Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 31 May 2017


The declaration of martial law in Mindanao by President Duterte begs the question, How will it affect the nation’s economic growth performance?

Mindanao’s contribution to national output. If we use as basis the share of Mindanao’s overall contribution to the total gross product of the country, it is about 20 percent. Going by this rule, as a component of current output, Mindanao’s share is low but still a substantial component of the nation’s output.

Mindanao’s favorable geographic and climatic situation, especially for agri-based industries, has been demonstrated by the success of its agricultural industries.

Mindanao is especially important in the nation’s supply food chain. The country’s output of rice and corn and a sizeable variety of vegetables and other fruits, are mainly consumed by domestic consumers and industries based in the nation.

Some of the nation’s major agricultural exports come strongly and mainly from Mindanao, exemplified by bananas and pineapple, but now extending to more and more agricultural produce. A large segment of the country’s mineral exports come from Mindanao, especially the Surigao regions.

At the crossroads of several insurgencies. The immediate cause of the declaration of martial law arose from the raid undertaken by the Maute group to take over Marawi, in the province of Lanao del Sur. This armed group also brandished the banner of ISIS, the Muslim terror-group with origins in the Middle East.

Mindanao, in fact, is at the crossroads of several insurgencies. From colonial times, the governors of Manila were unable to impose governmental control over the many tribal regions of the island.

After independence in 1946, national governmental rule over Mindanao has been challenged by traditional local leaders. Even as members of the Moro population integrated into the political system, they pursued local rule by the power and status of their position as leaders. In some cases, traditional leaders have led rebellions against Manila.

Since the 1950s many established Moro leaders joined the political institutions by running for office and winning as a consequence of their local popularity. They continued to exert strong influence within the community as leaders serving within the political framework. Some were elected as mayor, governor or congressman from the region.

By the 1970s, some of the insurgencies had gravitated toward movements to liberate the Moro population through a demand for self-rule in defined territorial areas that are dominantly populated by them.

The MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) and the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) are two prominent groups that have concluded comprehensive peace agreements with the government. That these two groups have not united has put a major problem harmonizing comprehensive agreements among the Moro stakeholders with respect to the national government.

There are still splinter groups that harbor more radical demands, each demanding particular attention from the national government. The Abu Sayyaf, the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Foreign Fighters), and of course the Maute groups are examples of Moro groups that are mounting separate insurgencies.

Sometimes, it is difficult to distinguish outlaws from rebels. But the net sum of their activities is an increase in political and economic disorder. All these groups have some linkage with supporters from the Arab countries in the Middle East.

Some of the radical Muslim groups have been infiltrated by foreign jihadists, bringing in ideas, arms and money to get them radicalized further.

The MNLF, under the leadership of Nur Musuari, had forged direct links with Libya during the time of Muammar Khaddafi. This led Ferdinand Marcos to seek Libya’s help to bring the MNLF to the peace table. Under the leadership of Fidel V. Ramos, the MNLF was finally brought to a formal agreement for peace. Even this has not worked well.

Benigno S. Aquino managed to bring the MILF to a comprehensive peace agreement. The Bangsamoro autonomous region solution that has been agreed upon to solve this insurgency now pends as part of the constitutional revisions that are in the agenda of the Duterte government.

The problem does not end there. The other Moro insurgencies never seem to end. New groups keep turning up, creating regional tensions in specific areas.

The communist NPA rebellion also has a presence in Mindanao. In fact, in the course of time, the NPA rebellion in Mindanao has kept itself alive.

There is no doubt, therefore, that the declaration of martial law to make it Mindanao-wide arises from the multiplicity of Moro insurgencies that create problems for the military to deal with the insurgencies.

The Philippines has the softest national security law in the East Asia Region. Many countries in the region – starting with South Korea, China (including Taiwan and Hong Kong), Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia – have pursued successful economic growth policies under strong state guidance.

In the course of decades of economic growth, the Philippines is the country with the “softest” set of national security laws in place. It is not a surprise, too, that our long term economic performance is at the at the tail-end of these countries.

The elements of strong government power has been persistently in place in all these countries. One need only examine the exercise of state power when dealing with insurgencies and oppositionists.

When we range Philippine policies in relation to our neighbor countries, we come out the “softest” in the application of state power. This has led to the temptation to use the martial law solution in order to deal with the national security situation more effectively.

Among the countries just listed, laws governing national security are very tight and have a way of restricting individual freedom in favor of community policies. The rules followed by individual governments have tended to be further applied toward tighter regulation of public media and the press.

The hankering for the stronger measures to undertake control of the situation on the ground has made the resort to military rule attractive to those governments.

Thus, it is not a wonder that though many of the governments have different degrees of political democracy, in general, their control of individual freedom and communications media is much stronger than those exercised in our normal government.