What was Gen. Esperon thinking?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-03-11
I don’t recall any instance when General Fabian Ver, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff during the Marcos dictatorship, had even come close to displaying the arrogance and gall of a General Hermogenes Esperon.

Gen. Esperon’s deployment of AFP fully armed troops to Metro Manila’s populous blighted communities defies the constitutional principle of civilian supremacy. Metro Manila is not a war zone and there is simply no justification for fully armed troops to be patrolling its communities.

The very fact that Malacanang asked the AFP to explain the troop deployment tells us that Esperon had made the decision on his own. Gen. Esperon’s actuations somehow suggest that indeed the AFP generals are now in charge of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime.

Having been implicated in the Garci tapes, the coffee shop regulars are asking each other these days if Gen. Esperon has such a control now over Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to be able to unilaterally deploy troops in the Metro Manila area. His behavior creates the impression that the AFP Chief is now the Commander-in-Chief, at the top of the chain of command.

A few weeks back, Gen. Esperon personally directed the military court on how to conduct the trial of those officers charged for the February 24, 2006 aborted withdrawal of support, later branded as a coup. Again, I have no knowledge of any other AFP Chief who ever had the temerity to direct the dispensation of justice on his own.

To top it all, Esperon’s unilateral act is a virtual slap in the face of the Philippine National Police. The troop deployment was plain and simple an encroachment of police turf. It is not at all an AFP "civil relations project" as explained in double speak for the public’s confusion.

The presence of fully armed troops in a Metro Manila community can only be intimidating. It is highly irregular as it suggests to Metro residents that a major confrontation is being anticipated. During instances of community disturbances, people expect the police to arrive but not the military.

Besides, the AFP cannot presume to be more effective in community matters than the police. In Malaysia, the police proved to be a more effective counter-insurgency agency over the military precisely because of familiarity with the local area and its residents. Compared to the police, military troops are prone to committing human rights abuses because, unlike the police, they are not rooted to the area.

The only plausible explanations for the AFP troop excursions in Metro Manila are:

1. This is a preliminary step leading to more sinister election operations to scare pro-Opposition voters. Military presence has already been associated with election cheating, conjuring visions of Gen. Esperon and the new Defense Secretary, Hermogenes Ebdane, as among the main cast of characters implicated in the Garci tapes scandal.

2. This is a dry run for a contingency plan to impose "emergency rule" in the event that the Opposition wins the critical number of congressional seats needed to elevate an impeachment case to the Senate.

3. This is part of NSA (National Security Adviser) Norberto Gonzales’ paranoia with the Reds, a witch hunt against the so-called front organization operators of the NDF-CPP-NPA.

The troop deployment was of course a very stupid move, especially coming at the heels of strong criticisms from the international community against political killings for which the AFP leadership had been made to account. Thus, the logical conclusion is that there must be a very pressing reason for Esperon to have ordered it. A failed counter insurgency program

If the Metro Manila troop deployment is a concealed counter-insurgency operation, then it is another step towards repeating the failed Marcos policy of attempting to quash the Red insurgency with brute force. No military offensive can solve the communist insurgency. The insurgency is a political problem that is fueled by extreme poverty and want.

Addressing the insurgency was among the top three priorities of the Cory Aquino government. But the Aquino government had a better approach by using a political weapon against a basically political problem.

President Ramon Magsaysay also had his finger on the right button against the Huk communist rebellion of the 1950s. He knew that only a superior political ideology can fight communism. Magsaysay — with help from the US — used social justice as his main weapon in convincing the Huks under Luis Taruc to give his administration a chance.

Cory Aquino used the new democratic space to entice the communist rebels to join the reconstruction. The ultimate weapon that scuttled the communists and decimated their numbers was the Local Government program under Jimmy Ferrer that successfully transformed communist political fronts into new bulwarks of democracy. Over P2 billion worth of projects were concentrated in known communist political fronts — projects that addressed the most urgent needs of the communities.

The role of the AFP was to remove the presence of the New People’s Army — the armed elements of the communists — so that local government teams could implement the projects. This was the big difference in the approach to the insurgency between the Marcos and Aquino governments. Marcos expanded the Red insurgency while Cory marginalized it.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo duplicates the Marcos mistake by relying on the likes of General Jovito Palparan in fighting the insurgency. Arroyo should be using the Interior and Local Government Secretary to spearhead the anti-insurgency effort.

Stopping the communist insurgency is a political effort and less of a military fight. Social justice and development, not more repression, are what will stop the communist insurgency.

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