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Dole-out or fall-out?

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I can understand why the Aquino administration allocated P39 billion for the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) to be doled out to 2.3 million poor households.  But to give P5 million to Muslim rebels and another P31 million to the dreaded Alex Boncayao Brigade is beyond reason.  What is President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III up to?  What did he plan – or hope -- to achieve?  Peace?  Forget it!  He’s got a Chinaman’s chance in seeing peace during his presidency. He is only wasting taxpayers’ money.  He could have put the P36 million to good use in helping the poorest of the poor.
Shortly after P-Noy gave the Muslim Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) the P5-million dole-out, a platoon of Army special forces soldiers were ambushed by “lawless elements” of the MILF in Basilan province in which 19 soldiers were killed.  

The Aquino administration justified the P5-million dole-out by saying that the Arroyo administration promised to provide the MILF with funds to set up the Bangsamoro Management and Leadership Institute (BMLI) in 2006.  However, the project never got off the ground. 

*Buying peace

According to news reports, P-Noy gave the P5-million check to MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim when they secretly met in a Tokyo hotel last August 5, 2011. But where did the P5 million go?

Some people have aired their concerns that the P5-million dole-out may have been misused to purchase arms and ammunition.  This led Malacañang to demand for a full accounting of the money.  To date, none was made. 

Meanwhile, the “lawless elements” continue their attacks on government troops while government forces continue to hunt for MILF Commander Dan Asnawi, the leader of the “lawless elements” in Basilan.  But in an act of defiance, the MILF told the government negotiators in Kuala Lumpur that MILF is protecting Asnawi and that he “enjoys safe haven in its camp.”  So, not only did the government squander P5 million, it lost the lives of 19 soldiers. 

*Peace with communist rebels

In the wake of the controversial P5-million dole-out, another prickly issue came out of the woodwork when one of the newspapers headlined, “Gov’t spending P31-M to help Alex Boncayao Brigade.” 

In the early 1990s, the dreaded Manila-based Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB), the death squad of the New People’s Army (NPA), the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), sowed terror with the assassination of more than 200 government officials.  

In 1992, another communist group operating in the Visayas, led by Arturo Tabara, broke away from the CPP-NPA.  Calling itself the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa ng Pilipinas (RPMP) or Revolutionary Workers Party, it formed its own military arm, the Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA).  In 1997, RPMP-RPA and ABB merged into one, the RPMP-RPA-ABB. 

In 2000, during the presidency of Joseph “Erap” Estrada, P-Noy’s uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco brokered a peace agreement between the government and the RPMP-RPA-ABB.  The agreement was supposedly signed on December 6, 2000 by then Agriculture Secretary and now-Sen. Edgardo Angara and Nilo de la Cruz, the head of MRMP-RPA-ABB, in Negros Occidental where the Cojuangcos owned large tracts of land.  However, Erap – who was ousted on January 20, 2001 -- denied that the agreement was signed during his time. 

But the Cojuangco-brokered agreement did not push through because RPMP-RPA-ABB refused to turn over their weapons claiming that they had to protect themselves from the CPP-NPA who had targeted them for assassination.  Interestingly, according to De la Cruz, the “cessation of hostilities” between his group and the government is holding to this day.  However, incidents of armed violence involving members of RPMP-RPA-ABB are still reported in the news as recent as October 31, 2011.

The recent initiative of the Aquino administration to pursue peace with RPMP-RPA-ABB is questioned by various sectors.  Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita “Ging” Deles said that the purpose of the Aquino administration is to put an end to armed rebellion.  Using the peace agreement with the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) as a model, the government hopes that the deal with RPMP-RPA-ABB would transform it from an armed group to a socio-economic organization.  One of the conditions is for RPMP-RPA-ABB members to register their firearms but not necessarily surrender them.  However, they will not be given permits to carry firearms outside their homes.  

On the surface, the peace agreement looks good.  But like any “peace” agreement, it’s only as good as the paper it was written on.  If peace is to prosper, there should be sustained economic progress; otherwise, the rebels – like in the past -- would most likely go back to the hills to wage war against the government.  

*The price of peace

In my article, “The elusive peace in Mindanao” (October 28, 2011), I wrote: “Ultimately, P-Noy has to deal with the biggest challenge of all: There will be no peace in Mindanao unless the issue of social and economic justice is resolved.  However, even if peace were achieved, it would not last long without prosperity.”

In another article, “The Landed and the Landless” (October 21, 2005), I wrote: “The latest problem involving Hacienda Luisita has brought to the forefront one big issue that has caused societal and economic problems -- and bloodshed -- in the history of the Philippines. ‘Land ownership,’ the Filipinos’ ultimate dream, has been the exclusive domain of the rich. Truly, ‘land ownership’ separates the rich from the poor -- the landed from landless.”

*Lesson from history

In 1950, then-Secretary of National Defense Ramon Magsaysay turned the tide against the communist Hukbalahaps or “Huks” when he adopted the Huks’ slogan, “Land for the Landless,” as the government’s own slogan in fighting the Huk rebellion.  In less than two years, he broke the back of the Huk movement. Those who surrendered their arms were given a large tract of land to own and a carabao and a plow to till the land.  In 1953, Magsaysay ran and won the presidency by a large majority of the voters.  His mantra, “Those who have less in life should have more in law,” became the hallmark of his administration.  

President Aquino should – nay, must! – realize that it would take more than dole-outs to achieve lasting peace… and that economic and land reforms are inherent in the pursuit of peace and prosperity.  He seems to have the passion for peace.  But does he have the political will to achieve it?
At the end of the day, President Aquino’s attempt to buy peace with dole-outs could end in a fall-out that could push the insurgency back to where it all began... the colorums’ fight for social justice almost a century ago.

By Perry Diaz




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