Friday, October 3, 2008

Senseless War

The recent violent encounters between government soldiers and New People's Army rebels in Lingig town, south of Lianga and near the southern tip of Surigao del Sur is another harsh reminder of how serious a threat to national security and the local peace and order situation the communist insurgency remains. The clashes have intensified despite reassurances from the government and the Philippine armed forces that the more than three decade old revolutionary movement is a spent force and is now supposedly on the wane.

I have lived in Lianga continuously for more than a decade now and today the reality of the situation on the ground there is as clear as it is emphatic. The Maoist insurgency there today may not be as strong and potent as it was in the 1980's and early 1990's when it was on the verge of virtually challenging the duly constituted government for control of many major barangays or villages in the countryside but it remains a clear and constant security threat for the local government and, consequently, all local police and military forces.

This resiliency can be attributed to several factors.

First, the numerous offensive operations conducted by government forces against rebel strongholds over the years have not only been halfhearted and sporadic in nature but they have not been able to address the social, economic and political roots and causes of the insurgency itself. The so called "clearing" operations have done little except to cause untold hardships and grave losses in terms of the lives and properties of the very people in the so called "rebel-influenced" areas that were supposed to be the target of liberation from communist control. Thus such operations only serve to fuel the very insurgency it is seeking so desperately to suppress.

Second, one can argue that the revolutionary movement, at least on the local level, has become, over the years, less and less a struggle based on ideological conflict than a grassroots movement billing itself as fighting for social justice, political and economic equality in an impoverished countryside where political oppression and exploitation of the rural poor is an undeniable fact of everyday life. Thus it has managed to remain relevant and assured of substantial sympathy and support in the rural areas even in an era where "orthodox" communist ideology has been largely discredited and abandoned elsewhere in the world.

Finally, the reality of existing zones of established rebel control and influence, particularly in the Lianga area, built up over decades of government neglect and inability to provide a stable and consistent presence in many remote corners in the rural areas, means that the Maoist insurgency has the advantage of secure areas where they enjoy popular support among local residents and from whom they can avail of not only of protection and refuge but, more importantly, logistical, manpower and intelligence support.

Thus for the government and the armed forces to consider counterinsurgency operations in areas like Lianga as akin to surgical operations wherein you simply go in with numerically superior military forces backed by massive firepower support and expect to rout or wipe out rebel forces within a defined timetable is simply ludicrous if not laughable. The fact that they have tried to do exactly that many times in the past and predictably failed each time eloquently illustrates the stubborn and persistent yet inexplicable adherence to this flawed thinking.

What is clear here is the fact that the communist insurgency in Lianga and elsewhere all over the country is not like a cancerous tumor you can simply surgically excise and dispose of that easily. It is more like a systemic disease that affects and compromises the entire body of the nation. It is an illness of the whole body politic and the national psyche.

The cure, therefore, involves more than just successful military offensives and a high rebel body count or the capture of prominent rebel leaders. A systemic disease requires a systemic cure, a holistic approach, but that seems to be something that both the national and local governments seem to pay mere lip service to but ignore in the long run.

So in Surigao del Sur and in Lianga and in many embattled regions all over this country, the senseless fighting and shedding of blood continues unabated. The social and economic costs of the conflict continue to pile up year after year, decade after decade. And chances are the bloodshed resulting this ceaseless and never ending "shadow war" will continue to rage far into the future, the inevitable consequence of a war of no clear beginnings and no definite, foreseeable end.


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