Martial Law: Lorenzana and Año’s “innovative” approach not just vs. Maute?

Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana and AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año (Photo from Frances Mangosing/inquirer.net)

Is Martial Law Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and armed forces chief (and now Martial Law administrator) Gen. Eduardo Año’s “innovative” approach to end the armed conflict in Mindanao and to achieve the military establishment’s self-imposed target of wiping out armed groups in the region before President Rodrigo Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July?

Is it actually aimed not just at the Maute and other terrorist groups but also legitimate rebel forces, including those that the Duterte administration is pursuing a negotiated peace agreement with?

At the start of the year (January 9), Lorenzana declared that the military would crush the Maute group (and Abu Sayyaf) in six months. To achieve the stated target, Lorenzana said they would use an “innovative” approach. “We are going to do something new or innovative to finish this problem once and for all,” Lorenzana said as quoted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Año followed up Lorenzana’s declaration with the deployment of more than 50 Army battalions in Mindanao. It is said to be most massive AFP troops deployment ever with the avowed goal of “wiping out” the Abu Sayyaf, Maute group, and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter (BIFF). The military is set to assess the progress of this bold counter-insurgency target in June.

By end of January, Lorenzana reported that the “all-out war” against the Maute and other terrorist groups is already in full swing, using the military’s ground, sea, and air assets (including newly purchased FA-50 fighter jets).

The AFP’s operations against Mindanao’s terrorist groups under the Duterte administration have actually started long before the January pronouncements of Lorenzana and Año. In its report for the first 100 days of Pres. Duterte, the AFP said that it has already launched 579 “massive focused military operations” against the Abu Sayyaf, Maute and BIFF that resulted in the neutralization of almost 150 terrorist personalities (killed, surrendered, or captured).

Prior to the Marawi clashes, the AFP said that the Maute group has been suffering heavy blows from the sustained military campaign. On April 24, the military reported that the Maute group’s main camp in Lanao del Sur has already been seized and occupied by state forces, with some 30 of its members supposedly killed in the combat operations.

Meanwhile, hours before Lorenzana and other Cabinet officials, who were in Russia, announced Pres. Duterte’s Martial Law order late Wednesday (May 23) night, officials on the ground were saying that the Marawi situation is already under control. (See Timeline)

With an already sustained campaign and deployment of huge military resources, what justifies the Martial Law declaration? And why the entire island of Mindanao when the incident that supposedly triggered it is only in Marawi City?

Apparently, for Lorenzana, the target of Martial Law is not just the Abu Sayyaf and Maute group in Marawi City but also the New People’s Army (NPA). In justifying the declaration of Martial Law over the entire island of Mindanao, Lorenzana, as quoted by MindaNews, said: “Because there are also problems in Zamboanga, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, also in Central Mindanao, the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Forces) area, and also some problems in Region 11 (Southern Mindanao) yung pangongotong ng NPA (extortion by the New Peoples’ Army)”.

Lorenzana and the military establishment have been carrying out a sustained campaign to undermine the peace talks with the NPA, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). The DND/military propaganda against the CPP-NPA-NDFP has been clearly aimed to delegitimize the peace talks such as Lorenzana’s terrorist tagging of the rebel group just before the last round of formal peace talks between the NDFP and government panels started last April. NPA units have been the strongest in Mindanao with a string of successful tactical offensives against the military and police as well as against abusive businesses operating in the region such as mining companies and plantations.

Martial Law does not single out Maute, Abu Sayyaf or BIFF. It opens everyone in Mindanao – including those that the AFP and DND are accusing of as being NPA members or sympathizers and CPP front organizations – to the many abuses and atrocities of state forces. Gen. Año who will be the administrator of Martial Law has been notorious for committing such grave human rights abuses under the military’s anti-NPA campaign.

