THE month of February is historically and traditionally a busy time for the Philippine military–the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Major events in its history took place during this month.
It was on February 4, 1899 that the Philippine-American war broke out between Filipino and American forces in Manila—a conflict that would fatefully abort the first Philippine Republic and usher the start of American colonization of the Philippines.
Filipino forces were called the “Army of the Republic of the Philippines “which was established by decree by President Aguinaldo on June 23, 1898 soon after the June 12 proclamation of independence. The army included revolutionaries in the struggle against Spain, militia, volunteers, and elements of the Katipunan called Sandatahan.
It was on February 22, 1986 that President Ferdinand Marcos was ousted by a military rebellion combined with the outpouring of people power on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA). Corazon Aquino would be elevated to the presidency by the rebel forces, with the approval of Washington, D.C.
Since 1986, the AFP with EDSA veterans in the lead has been prominent, along with the Aquino-led yellow movement, in the annual commemoration of the EDSA revolt. It is a guess what is planned or who will lead the commemoration this year, if any.
This February, it is presumably coincidental that on the same week the communist New People’ Army announced its intent to call off its unilateral ceasefire with the AFP on February 10, President Rodrigo Duterte also announced his intent to transfer the conduct of the war on drugs from the Philippine National Police (PNP) to the AFP.
Three wars to fight
I find it bewildering that after a prolonged period of relative inactivity when it has had no visible enemy to fight and has spent its time on conducting military drills and exercises with foreign military forces, the AFP is now trudging to a situation where it will have two wars, or maybe three, to simultaneously fight, viz:
1. The communist insurgency
With the revocation of the ceasefire, the 46-year armed struggle of the CPP-NPA-NDF will be resumed. The AFP will earnestly engage again in the challenge of eradicating the oldest communist insurgency in the world today.
2. The war on illegal drugs
With the near collapse of the war on drugs because of the sensational kidnap-murder of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo by the police, Duterte says he will order the AFP to now take charge of the war on illegal drugs. His justification: the drug menace is a national security threat. I wonder how he will make the case before the National Security Council for this novel use of the nation’s armed forces.
3.The war on terrorism
Since 9/11 in the US, the fight against terrorism has been a major activity of the AFP, as Filipino soldiery has been at the front in fighting the Abu Sayyaf, other radical Islamist groups, and other rebel bands. Duterte has also considered the revival of the Philippine Constabulary in the AFP, which used to be the chief law enforcement arm of the military.
There could be another front for the AFP to face, if the peace agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government does not hold, and the Muslim secessionist struggle is renewed.
Rethinking the communist insurgency
The administration and the AFP needs to rethink their strategy and program in dealing with the communist insurgency.
Strangely, war with the CPP-NPA will resume, while peace talks between Filipino communists and the government will take place in Rome.
The communists blame the administration for the termination of the ceasefire because of government’s failure to honor its promise to release all political detainees.
But the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF), the CPP-NPA’s political wing, hang on to the mantra that the peace negotiations will continue, for however long.
The government says it is acting on President Duterte’s commitment to release all 434 political prisoners, citing the need to fulfill judicial and legal requirements. but the communists want their immediate release.
The CPP-NPA spokesman says: “The unilateral ceasefire declaration was issued on the mutual understanding with the GRP that such releases will take effect within 60 days of August 28.”
The CPP-NPA also accused the military of using the truce to encroach on “communist-influenced areas”.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, maintains that the termination of the communist group’s unilateral ceasefire will have no effect on the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
He says the NPA violated their own ceasefire by continuing with their illegal activities.
He said: “Despite their declared ceasefire they have not stopped extorting under the guise of their so-called revolutionary taxation, gone on recruiting, burning buses and equipment, ambushing and kidnapping soldiers.”
In the absence of a directive from the President, Lorenzana vowed to continue enforcing the government’s unilateral ceasefire with the CPP-NPA: “Our troops will not actively operate against the NPA while our ceasefire is in effect. However, it will continue to maintain peace and order and run after lawless elements, whoever they are.
“We do not recognize any areas under NPA control nor are they allowed to roam around with their firearms intimidating people.”
Government policy on the insurgency is totally confused right now. On the one hand, DU30 has opened his administration to participation by the communists, by handing them three departments to administer, and appointing as his virtual chief of staff a former communist and priest.
At the other end, the military believes that the counter-insurgency war is completely winnable. The NPA has no forces and no arms. Since China halted its assistance and the collapse of international communism in 1989, the armed struggle has been reduced to begging for support from leftist groups in foreign lands.
All this suggest that a major rethink of strategy and program is in order for the government. It has to redefine its aims in this 46-year struggle. Surely, the nation knows now what it really wants to do or achieve in this conflict.
Amnesty International must retract
The scathing report of Amnesty International on the government’s war on drugs, which has been prominently reported in international media and some local newspapers, requires a serious and cogent reply from the administration.
It will not do to simply say as Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre did, that “criminals are not human.” This is lazy and goes nowhere.
Among other things, Amnesty claimed that the police are paying hitmen to kill drug suspects from P5,000 to P15,000 per “kill” in the drug war.
It says it conducted more than a hundred interviews over three months for its damning report. But oddly, it did not name a single person whose claims about the pay-off of killers could be verified.
Government’s tack should be to demand that Amnesty either prove its claim, or retract its story
Senator Panfilo Lacson is correct to suggest that the Senate should invite the rights group to testify before its investigating committees on live TV.
The report’s claims should be refuted, and the nation and the world should know that it is baseless, if indeed it has no basis. Otherwise, people will believe the opposite and the worst.