Monday, December 3, 2007

Postscript to "Questions"

The on-going offensive by government troops against NPA guerrillas in the hinterlands of Diatagon must be really heating up. Since Saturday, the thumping sound of Philippine Army helicopters could be heard all over Lianga as they passed over the town at low altitude on their way to provide air support to Army troopers, that reports from Diatagon are saying, have been engaging the rebels in sporadic firefights since early Saturday morning.

The same unconfirmed reports have also indicated that government forces have airlifted to hospitals in Butuan City in Agusan del Sur an undetermined number of wounded personnel for medical treatment. The communist insurgents are also said to have incurred casualties based on the blood trails supposedly found at the encounter sites.

The current military operations in the Diatagon area are now appearing to be part of a serious push by the government to fight, contain, if not eliminate the insurgency problem in this area, a tall order if we were to review the rather checkered history of the government's counterinsurgency program in this part of the country. Yet there is astonishingly little or no real news or information about it coming from official sources or from the print, radio or television news media organizations. If this is due to a deliberate news blackout imposed by the military or the government one can never be sure.

What is sure is that the armed conflict there is causing havoc and disrupting the lives of hundreds of residents living in the affected mountain villages and communities. The hundreds of evacuees living in the Diatagon barangay gymnasium is proof of that. The military, of course, considers most of them NPA sympathizers or supporters but be that as it may, if one is poor and uneducated and forced by circumstances to live in a so called "Communist influenced or controlled" area, what else can you be?

And what about the residents of Lianga and Diatagon and all the other nearby municipalities and barangays already anxious and deeply concerned that the armed hostilities will spill over into their own communities? Not an altogether a remote possibility if we are again to base such fears and concerns on what has transpired in the not so recent past when similar military operations have been conducted in the area.

What is really the objective of this ongoing military offensive? Is it an attempt to solve the long festering problem of an armed insurgency solely by force of arms where proper education, genuine economic development and good government should be given more focus? Or are there other real reasons for the government's sudden interest in "flushing communist rebels" from their "communist rebel strongholds?"

One wonders if the real rationale for this armed conflict is more economic rather than political and if the real issue at heart is not the crushing or destruction of a protracted armed insurgency, one anchored supposedly on the precepts and doctrines of an already discredited ideology, but an attempt to wrestle control and influence over a stretch of territory fabled to be rich in mineral resources and lush with timberlands prime for commercial exploitation.

I wonder indeed.

I could, of course, be wrong. But as the casualty lists on both sides of this conflict grow longer and the number of displaced and affected civilians and noncombatants increase day by day, it becomes imperative that the people of Diatagon and Lianga start asking their government to account for the high human cost of the ongoing conflict and reveal, once and for all, for what such a high price is being paid for and why are they paying part of the price for something they don't have even any idea what.

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