The Philippines faces a myriad
of national security threats, which starts and ends with
insurgent groups fighting for either independence or
reforms. The rebellion by Filipino Muslims in Mindanao and
the Sulu Archipelago has plagued past governments. The
Muslims had waged guerilla warfare since 1972, alternately
pressing for either secession or increased autonomy.
Despite various attempts at
neutralizing these groups once and for all numerous peace
talks, the country is yet to have its peace. Now we are at a
loss about the next step. What more can we do that hasn’t
been done to solve the problem of insurgency? What are we
Disunity in Diversity
known as Moros, have nurtured a sense of separatism for most
of our history. There hundred years of Spanish colonization
brought most areas of the Christian population under
control, but the Spanish were never able to assert broad
governance over those areas of the southern Philippines that
were host to the slim percentage of Muslims. (For much of
Philippine history, Muslims represented 4-5% of the
population, but that has recently risen to 7-8%). During the
American occupation, some of fiercest battles fought against
authorities were from our Muslims brothers.
Despite this long
history of separatist sentiment, Filipino Christians and
Muslims alike trace current frictions and internal conflict
over Muslim separatism not to differences, but to economic
resettlement policies in the 1950’s encouraged Filipino
Christians to migrate from over-crowded Luzon province to
Mindanao, where Muslims comprised a majority of the
population and owned approximately 40% of the land. Both the
Muslims percentage of the population in Mindanao and their
land holdings there shank significantly as Christians
Filipinos became the majority in Mindanao and gained a solid
preponderance of land.
Those provinces of
Mindanao which have significant Muslims populations are
still among the poorest in the Philippines. By the 1970’s,
the economic impact of this transmigration trend was widely
felt among Muslims in the Philippines and a Muslims
separatist group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF),
arose to challenge Manila’s rule in Mindanao. At it’s height
as an insurgent force, the MNLF had 60,000 combatants.
Already subject to insurgency of the communist New People’s
Army (NPA), Mindanao became a busy battlefield.
goals of the MNLF were reinforced in the late 1970’s and
1980’s by the global wave of Islamic fundamentalism. Over a
twenty-year period, the MNLF and Manila waged internal war
but gradually came to accord, and a peace agreement was
signed in 1996.
before, as it became obvious to Filipino Muslim radicals
that the MNLF was prepared to consider Manila’s offer of
autonomy, fundamentalist group split from the MNLF. The most
significant of these was the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf.
However, six provinces with Muslim populations voted to
become the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM),
under MNLF political control. Approximately 25,000 MNLF
combatants were demobilized under a Philippine government
program, with economic assistance from the United States.
provided agricultural inputs and training to enable
insurgents to become farmers. However, the “peace dividend”
– the larger package of economic assistance that the ARMM
expected from Manila – has been slow to come, causing
discontent and disillusionment. Moreover, the factionalism
which has characterized the Filipino Muslim community for
centuries did not prevent further splits in the MNLF after
the 1996 accords were signed.
The Roots of Insurgency
Our history with
insurgencies has yet to end if we want to attain peace and
unity in the country. After all that has been said and done
on the subject, one must try to look deeper into the problem
and to address there root cause/s.
In his book,
Professor Thomas McKenna, author of Muslim Rulers and
Rebels: Everyday Politics and Armed Separatism in the
Southern Philippines, traced the causes of the Mindanao
problem and came up with the conclusion that a cultural and
religious gulf divided Muslims and Christians since the
He further writes
in his book that cultural differences do not by themselves
create ethnic conflict. But the Christian Filipinos,
including representatives of the Philippine state, have
often tended to view Philippine Muslims as socially backward
and untrustworthy precisely because of their history of
resistance to hispanicization. While Muslims have tended to
be highly suspicious of the intentions of the Philippine
government and generally wary of Christians. Although, as
mentioned earlier, this is not to say that religion issues
and cultural differences exactly caused the tension and
created this unrest, but more because of economic
inequalities. The resettlement policies encouraged
Filipino-Christians to relocate from Luzon to the Mindanao
area. As a result, by the late 1960s Mindanao Muslims found
themselves a relatively impoverished minority in their own
homeland. Marco Garrido an the Asian Times, agrees on these
observations and wrote, “Thee events in particular –
Christian immigration in Mindanao, sectarian violence, and
martial law – transformed the kind of pliable sanitized
Islam the colonial administration had propagated into a
basis for discrimination and, eventually, rebellion.”
History would tell
us that no insurgency arose without a viable reason. But
political and economic issues certainly create unrest and
dissatisfaction. The root cause of insurgency relates to the
social, economic and political inequities which create
conflict. The present administration is aware of these
facts, and very much so. In the “Strategy of Holistic
Approach”, the government outlines the roots of insurgency
as: 1. Poverty, which includes low productivity,
criminality, marginalization, environmental degradation; 2.
Ignorance, which includes poor resource base and low quality
education; 3. Disease, which includes malnutrition, poor
delivery of health services; Injustice, which includes human
rights violations, graft and corruption, land conflicts.
written by Salah Jubair, in his book, “Bangsamoro: A Nation
Under Endless Tyranny,” are encouraging, “The Moros are not
asking for the whole Mindanao, because circumstances have
superseded some facts of history. They just want a parcel of
it, especially where they predominate. This will enable
generations after them to live in peace and piety, as Islam
enjoins all believers. The indigenous peoples, whom the
Visayans call Lumads may opt to join their blood-brothers,
the Moros, and they are welcome. After all, the two peoples
are inseparable in the history of Mindanao and Sulu. Is this
too much a price for peace, development and prosperity for
observations in mind, there is only one viable solution –
address the issue of poverty.
