would be a frontline state subject to attack.

In the past 70 years since the end of World War II in 1945, America has been in five major Asian conflicts — Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and twice in Iraq and nearby states. That should tell prudent policymakers that the United States could very well engage in a sixth war for its global security agenda. Indeed, Washington is moving 60 percent of its naval assets to the region under its Pivot To Asia policy.

Today, there are many expert scenarios of Sino-American conflict, mostly over issues of little interest to the Philippines, and invariably involving massive missile exchanges, possibly including atomic weapons targeting US military assets and the facilities they use. If those forces and the bases they have access to in the archipelago are attacked, there could be immense collateral damage on nearby areas and populations.

Hence, the next President would have to ponder whether the country should accept that war risk just to host American forces, which have NEVER helped or even pledged to help in territorial disputes with China. Or should the Philippines build up maritime defenses, like Vietnam’s submarines and anti-ship missiles, so we can assert territorial interests without putting our people at great risk of devastating superpower war?

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1 Comment

  1. We should start beefing up our defenses by acquiring anti-submarine capabilities which is cheaper than missile armed destroyers, fighter jets and so on. This is to prevent American submarines from hiding in our waters and firing a missile at China which will provoke a retaliation aimed in our direction, and there is no evidence that America cares, is there? As for these Muslim insurgents, no insurgency can survive here without foreign support. If you know who is really supporting the terrorists fighting Assad in Syria, like the Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, ISIS and so on, then If the MILF resorts to violence, you know who will really be waging a war on the Philippines. Im sure that by now you already have an idea of who is really waging a war on us through the NPA. The real enemy is the one who came here more than 100 years ago to massacre, rape, pillage and torture, and since then, has been pretending to be our friend.