The human rights situation in Mindanao and throughout the country has already been appalling – with the military and police as among the main perpetrators – even without Martial Law. We do not need to imagine what will happen to human rights under a military rule, we just need to remember the Marcos dictatorship. ###

CPP founding anniversary: Peace talks is Duterte’s best option against 48-year old insurgency

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Photo by Southern Tagalog Exposure

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) warned the Duterte administration that it may be forced to soon withdraw its declared unilateral ceasefire amid the continuing armed operations of the military and unfulfilled commitment of the President to release all political prisoners. The CPP made the statement as it marks the 48th anniversary of its establishment today, December 26. (Read here)

About half a million Filipinos in more than 500 barrios nationwide are affected by military presence and alleged human rights atrocities and repression after units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) occupied their areas, in violation of the military’s own unilateral truce and apparently taking advantage of the rebel-declared ceasefire. Meanwhile, some 400 political prisoners remain in detention in various jails around the country.

One week after becoming the clear winner of the 2016 presidential polls, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would seek general amnesty for all political prisoners. The move was seen as a confidence-building measure in pursuing peace talks with the CPP, its political arm the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and its armed unit New People’s Army (NPA). (Watch here)

Before Duterte’s official inauguration last June, his then incoming Labor chief and peace panel chair also said that the new government would release political prisoners covered by the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) even before a general amnesty is granted. Also to be released early supposedly are the elderly and sick on humanitarian reasons. (Read here) The JASIG is a 1995 agreement produced by the peace talks between the NDFP and the then Ramos administration. It prohibits the state from arresting or persecuting rebels who are participating in the negotiations as NDFP consultants. (Read here) Just early this month, Duterte reportedly again committed the release of 165 elderly and sick political prisoners during a meeting in Davao City with top NDFP officials. (Read here)

But now six months into his presidency, only one political prisoner has been released through presidential pardon under Duterte. No detainee has been freed because of JASIG or for humanitarian grounds, much less through general amnesty, with one elderly and sick political prisoner already succumbing to poor health. The 19 NDFP peace talks consultants were temporarily released on bail while another 21 political prisoners won their cases in courts or availed of legal remedies. Further, 15 new political prisoners were illegally arrested and detained since Duterte became President. (Read here)

Meanwhile, despite its own declaration of ceasefire, the AFP continues to militarize the rural areas and to conduct armed and intelligence operations, the CPP claims. The notorious Oplan Bayanihan, according to reports, will not be discontinued by the Duterte administration but will even intensify albeit with “minor additions” in the light of the ongoing peace talks. (Read here) Duterte’s appointment of the controversial and alleged human rights violator General Eduardo Año as the new AFP chief also signals that the anti-communist counterinsurgency campaign targeting the civil and political rights of civilians, including through extrajudicial killings of activists, will remain. (Read here)

It seems that instead of creating a more conducive environment for the peace talks, the Duterte administration is making it even more difficult for the already complicated negotiation on social and economic reforms – the agenda in the upcoming round of talks – to succeed. Coupled with its repressive and bloody drug war that targets the poor and powerless, avowed commitment to continue the neoliberal economic policies that impoverish the people, and role in completing the political comeback of the despised Marcoses, the Duterte administration is in fact creating conditions for greater social conflict and unrest.

The NPA ceasefire, which at more than 100 days is now the longest in its almost five-decade existence, shows the eagerness of the revolutionary groups to negotiate a peace agreement with Duterte that will address the roots of what is essentially a civil war being waged by landless peasants and other oppressed and exploited classes in Philippine society. Despite flip-flopping on his earlier commitments on a general amnesty for all political detainees and the release of those who are elderly and sick, the NDFP still expressed willingness to discuss Duterte’s call for a bilateral ceasefire agreement.

Duterte should not throw away this opportunity. For almost five decades, six regimes with support from the world’s richest economy and most powerful military, the US, have used brutal dictatorship and all-out war, ruthless extrajudicial methods as well as treacherous propaganda to end the civil war, but to no avail.

Despite being up against the formidable machinery and resources of the state and its imperialist backers, the NPA today, under CPP leadership, is said to operate in more than 70 provinces covering hundreds of municipalities and thousands of barangays nationwide and can supposedly move freely in 80% of Philippine territory – a claim bolstered by its string of successful tactical offensives in recent years. (Read here) Indeed, it appears that the negotiating table is the Duterte administration’s best option against the longest running and most resilient insurgency in the region. ###