The question intrigues the elite and the masses alike. Since President Duterte’s shock-and–awe strategy has evidently produced redoubtable results in the war on drugs and the campaign against oligarchs, why does he not adopt it as well in the war against the 45-year-old communist insurgency?
President Duterte’s predawn speech last Sunday (August 7) was so mesmerizing in its recitation of names (of judges, mayors, police personnel) allegedly involved in the drug trade, most people forgot that he devoted the first part of his address to another momentous subject: the Communist insurgency and the proposed peace talks with Communist rebels.
We heard the message he was sending to everyone in the illegal drugs trade, lapping up every detail he provided. Yet it escaped notice that he also issued a strong message and ultimatum to the Communist insurgents and their leadership.
No more landmines or no peace talks
The President had gone to Naval Station Felix Apolinario in Panacan, Davao City to visit the AFP casualties in a series of encounters between the AFP and the CPP-NPA in Campostela Valley province, battles that featured the heavy use by the NPA of its new capacity to produce and use land mines in the insurgency.
As background to the presidential visit, four soldiers had died in a series of offensives by the NPA in the province.
A spokesman for the Army’s 10th Infantry Division said an autopsy on the four fatalities indicated mutilation of the bodies of two slain soldiers. The casualties were victims of the NPA’s use of command detonated explosives (CDX).
Citing the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and the Respect for International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), the spokesman said the use of landmines is prohibited.
He also disclosed that there were civilian casualties in the encounter at Monkayo – an elderly woman and her 12-year-old granddaughter.
President Duterte singled out the land mine issue during his address at the Naval Station Felix Apolinario on August 7.
Addressing the Communist insurgents and their leaders, he said: “If we have talks, I would insist you include the land mine issue or else no talks at all. Then we fight for another 45 years.”
He asked the insurgents what they have gained for themselves and their families in their 45 years of insurgency.
“The problem is armed struggle.
“I am telling you now: Stop the land mines or you tell your leaders and my government, get out of the talks. I am now invoking the Geneva Conventions. It is part of the international law, not only of the Philippines but of other countries around the world.
“Either you stop it or we stop talking.
We just fight another 45 years. Is that the life that you really need? Your leaders do not win. So what do you want?
“This is an ultimatum. If I hear another landmine explosion killing people – not only soldiers – killing people, no talks, sorry.
“Government will never run out of money. You cannot bring down the government.”
The President then mentioned that the Defense department is asking for 20,000 more troops. “If you insist on continuing your armed struggle, I will grant this request.
“If this is what you want, ok. I am not difficult to talk to.”
No end to NPA use of land mines
The response of the CPP to the President’s demand was swift. It said in a statement:
“Contrary to Duterte’s demand for the NPA to stop using its CDX landmines, the NPA and the people’s militias must further expand the use of such weapons.
“CDX landmines are a poor man’s weapon. These are mass-produced by people who have no recourse to the expensive rockets and howitzers of state-funded armies. It is a weapon that can only be effectively used by those who have mastery of terrain. It must continue to be effectively and widely employed in waging mass guerrilla warfare.”
The CPP even ordered the “stepping-up” of the manufacture of CDX landmines. “Every unit of the NPA, including all units of the people’s militias, must have their own supply of CDX landmines, and must have the skill and plan to employ these as defensive and offensive weapons against the enemy.”
A tough response, indeed. But it may be a case of the CPP talking itself into a fiercer and bloodier struggle in the insurgency war.
Shock and awe
Many analysts, this writer included, have described President Duterte‘s strategy in the war on drugs, and by extension, his fight against oligarchs, as essentially “shock and awe” – a metaphorical allusion to the military strategy used by the United States in the war against Iraq in March 2003.
What many are now asking is whether Duterte, in threatening to abandon peace talks, will forthwith apply shock and awe in the counterinsurgency warfare.
Shock and awe (also technically called rapid dominance) is described as a military doctrine based on the use of overwhelming power and spectacular displays of force to paralyze the enemy’s perception of the battlefield and destroy its will to fight.
The doctrine was written and developed by Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade in 1996 and is a product of the National Defense University of the United States.
Rapid dominance is defined by its authors as attempting to affect the will, perception and understanding of the adversary to fight or respond.
Rapid dominance, they said, will, impose this overwhelming level of shock and awe against an adversary on an immediate or sufficiently timely basis to paralyze its will to carry on.
This is by no means the kind of war that the Philippine government is fighting in the war on drugs. The Philippine military is not even involved. It is the police that is doing the fighting and inflicting the most violence, with some assistance from vigilantes.
The concept is applied here only in an analogous sense. It conveys the level of resolve of President Duterte to prevail in any struggle he chooses to engage in.
When he boasted during the election campaign that his administration would be bloody, he meant it. When he gave himself six months to finish off the drug menace and criminality, he meant it also.
The war against Iraq was over within months after the US launched it.
President Duterte does not intend to see the insurgency outlive his presidency or continue for another 45 years.