Date: Mon, 22 Mar 1999 22:59:14 -0600 (CST)
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: PHILIPPINES: Public Grows Tired of War Rhetoric
Article: 58434
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

/** reg.philippine: 101.0 **/
** Topic: IPS: POLITICS-PHILIPPINES: War Rhetoric Peaks, Public Tired of It **
** Written 2:34 PM Mar 20, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:reg.philippine **

War Rhetoric Peaks, Public Tired of It

By Johanna Son, IPS, 17 March 1999

MANILA, Mar 17 (IPS)—The tough talk of war has hung in the air for weeks now, since the Philippine government suspended peace negotiations with the communist-led movement and cancelled talks with Muslim separatists in February.

But little noticed in the din of war rhetoric, and even amid calls for a resumption of negotiations, is the fact that many Filipinos have reacted to these developments with a yawn.

Many of them are simply tired of conflict—be it a battle of soundbytes or talk of large-scale military conflict, which despite the exchange of threats appears unlikely.

Many Filipinos also look askance at the policy of the government of President Joseph Estrada, which appears to signal a return to a military solution to the two peace problems that have been around for decades.

Peace is too important to leave in the hands of men who see the world without nuances. They lose sight of the process and become obsessed with conserving their pride, political analyst Alex Magno wrote in a commentary last week.

The sentiment of disillusionment, indeed fatigue, with both the government and the left is shared by others.

All that both sides want is to make points against each other, hoping that the other side blinks first. No one really has the welfare of the people in mind, argued Paulynn Sicam, writing in the 'Manila Times' over the weekend.

Talks with the leftist umbrella group National Democratic Front (NDF) have been going on, in one form or another, since 1987, a year after the dictator Ferdinand Marcos was deposed.

Formal talks began under former President Fidel Ramos. In late February his successor Joseph Estrada, angered by the abduction of two military officers by a local guerrilla unit outside Davao City in Mindanao in the south, has called off talks.

In kidnapping the officers, who include a brigadier general, the NDF's military arm, the New People's Army (NPA), said they were spies and were guilty of crimes against the people.

The NDF leadership, based in the Netherlands, reacted quickly. It called Estrada a ruffian and vowed to give the Philippine government all out war.

For his part, Estrada, calling the kidnapping an act of treachery and bad faith suspended an agreement giving safe conduct to communist leaders. He says there can be no talks until the captives are freed.

Soon after the suspension of talks with the NDF, a scheduled meeting between Estrada and Hashim Salamat, leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), on Feb 28 was called off due to disagreement on security details.

Estrada then sent naval reinforcements to Mindanao, and visited the region clad in combat fatigues. He ruled out talks with Salamat unless they were on government terms.

President Estrada's war against his own people is being waged with the sound and light effects of a movie—with props and combative language, said political analyst and columnist Amando Doronila.

The government and MILF began initial talks in 1997 and agreed on a tentative truce. The two sides were to draft an agenda for formal negotiations this month.

To many, it is the simmering conflict with the MILF, which seeks a breakaway Islamic state, that is more bothersome because of recent clashes with government soldiers. The military puts the number of MILF fighters at 6,000, though the MILF says it has 60,000. It also runs a sprawling camp in western Mindanao.

The MILF began as a rival faction to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which led a bloody rebellion for self- rule in the seventies and which signed a peace agreement for autonomy with the government in 1996.

Worrisome to many here is not so much the threat of large-scale war, but the realisation than an ill-advised policy may well breathe new life into what is generally seen as rebellions on the wane, especially on the part of the communist insurgency that began in the late sixties.

Despite the positioning by the two sides after the talks' collapse, the resumption of hostilities bruited about has mostly taken the form of verbal tussles between government and the NDF.

That there is no large-scale resumption of fighting reflects the weakening of the communist movement since its peak in the eighties, the ideological splits within the group and the return of democratic institutions to the country.

In the eighties, the NPA was reported to have up to 25,000 fighters, and news of clashes dominated the media. Today estimates put their number at a few thousand fighters.

Of late, a good amount of opinion in the media appears to be agreement that the talks with the NDF were going nowhere.

Jesuit priest Joaquin Bernas, a legal expert, says Estrada could have discontinued the talks (with the NDF) without loud announcement since they had been at a standstill for some time. He says the government and the NDF clearly had irreconcilable positions.

While the two sides had reached agreement on the principles of human rights to govern their actions, implementation became a problem. The NDF wanted Manila to recognise its right to carry it out according to its own judicial system—something Manila rejected as meaning virtual recognition of another government.

It is unclear where Estrada's policy toward the communist and Muslim forces is headed, but his war posturing has impressed few.

Even his predecessor Fidel Ramos, who has pursued a policy of economic development in the restless, Muslim parts of Mindanao, has warned against pursuing a purely military solution.

Doronila says military operations cannot subdue the Muslim resistance and only results in the deaths of civilians and dislocates poor, rural families.

President Estrada is no different from the Latin American tinhorn dictators and juntas who went to war against their own people, he observed. A mailed fist policy is the least successful approach in fighting rebellions.