Tuesday, December 21, 2010

AFP unveils new anti-insurgency plan

Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo David unveiled on Tuesday the Philippine military's new counterinsurgency plan, Bayanihan,, which focuses on measures to cut poverty to defeat communist and Muslim rebels.

David presented Bayanihan to President Benigno Aquino III during ceremonies held in Camp Aguinaldo to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The internal peace and security plan, which the military will enforce from Jan. 1 next year up until the end of Aquino’s term, replaces the controversial Oplan Bantay Laya I and II, which were implemented mostly during the past Arroyo administration.

Under the new plan, the military will “focus on winning the peace, rather than simply defeating the enemy," David said, even as he sought public support for the military’s efforts to address the country’s various security threats.

For the past 40 years, the Philippines has been fighting communist and Moro rebellions that have killed more than 160,000 people, displaced millions and hampered the development of the resource-rich country.

Under Bayanihan, troops will be shifted from combat operations to civilian-military work, such as building roads, schools, clinics and potable water systems in conflict areas across the country.

“We shall embark on a paradigm shift," said David of the new plan.

“This could be one of the most daring challenges (for) the institution, as it involves a change in our way of thinking, a change of mindset," he said.

Human rights will be the guide

In September, the Armed Forces solicited civilian participation in the crafting of the new plan.

A month earlier and against strong opposition from human rights groups, it decided to extend Oplan Bantay Laya for six months, after the campaign had expired together with the end of the Arroyo administration in June.

Bantay Laya’s extension was sharply criticized by human rights advocates, who said that it would only bring a worsening of summary executions in the country. 

Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Jose Melo, who headed a fact-finding body that investigated the rash of media killings during the Arroyo administration, was among those who expressed unease over the campaign’s extension.

Melo explained that in 2006, there were 144 victims of extrajudicial killings. All of these victims were unarmed and many of them had been abducted before they were killed.

Many human rights groups have also said that the anti-insurgency campaigns merely target unarmed activists on the basis that they are suspected communist rebels.

But as he unveiled the new plan on Tuesday, David vowed that the soldiers who will enforce Bayanihan will be guided by the “respect for human rights and international humanitarian law… and the rule of law."

“Military operations will be in support to the government’s peace initiatives," he said. He did not elaborate, however, how this would be done.

According to the AFP chief, Bayanihan was crafted by the office of the AFP deputy chief of staff for operations in consultation with civic and government groups.

Security threats listed

Speaking at the anniversary ceremony, President Aquino ordered troops to put more effort into delivering social services and building rural infrastructure rather than chasing rebels.

If we can stop poverty, then we can stop the war and the shooting, Aquino said.

Saying that sustained peace was needed to foster growth and investment, he also announced that his government would nearly double monthly combat pay of the troops, and promised housing and medical benefits for soldiers.

He also pledged to upgrade the military's capabilities to defeat internal threats and to protect the country's exclusive economic zones from poachers, smugglers and pirates.

The military furnished the media with copies of Bayanihan, holding true to its earlier promise to disclose the plan to the public.

In contrast, the armed forces had kept Oplan Bantay Laya I and II, secret in the past.

The internal peace and security plan listed a number of groups that posed threats to the country’s security, including the New People’s Army (NPA), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and private armed groups.

The plan also provided a summary status of each group: It said that the NPA, with less than 5,000 members, was still a primary threat since it wielded influence over about 2.4 percent of all the country’s villages.

According to Bayanihan, the MILF has about 10,500 fighters, but its clout is felt in about 18 percent of Mindanao’s 9,962 barangays.

The plan, noted, however, that the MILF, “has shown willingness" to reach a negotiated peace settlement with government.

The Abu Sayyaf has around 400 members with about 300 firearms, as well as linkages with the MILF, MNLF, and the JI and other foreign terrorist organizations, which it could leverag, the plan also revealed.

According to the new security plan, in the first quarter of 2010, there were about 50 foreign terrorists in the country, 28 of which are JI members, and all connected with the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

According to Bayanihan, the “primary impact" of JI and the other foreign terrorists to internal peace and security “is their transfer of terrorist knowledge," including the assembly and use of improvised bombs, to local groups.

“Foreign terrorists however have limited capability to launch attacks, relying on the support of local armed threat groups," the plan warned.

Soldiers from the United States, a close ally of the Philippines, have been operating in Mindanao since 2002. By providing medical care and repairing schools and roads, American troops have counseled their Filipino counterparts on how to defeat Islamist militants with ties to al Qaeda. — DM/KBK, GMANews.TV

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