A prescription for peace

By Dr. Dante Ang
(published in the Opinion Section of The Manila Times, on January 6, 2011, page A4)

DESPITE my reservations about the competence of the members of the GRP peace panel, it is my hope that succeed in forging an honorable peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the CPP/NPA/NDF.

The Filipino has suffered long enough as a result of the fratricidal insurgency/secessionist wars that have been going on for decades. The government is engaged on two fronts: one against the MILF and another against the NPA. The MILF is after secession. Their objective is to create their own Islamic State, the Bangsa Moro Republic; while the CPP/NPA aims to overthrow the existing order and replace it with their own brand of discredited Socialism.

Convincing the hard-core rebels to abandon their cause and join the government is like shooting for the moon. It would be very difficult, if not nearly impossible. The fight should focus on “winning the hearts and minds” of the people; of drying up the pool from whose water the enemies of the State draw their support.

How then do you win the hearts and minds of the people? How do you dry up the pond to isolate the ideologues?

The prescriptions are not new. Our leaders have been talking about them for years on end. Nothing has happened. We are still where we were decades ago, if not in a far worse situation. Why?

To achieve a lasting and meaningful peace, we need—to borrow a phrase from Plato’s “Republic”—a strong republic where justice is dispensed blindly, laws are enforced and obeyed, wealth is democratized, where the citizens reign supreme, public servants serve the people with honor and integrity and where the leaders rule with the consent of the governed.

In my encounters with the late MILF Chairman Hashim Salamat and the NPA spokesman Ka Roger, one glaring reality stood out.

They operate successfully in areas characterized by extreme poverty, ignorance, social injustice and abuses by the rich and the powerful.

On the way to the mountain where I was to rendezvous with Ka Roger, I passed by a barangay where no noticeable able-bodied adults could be seen. Only the women and children remained to tend the fields and other crops. The men, I was told later, had left their families behind to join the NPA in the jungles and mountains in the Southern Tagalog and the Bicol regions.

The NPA fills the void. They operate in areas where government presence is zero; they have the gift to set up a command post, or their version of a local government. Local residents, as a result, turn to the NPA for guidance and governance. The Left dispenses justice, their brand of justice, and helps provide livelihood to the residents. Thieves are rounded up and brought swiftly to justice. Wayward barangay officials and police authorities are treated no differently from common criminals. They go through a trial and, if found guilty, are meted just punishments.

Grassroots residents applaud the NPA brand of justice. They consider it “fair, objective and swift.” Compare that with our justice system. The guilty are acquitted while the innocent are incarcerated. The rich and the powerful, through their equally well-connected lawyers, buy the court’s decisions to win favors.

The justice system in our country is skewed. Admittedly, honest members may be found on the bench. But I cannot honestly say if they belong to the majority or the minority. Still, there remain upright, God-fearing fiscals, judges and justices.

Unfortunately, corruption in and out of the courts is endemic. Ask any lawyer of note. He will tell you how screwed our judiciary is. Ask the victims of injustice. They will tell you how they’ve lost their cases to corruption.

Go to those rural areas where practically no government exists. Talk to the poor farmers how they cope daily, ask them who they turn to for their survival, for money to buy seeds and other farm inputs for their crops.

Ask them where they go to for redress of grievances and for justice. Ask them where they go to seek medical help for their sick children and members of their family. Ask the youths where they study or, if they have a job, what kind of work. Their stories will move you to tears and compel you to thank God for the NPA. Ask them how they were oppressed by their landlords, how the rich and the powerful exploited them, how the authorities abused them and how they were denied justice by our courts. These are only some of the anecdotes that will make you swear against the government.

Look at their hollowed eyes, their sad, gaunt, wrinkled faces made older by their constant exposure to the sun while tending their farms. Feel their emptiness and hopelessness. Multiply their misery by a hundredfold and you will come to understand why the ranks of the NPA continue to swell.

President Noynoy Aquino 3rd is off to a good start. He is honest and transparent (too transparent at times for his own good). He won the Presidency with an unprecedented margin over his closest rival, a very convincing victory.

He should employ his political capital to address the ills that have plagued our country for centuries. He is in a unique and strong position to institute reforms. People trust him. They have confidence in him. Unfortunately, he is a one-time President. He cannot afford to lose time.

The issues are complex and the solutions are not simple. Addressing our national problems is a work in progress. But the work has to begin here, now, with the President leading the campaign to lift the Filipino up from the gutter of economic decay and social malaise.

The President must demonstrate political will in addressing our national difficulties: Corruption, poverty, ignorance, corporate greed, poor social services, lawlessness, judicial injustice and other widespread headaches.

For the President must seize the moment or lose the opportunity for change. So high are the people’s expectations; he cannot fail them. Destiny has placed him at a time and place where he must pick up the banner in the battle waged by Ninoy and Cory for freedom and fulfillment. To falter is to fail his parents and the masses of Filipinos. It’s now or never.#

This article is also published on the THE MANILA TIMES website.