Giving Peace A Chance
Since we have
established what seems to be the obvious, that poverty is
the root cause of insurgency, addressing this should be the
main focus, which the present administration has also
realized. We know that steps to address this issue have been
done, many programs formulated and planned. But what ever
happened to them?
statistics, poverty incidence is highest in Mindanao.
Forty-five (45) percent of Mindanao’s families live below
the poverty line, compared to only 30 percent in Luzon and
38 percent in the Visayas. This figure (45%) is even way
below the Philippine poverty incidence of 32 percent.
According to data from National Statistics Coordinating
Board (NSCB), of the 4.5 million Filipino families that
cannot meet the minimum food requirement for survival, 1.4
million are in Mindanao.
In 1996, the Davao
Consensus, which created a limited Autonomous Region of
Muslim Mindanao, was underpinned by a wider Zone of Peace
and Development dedicated to the enactment of social
economic programs. Administration by administration, agenda
is laid down. During President Joseph Estrada’s
administration, The National Peace and Development and
the Strategy of Total Approach (STA) was laid down. It
contained the Strategy of Total Approach, which covered the
various policies and programs that would address the
multi-faceted dimensions of the armed conflicts and
insurgencies in the country. Despite these plans, behind the
STA, the Four-Point Agenda and other programs was President
Estrada’s policy of an all-out-war against the Muslim
rebels. He sought to weaken them enough to bring them to the
negotiation table. According to those who worked on the
ground to help those afflicted by the fighting, all these
programs were good on paper but were not implemented. Hardly
any of the resources supposedly allocated by the government
for development reached the community; this is attributed to
the high level of corruption in government agencies.
government has also promised to devote a substantial amount
for the development of Mindanao. As with the previous
administration’s agenda, we seem to already have an
understanding on what needs to be done, and yet, the problem
is in the implementation. Measures should be implemented to
ensure that funds reach the intended to ensure that the
funds reach the intended project and community.
Infrastructure and facilities must be funded, and people
given more employment opportunities.
Education is also
very important. Rebels and insurgents use psy-war to win
supporters in their areas. Emotional approach is almost
always very effective in convincing people. When rebels go
around advocating their ideologies, it’s almost a
probability that these people would believe them, especially
the youth. Living in a poverty-stricken area, with no
evidence of development, they know very little or none at
all of the government’s programs for them. And rebels in
return, knowing these things so well, treat these people’s
minds like a sponge that whatever information they feed them
would be considered the truth. Who wouldn’t? When you know
nothing else, there is no basis for comparison, to which you
base your judgments on. With education, residents will not
be as easily swayed by leftists as easily as uneducated
residents will be.
Goals of a
long-range counterinsurgency plan should also include
deterring alienated youth from joining a terrorist group in
the first place. This may seem an impractical goal, for how
does one recognize a potential terrorist, let alone deter
him or her from joining a terrorist group? But this one is
more of a proactive approach, instead of a reactive one.
Instead of going to areas where rebels are said to be
popular, it would also be logical to also educate people in
areas, where the rebels are not yet established.
Doing so, you give
them the information they need, and affirm to them that
their government works for them, before they are even fed
the wrong ideas. A counter strategy could be approached
within the framework of advertising and civic-action
campaigns. Not only should all young people in the region be
educated on the realities of guerilla life, but a
counterterrorist policy should be in place to inhibit them
from joining in the first place.
building and intensive consultations with key opinion
leaders in these areas are also logical. Opinion leaders are
members of the community who have the power to influence
residents in his area, to believe in his opinions. Using
this, our forces can reach out to these key opinion leaders
and win their hearts and minds. That way, they have secured
help to bridge the gap with the people in the area.
work by employing psy-war tactics, as we very well know.
They work by blending in with the people, interacting with
them. This s also what the government forces must do. Reach
to people and establish relationships, build friendships,
this will create a positive image for the government and
will also convince the people that military forces are not
there to antagonize, but to protect them. Forge alliances
with the media, to create a positive image for the
government effort, and to use these tools for information
dissemination to tell the people of the programs.
would still be effective. But going on an all out war should
not be the plan anymore, as the past administration’s
experience would tell us that this is not the way to peace.
Making our presence felt should be enough to tell these
insurgents and the people that we are serious in our
efforts. It is a truism of counterinsurgency that a
population will give its allegiance to the side that will
best protect it. This is why the chief goal of insurgents is
to deprive the population of that sense of security. Through
violence and bloodshed, insurgents seek to foment a climate
of fear by demonstrating the authorities’ weakness and
inability to maintain order.
The Road of Peace
Although social and economic development – when
properly supported and implemented – can inhibit insurgency,
development alone cannot eliminate it. Development is most
effective when it is incorporated into a multi-pronged
approach that includes wider political, military, and
community-relationship dimensions. These qualifications
aside, there is a noteworthy potential for development
policies to reduce the threat of insurgency.