The sound and fury over the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is obscuring all other issues of national importance. The questionable dominion and unexplainable provisions have raised the hackles of many Filipinos, a development that has in turn put the leadership on shaky ground. The entire BBL has become a very contentious issue that has drained the nation of its precious time, resources, initiatives, attention and priorities. We have lost sight of other equally, if not more, important concerns that affect peace and security.
Political leaders have become fixated on the growing restiveness of the populace owing to the contentiousness of the BBL that they have failed to keep sight of developments outside of the BBL. Much of the BBL controversy has spawned from this flawed mindset, one that has put blinders on those in charge, leading to the loss of perspective on the big picture and the long-term needs of this nation of Filipinos.
One major area of concern is the scourge of global terrorism, and this has not been factored into the peace agenda. This threat has transcended national, regional and global boundaries. Let us ask this simple question: Will the BBL be an effective deterrent to contain and counter the growing influence of Islamist movements, especially the ISIS? Is the government prepared and ready to face the effects, implications and consequences of global terror?
International terrorism is a major threat that gives credence and fans the flame of the different Islamic threat groups. It is from this scourge that the MILF, MNLF, ASG, BIFF, and other secessionist elements have drawn and continue to draw inspiration. Because of the sustained momentum of international terrorist groups through the years, the local counterparts have found the will to pursue their armed struggle.
This preoccupation with achieving their own separatist agenda, amid the political dynamic in Mindanao, has led to decades of hostilities, resulting in significant economic and social sufferings in the region. The separatist struggle of the MILF, MNLF, ASG, BIFF and all other related groups has been sustained with the use of force and violence, victimizing the ordinary Filipino, disregarding the impact of such a protracted struggle means.
Yet even as one group emerges as the dominant force, and opts to work out a peaceful resolution, the experience of recent years show that the intention is not necessarily the outcome. When the government entered into a peace agreement with the MNLF during President Ramos’ regime, it marginalized other threat groups, particularly the MILF.
The huge government support and attention extended to the ARMM did not result in the desired growth and development; what was supposed to be a showcase of peace and security turned out to be a failed exercise. They did not take the full opportunity to transform ARMM into a success story of development.
And here we are once more.
If BBL is passed, will the MILF go the same route? Will they ever exercise good governance? Will they ever exercise prudence in the use of funds? There is another question that begs to be answered: If your core competencies revolve around force, violence, and intimidation, how can you shift gears to adhere to productive endeavors, peaceful methods and consultative governance? And yet another question that should be asked: Will they be able to completely sever their relationship with other threat groups?
After the 2002 Bali bombing, we saw the rise of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and its influence as its activities crept deep into the Asean region. To this day, the threat remains, the violence has not subsided; sadly, its influence has even expanded. JI has exported trainors, firearms and financial support to MILF, MNLF, BIFF, ASG and other threat groups. They have solicited benefactors from Middle Eastern countries, courtesy of the al-Qaida network, which has become the wellspring of their strength through which funds and resources continue to flow unchecked.
Furthermore, why have we depended so much on Malaysia to broker our peace effort, when we know explicitly well that they are more sympathetic to and biased for the MILF than our own government? We have to knock our heads once in a while to maintain our rationality. The murmurs of the crowd are reaching a crescendo, there is a roaring in our collective consciousness that we must not ignore.
At a time when our Government was negotiating peace with the MILF, the MNLF staged the Zamboanga siege while the BIFF and ASG continued to intensify their violent activities. It is absurd to think that the MILF has not contributed to the increased violence in Mindanao in recent times. All threat groups in the area have crossed organizational relationships, through ideology, religion, fraternal and family ties.
The rise of terrorism can also be attributed to the government’s lack of appreciation of the threat that it poses to the national landscape, and its inability to recognize it as high priority. The government has entered into numerous bilateral and multilateral agreements with many countries on terrorism, but it has not reduced the threat to manageable levels. Mindanao has a porous border where entry of arms and terrorists is easy and convenient. This negligence has fed the MNLF, MILF, BIFF and ASG appetite for arms and war equipment. It has also sustained their economic necessities.
Our loose border control system and ineffective immigration management are contributory to this dilemma. Furthermore, capital outlay for national security has been slanted toward the procurement of hard defense assets to address the threat in the West Philippine Sea, at the expense of the Mindanao security requirements to strengthen its porous coastline to contain and deny the entry of hardware and human resource to fuel terrorism.
With the outbreak of the Islamic ISIS, global terror has been further aggravated. It is therefore of primordial importance to answer the wake-up call to confront the war on terror, and simultaneously address the concerns of the BBL. By all means, the BBL track should be relentlessly pursued because its final resolution will strengthen our position to confront terrorism. The BBL can be a partner and ally in this endeavor.
Why have we missed the opportunity to address the wrath of terrorism? It is because the leadership requirements that are essential and necessary to ably attend to the demands of simultaneous crisis and conflicts did not match the leadership capabilities of the leader in residence. Past decisions were tainted with vested interests. It is not only evident in the circumstances of the Mamasapano clash, but also in the Luneta hostage-taking incident, the Zamboanga siege and other crises. There is a consistency of failure. There is a vacuum of leadership that has become more pronounced in the harsh light of day after the Mamasapano massacre.
Chain of command
Calling for the President’s resignation will only widen and worsen the leadership gap. A manifest and decisive leadership is the basic ingredient of an effective chain of command. We must participate in rebuilding confidence in the Presidency, in the authority and supremacy of the highest office of the land. This can only happen by assuming full responsibility … by not passing the blame to subordinate commanders, and by not driving a wedge between the AFP and the PNP.
If needed, the one in charge has to project the attributes of combat leadership; meaning, he needs to assume a warrior’s mindset under extreme situations in order to attain a competitive spirit and achieve a convincing victory. There is a need for the Commander-in-Chief to have an open mind and heed the counsel of seasoned field commanders. This will not only enhance his confidence level, but also restore public confidence in the institutions and people who are sworn to defend and protect.
The disciplined exercise of command and leadership can upgrade the management of our country’s contribution to the global war on terror as well as the commitment to realign and straighten the details of the BBL for an enlightened peace and security agenda.
(This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is Ret. 42nd Commanding General of the Philippine Army. He served as combat commander in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and in East Timor and Chair Emeritus of the UP Alumni Association..Feedback at
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Lt. Gen. Jaime S. de los Santos (Ret)
12:24 AM | Monday, March 30th, 2015