The folly of an all-out war versus the MILF
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-10-27
When President Joseph Estrada declared an all-out war against the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) on March 21, 2000, many typically over entertained and under informed Filipinos supported it. They failed to understand the realities of fighting an insurgency and were mesmerized by the initial AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) field victories, including the capture of the MILF headquarters — Camp Abubakar.

The MILF doesn’t operate under conventional warfare where certain territories MUST be held at all costs. It’s engaged in guerrilla warfare and that mandates that the MILF fighters have to remain fluid, easily regrouping their units for an attack or dispersing to avoid heavy casualties. The MILF knew that defending Camp Abubakar would have resulted in too many casualties on their side. Following the dictum of guerrilla warfare, they opted to cede the camp and regroup elsewhere.

Estrada’s predecessor, President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR), had a better perspective towards the MILF secessionist rebellion. FVR allowed them to hold territories. He constructed a highway that runs deep into MILF territory that was heralded as the start of development in the area. More than the development, what FVR was constructing was a highway that could improve AFP access to the MILF fronts.

Where Estrada pursued an all-out war, FVR, a former soldier, pursued all-out peace. FVR knew what the costs of war would inflict on our people and economy. The supreme idiocy of Estrada’s all-out war was that he was waging this while we were already reeling from the effects of the Asian Currency Crisis. The economy was doing much better during the term of FVR but he avoided the costs of war.

The Iraq War and how it brought down the US economy vindicated FVR’s position about avoiding war. There are no sure winners in war. There’s no forecasting the cost of war as the Iraq War misadventure has proved. The US had a budget surplus before the Iraq War. Look at the US financial state now.

Our country’s present state may be considered worse off than during the time of Joseph Estrada. At no time has the poverty and hunger situation been as bad as it is today. If Estrada could not afford all-out war then, P-Noy knows that all-out war will derail the programs that he has launched to address poverty, improve education and stimulate investments. Estrada was just lucky that he did not last long enough to experience the downside of his all-out war folly.

If deprived of their strongholds, the MILF could resort to urban terrorism. Estrada failed to grasp that. Bombs exploding everywhere in Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao and other major cities would cost us more. In this regard, it was better for the MILF to hold on to Camp Abubakar and concentrate on pursuing their objective via political means like negotiations.

The MILF problem isn’t just confined to dealing with our Muslim brothers. There are external major players we have to deal with – Malaysia, the US and even China. China would prefer that the MILF does not gain the autonomy that the aborted MoA-BJE (Memorandum of Agreement — Bangsamoro Juridical Entity) was about to establish.

Under the MoA-BJE terms and conditions, a vital part of Mindanao and a portion of Southern Palawan would have facilitated US military intentions to control the South China Sea. What the US could not be allowed to establish because of our Constitution, the US could attain through an MILF BJE. That would certainly heighten US-China tensions in our region.

P-Noy knows that his vision for our country cannot be attained while we’re engaged on several war fronts. Note how these clashes have escalated on both the Communist and Muslim Separatist fronts. For the Reds, they feel that a P-Noy success to improve socio-economic conditions would take the wind off their sail. For the MILF, these clashes are designed to force the government to accede to the MILF preferred terms and conditions for the peace settlement.

To fully appreciate the Mindanao problem, we must know the role Mindanao and Palawan will play in controlling the South China Sea. For the US, control of the South China Sea would enhance their imperial presence and dominance in Asia. Japan’s determination to remove US bases makes the US need for bases in Mindanao and Palawan more desperate. The US can only assume a defensive posture from Guam.

The Taiwan plan to deploy missiles in order to protect their claims to the oil and gas in the Spratlys brings all players closer to confrontation. One clash between China and Taiwan in the Spratlys could trigger armed hostilities involving all claimants. Guess who among the country claimants has the least capable military and the weakest economy.

Only smart statecraft can veer our country away from the perils of the emerging conflict over the control of the South China Sea. We have no all-out war option. We must remove from our minds this fantasy of a Rambo winning the battle for us. We have no Rambo and if there will be fighting against another nation, we will have to do the fighting.

Against China, our AFP cannot even hope to put up a decent fight even if all 18-year-olds and older men are inducted into military service.

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