With all its pretensions for peace and development, Duterte’s counterinsurgency is brutal to the core.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — The concept of militarizing civilian agencies is not entirely new – beginning all the way from the revamping of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, under then Defense Secretary turned President Ramon Magsaysay.
Psychological warfare was used as part of his “triad” warfighting, which referred to integrating intelligence, combat operations, and psychological warfare in its effort to win the war against the Hukbalahap forces and gain the support of the people. This basically laid the foundation of the so-called whole-of-nation approach in dealing with counterinsurgency.
The “whole of nation approach” was practically copied from the US Counterinsurgency Guide released in January 2009, as first seen in the Benigno Aquino III administration’s Oplan Bayanihan, which states that the most successful counterinsurgency campaigns “have achieved this unity of effort through unified authority” – referring to “civil-military integration” as both strategic and tactical.
This, however, is not the first time that the US government has influenced the Philippines’ affairs. In fact, it was the US government that formally organized the Philippine Constabulary to assist in “combating the remnants of the revolutionaries.”
The Philippine Constabulary, along with officers and members of the Reserve Commissions in the United States Army and the Philippine Scouts, later formed the AFP when it was formally organized under the American Commonwealth era, per the National Defense Act of 1935.
In a previous article, Bulatlat editor in chief Benjie Oliveros pointed out that the US influence, nay control, over Philippine counterinsurgency strategy dates back to the post-American colonialism period. The last two government agencies turned over by the US colonial government to the first Philippine puppet government were the Education and Defense departments.
Even before the term “surrogate army” was coined by the 2006 US Quadrennial Defense Review, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has long been a junior partner of the US Armed Forces. In fact, among the major influences in the development of US counterinsurgency strategy are the Philippine-American War of 1901 and the Huk pacification campaign during the 1950s.
One administration after the other, the US continued in meddling with political, economic, and military affairs of the Philippine government through lopsided deals such as the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951, Visiting Forces Agreement, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, among others.
In its 2018 Civil-Military Operations of the US government’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the US military said it carries out civil and military operations at strategic, tactical, and operational levels of warfare. This helps them “facilitate military operations by establishing, maintaining, influencing, or exploiting relationships between military forces and the civilian populace,” including counterinsurgency and peace operations.
After the toppling of the Marcos dictatorship, De La Salle University International Studies professor Renato Dela Cruz said both the first Aquino and Ramos administration allegedly worked on the demilitarization of the civilian bureaucracy. Worldwide, he said, civil-military operations appear “porous” and “anomalous” as it has yet to find “the right balance” in an existing political system.
The civilian and military relations, however, took a different turn during the Arroyo administration, as Gloria Macapagal Arroyo boosted an “unholy alliance” with the military – paying visits to their camps, providing of increased benefits for personnel, and the appointing of retired ranking officials to the civilian bureaucracy, said Dela Cruz.
This alliance later led to the forming of its national security policy, the Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2 – the bloodiest counterinsurgency programs launched in recent history, whose main implementor retired Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. is now convicted for the enforced disappearance of two university students.
In a previous article, Oliveros pointed out that Oplan Bantay Laya also directed its attacks on political activists. With its target research component, intelligence operations are directed at what it calls “sectoral front organizations”. The key people in these “sectoral front organizations” are placed in a “sectoral Order of Battle (OB).” These intelligence operations are carried out by units and personnel of the Military Intelligence Group-Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (MIG-ISAFP) lodged at the battalion level. These units are given “Intelligence Task Allocations,” with quarterly targets for “neutralization.” Thus, a surge of killings of political activists took place from 2002 onwards. When Arroyo stepped down from the presidency, Karapatan recorded 1,190 victims of extrajudicial killings, 205 victims of enforced disappearances, 1,028 victims of torture, and hundreds of thousands were forcibly displaced in rural areas as a result of military operations.
The Benigno Aquino III administration extended Oplan Bantay Laya and then launched its “Oplan Bayanihan” to focus on “winning the peace” through the “whole of nation approach.”
While extrajudicial killings of activist declined due to local and international pressure, arrests and detention of political dissenters were on the rise. From July 2010 to September 2015, Karapatan documented 294 victims of extrajudicial killings and 911 cases of illegal arrest and detention.
The utilization of civilian agencies for counterinsurgency was also stark. AFP’s Peace and development teams (PDT) worked with civilian agencies to win the hearts of locals in New People’s Army strongholds.
When Duterte assumed office, he implemented Oplan Kapayapaan and then Oplan Kapanatagan, supposedly an improved version of the previous counterinsurgency programs.
It should be noted that Arroyo’s generals who implemented Oplan Bantay Laya are the same military officials manning Duterte’s security cluster. National Security Adviser Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. was AFP Chief of Staff during the Arroyo administration while Eduardo Año, former head of the Intelligence Services of the AFP (Isafp) is now Interior and Local Government secretary. Thus, like Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya, Duterte’s counterinsurgency strategy also does not distinguish combatants (NPA) from civilians (ordinary activists). Similar to Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan, Duterte adopted the whole of nation approach, which means mobilizing the entire state machinery for counterinsurgency. With all its pretensions for peace and development, Duterte’s counterinsurgency is brutal to the core.
Like the previous administrations, Duterte continues to get security and defense assistance from the US. From 2016 until 2019, the US provided foreign military financing amounting to $160 million and anti-terrorism funding worth $21.57million. The US also poured in a total of $34.87 million to the Duterte administration through International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement and Section 1004 Counter-Drug Assistance.
Human rights alliance Karapatan blamed Duterte’s counterinsurgency program for the spate of human rights violations. As of June 2019, the rights group recorded 266 victims of extrajudicial killings, 404 victims of frustrated extrajudicial killings, 1,850 victims of illegal arrests, 134 tortured, 443 victims of illegal search and seizure. More than 450,000 were also forcibly displaced due to military operations, according to Karapatan.
The militarist approach in dealing with the armed revolution has been proven, time and again, futile. So long as the roots of the armed conflict are not addressed, armed resistance will continue to intensify. (With research from Arneth Assidao and with reports from Ronalyn Olea)