Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 19 December 2015

The Armed Forces of the Philippines is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. Let’s face it: It has had a checkered past, with its reputation at the lowest point during the Marcos martial law years because of the human rights abuses it perpetrated at that time. It has taken a long time for the organization to outlive that reputation, especially since the side effects of the power that corrupted it continued to pop up, maybe 10 years or so ago, like the “tradition” that gave generals “pabaon” for their retirement, the eye-winking that accompanied abuses in procurement, etc.

All these eclipsed completely the good performance it has turned in, such as its performance during World War II, and subsequently with the United Nations peacekeeping forces, starting from the Korean War up to the present day, the humanitarian help it has extended to disaster-stricken Filipinos, and its keeping at bay those who believe that armed conflict will lead to the achievement of their goals.

But a sea change has occurred within the military, starting maybe six years ago—a transformation, as it were. Actually, it began much earlier, when Lt. Gen. Cristolito Balaoing, superintendent of the Philippine Military Academy, started the ball rolling with a transformation roadmap for the PMA that would ensure the best officers possible being fed into the AFP. The virus spread, slowly, and the AFP and all its components (Army, Navy, Air Force) now have transformation roadmaps that clearly define where they want to be by 2028, and how they would get there. These roadmaps are based on capability building, a professionalization of its ranks, and the involvement of stakeholders in its initiatives.

The goal? By 2018, a world-class professional organization that is a source of national pride, whose mission is to protect the Filipino people and to secure the sovereignty of the state and the integrity of its national territory.

But these transformation roadmaps really grew out of the game-changing plan (they call it a “paradigm shift”) of the AFP, called the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP). You can see where the game change is when the military says it aims at “winning the peace” instead of just defeating the enemy. It is a broader concept based on two strategic approaches: the Whole of Nation Approach and the People-Centered Security/Human Security Approach.

The first approach essentially says that everybody is involved (multi-stakeholders). The second approach is based on a broader security framework—human security, centered on people, not just national security.

From all that, it becomes obvious that the military has chosen to put itself on the side of human rights/international humanitarian law and the rule of law, and the involvement of all stakeholders. Good choice.

With these as parameters, the IPSP then aims to adhere to the primacy of the peace process, and support peace-building activities such as reconstruction and rehabilitation of conflict-afflicted areas; it aims to focus military operations only on the armed components of insurgent groups; it aims to support community-based peace and development efforts, including construction of basic social infrastructure. And lastly, it will carry out security sector reform, which is where the transformation roadmaps come in.

It is a game-changer, all right, involving consultations with the various stakeholders starting from the barangay, thus assuring transparency, adherence to human rights, and treating the Filipino people as the end, not just the means, for victory.

No wonder the “enemy” is shaking in its boots, and hitting the military with all its might. But the “enemy” is going to have a hard time keeping the loyalty of the people when the AFP is beating it at its own game.

Unfortunately, however, there seems to be a marked disinclination to accept the improvements in the military, and a marked inclination to freeze it in its martial-law image. As in the lumad story, where “militarization” is the villain.

Let’s get other points of view.

Here’s the military version of the story: Regions X to XIII, all in Eastern Mindanao, constitute the last bastion of the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front in the Philippines. But it is also where most of the indigenous peoples (IPs) are located: Almost 50 percent of the population of this area is made up of IPs—44 percent in Regions X and XII, 51 percent in Region XI, 49.8 percent in Region XIII. It is estimated that 74 percent of the NPA are lumad. No wonder then that 90 percent of the guerrilla bases are in the ancestral domains of the lumad communities. Did you know that the CPP celebrates its anniversaries on Dec. 26 in either Agusan or Surigao, with local government officials in attendance? That’s right: smack in the middle of the Christmas season ceasefire. Convenient?

So, it seems that in the military vs. NPA encounters in the area, all of a sudden, the encounter is reported as military vs. lumad — a half-truth, of course. It also is obvious, that the lumad are not one homogenous grouping: They have different ideologies.

The AFP is bringing the IPSP Bayanihan to this area, with barangay consultations, peace caravans to bring the government to the people, and of course security. It has identified the needs in these areas, the interventions that are necessary, and who should supply them. Of course, if it succeeds, the hold of the NPA on the lumad is weakened. And it seems it is succeeding, because the reactions of their opponents are approaching hysteria.

Congratulations to the AFP on its anniversary, and “may the Force be with you.”