We can't afford the cost of an all-out war
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-07-19
We cannot afford an all-out war in Mindanao simply because war is never the option of the weak state.

War is usually waged by those who believe that they enjoy the advantage in numbers, weaponry and other factors that ensure military victory. Otherwise, to wage a war you cannot win is to do the insane, the irrational.

History is replete with regimes that made the monumental blunder of entering into a war they couldn't win. There are even those who thought that they were the favored winner and subsequently suffered humiliating defeat. Tsarist Russia committed both mistakes — costing the Romanov dynasty to end in a tragic family massacre.

Tsarist Russia went into war with Japan, thinking perhaps that a post-industrial revolution European country cannot lose to an Asian country. Japan won that war. Then a few years later Tsarist Russia joined World War I and the entire family of the Tsar was killed by the Bolsheviks in the aftermath of the revolution that the World War I mistake triggered.

Who knows — maybe those who cannot wait for the end of the Arroyo regime is egging it to go on an all-out war in Mindanao thinking that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) will follow in the footsteps of Tsar Nicholas Romanov II. While that could well be the result of an all-out war, realistically the country stands to pay an even greater price.

Presidents Ferdinand E. Marcos and Fidel V. Ramos enjoyed far healthier economies in 1975 and 1995, respectively. But they had the wisdom to foresee what war with the Muslims could cost the country and they both wisely sued for peace.

In contrast, Joseph "Erap" Estrada, perhaps thinking that he was still acting out one of his movie roles, went into an all-out war with the Muslims at a time when the economy was reeling from the effects of the 1997 Asian Currency Crisis. He merely succeeded in making a bad situation worse.

GMA, who we thought would be smarter than Erap, followed the all-out war route. Perhaps, by no coincidence, they both had my friend, Angie Reyes, as Armed Forces Chief of Staff.

A good 18 months before the Oakwood Mutiny, I warned GMA in my INQ7 column that the war in Mindanao was creating a tremendous pressure on the junior officers and soldiers. I was still COPA (Council on Philippine Affairs) chairman and member at the time and our vast information network (that extended from the Left and the Right and most of what are in between) supplied us regularly with details of the demoralization that the war front was creating.

Among the biggest issues I mentioned in that column is the lack of proper logistical support our soldiers complained about. When the Oakwood Mutiny happened, that was one of the major issues that now- Senator Antonio Trillanes IV raised.

Do we really think that a GMA regime that does not enjoy the support of majority of Filipinos and is plagued by a military with serious internal problems — can win over the Muslims whose ancestors the imperial powers Spain and the US could not defeat and suppress? The Moros stood their ground against these imperial powers sans the backing of other nations.

What if it so happens that the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) turns out to be supported by other Muslim states or the US? The US is known to be considering the creation of an independent state for Muslim Mindanao with them as its protector. Can an Arroyo regime that does not have the support of majority of Filipinos or the full support of its armed forces ever hope to win that all-out war?

And even if the AFP can succeed in drawing the MILF to engage them in a conventional battle (which is seriously doubted) and win that battle — what happens if the MILF resorts to outright terrorism and starts detonating bombs in cities all over the country? What happens when they start placing bombs in our commercial planes, buses, public places, ships and so forth?

What happens when they start adopting the strategy of the Palestinian and Iraqi suicide bombers? Don’t forget that the Moro juramentados are the progenitors of the suicide bombers, rather low-tech perhaps by comparison but just as deadly.

What happens when they pose as a sorbetero outside of La Salle Greenhills and detonates a bomb inside the sorbetes cart when young kids are gathered nearby? What happens when they plant well-dressed suicide bombers in major international events held here? What happens if they send a sabotage team to detonate bombs in the oil depot near Malacañang Palace? What happens when they blow up the MRT and LRT tracks?

What happens when we stop venturing outside of our homes for fear of what might explode where we are going? What happens when our children are out there in school and we are left to do nothing but worry and perhaps pray the whole day until they get home?

What happens when the economy goes bust? What happens when the conflict in the military — pressured by another all-out war — blows up into open confrontation between the senior and junior officers? What happens when the Opposition seizes the chance to take over and joins the junior officers? Is that not tantamount to civil war?

Armed Forces Chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon was not telling the whole truth when he said that all-out war is the last option. From where I sit, wrecking another chair, all-out war is simply not an option.

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