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Aquino’s “Oplan Bayanihan”: Replicating a failed US Counterinsurgency Guide

Presentation at the International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines

Quezon City, Philippines
19 July 2013

PANEL 2. US geopolitical and military strategies in the Asia-Pacific and the Aquino government’s Oplan Bayanihan

President, Makabayan People’s Coalition
President, Bayan Muna

It was quaint how Benigno S. Aquino III — 18 days before he was elected President of the Philippines on May 10, 2010 – defined the “four key elements” of what he envisioned as his administration’s national security policy. The four elements he cited now constitute the “national strategic guideline” of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ counterinsurgency plan, “Oplan Bayanihan”.

He put forward the four key elements in his speech at a Peace and Security Forum held at the Mandarin Oriental Manila on April 22. Aquino, then a senator aspiring for the presidency, laid the ground for his proposition by chastising the outgoing administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for its failures, in these words:

“For nine long years the Arroyo administration has failed to put in place a coherent National Security Policy that addresses the root causes of strife and conflict… The absence of a clear national policy and a coherent strategy for peace negotiations led to confusion and false expectations across the table.” (The second sentence pertains to the bungled peace negotiations between the Arroyo government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front: an agreement on ancestral domain set to be signed by the two sides in August 2008 was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.)

The next administration, Aquino segued, “will have to pick up the pieces and resume the quest forpeacewith vigor and clarity of purpose.” Sounding like a man of action he had not been known for, Aquino set these following steps for the next government:

  1. Complete the drafting, “within the first three months of the next administration,” of a comprehensive National Security Policy that “will guide our national defense and internal security policies that, in turn, will shape our respective national military and law enforcement strategies”;
  2. The document should be a product of consultations among “various stakeholders, including representatives from the different components of the security sector and other agencies”; and
  3. The work should be completed by the end of 2010.

Then he identified the four key elements on which the national security policy must focus:

  1. Governance (the government must be present and accountable to its citizens);
  2. Delivery of basic services (health and education especially to depressed and vulnerable villages in conflict areas with the help of international partners, the private sector and non-profit organizations);
  3. Economic reconstruction andsustainable development (economic reconstruction of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao should be fully integrated in all Mindanao-wide and national development plans); and
  4. Security sectorreform (begin with restoring the pride and honor of the uniformed services) .

The full text of Aquino’s speech was posted in the Internet. It contained a footnote to the afore-cited four elements, which states: “These elements are derived from a universally accepted template for post-conflict stability, reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts used in such war-torn places as Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan.”

Why, one may ask: Rather than deeply analyze the “root causes of the armed conflicts” in the context of prevailing conditions in his country (in order to identify the appropriate solutions that he must pursue), Mr. Aquino opted to apply the template used by the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan? These are the three countries where the US had launched wars of intervention in the past decade, wherein it has been mired in trying to resolve a multiplicity of problems, and from which the Obama administration now desperately seeks to disengage.

Or did Aquino believe that because the template was denoted by the US as “universally accepted” it could very well apply to the Philippines?

The answer to both questions is this: In crafting their internal security policies and counterinsurgency operational plans — specifically against the Left revolutionary armed movement, led by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army for 44 years now — all the six governments starting from the Marcos martial-law dictatorship (1972-86), without exception, have relied heavily on US military advice or guidance. They all adopted the US template as it evolved through the numerous American wars of intervention (that began with the Philippine-American war at the turn of the 20th century).

A review of the Aquino government’s performance in the past three years reveals that it has not – or it has evaded – seriously analyzing and addressing the root causes of the armed conflict. It has relied on superficial “peace and development” programs undertaken in conflict-affected areas. Yet it continues to use as mantra the clause “address the root causes” for resolving the armed conflict with the CPP-NPA.

Oplan Bayanihan vis-a-vis US COIN Guide

On January 1, 2011 – when Aquino had been President for six months — the AFP made public (in booklet form) its Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP), the counterinsurgency plan called “Oplan Bayanihan”. In his message Aquino says the plan “opens up space for the involvement of the Filipino people in defining, shaping, and ensuring our peace and security as a nation.” He called on the entire citizenry to “join the AFP in translating this national aspiration to reality.”

And there, listed down as the IPSP “National Strategic Guidance”, are the four key elements Aquino had lined up in his April 22 speech.

By adopting the four elements as strategic guidance, the IPSP establishes a direct correlation or kinship with the 2009 U.S. Counterinsurgency Guide. This document was issued two years earlier (January 11, 2009) jointly by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and USAID Administrator Henrietta Fore.

The preface to the COIN Guide adverts to America’s “prolonged counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq” from which experiences the document “distills the best of contemporary thought, historical knowledge, and hard-won practice.” We can safely assume that the four key elements adopted by the IPSP are deemed as part of those “distillations”.

US counterinsurgency practice, the preface elaborates, rests on a number of assumptions: 1) “that the decisive effort is rarely military, although security is the essential prerequisite of success; 2) “that our efforts must be directed to the creation of local and national government structures that will serve their populations, and over time, replace the efforts of foreign partners (read: American forces)”; 3) “that superior knowledge, and in particular, understanding of the ‘human terrain’ is essential”; and 4) “that we must have the patience to persevere in what will necessarily prove long struggles.”

These assumptions, or COIN Guide premises, surface in several sections of the IPSP document (albeit in slightly modified terms), as we shall see in the following examples:

  1. On counterinsurgency – COIN Guide: Counterinsurgency “is the blend of comprehensive civilian and military efforts designed to simultaneously contain insurgency and address its root causes… non-military means are often the most effective elements, with military forces playing an enabling role.”= The IPSP “gives equal emphasis (to) combat and non-combat dimensions of military operations… it departs from the old parameters and explores non-combat parameters of success in addressing the country’s peace and security problem.” (Executive Summary)IPSP applies the “whole of nation approach”. This “presupposes that ordinary citizens and the entire Filipino people are active contributors to internal peace and security. In this context, the role of the AFP is to catalyze the involvement of the stakeholders and facilitate the synergy of all these efforts.” (Strategy for Internal Peace and Security)
    1. “COIN approaches must be adaptable and agile. Strategies will usually be focusedprimarilyon the population rather than the enemy and will seek to reinforce the legitimacy of the affectedgovernment while reducing insurgent influence. This can often only be achieved in concert with political reforms to improve the quality of governance and address underlying grievances, many of which may be legitimate.”

      = The IPSP approach is “a shift from a predominantly militaristic solution to a people-centered security strategy that is founded on broad-based consultations and engagements with key stakeholders…Military operations shall be conducted within the larger framework of the government’s peace strategy… This translates to the conduct of combat operations against armed internal threats that are intelligence-driven, deliberate, and calibrated to diminish the armed capability of said threat groups… The AFP shall likewise maximize the utilization of non-combat operations such as civil-military operations (CMO) and development-oriented activities.” (Strategy for Internal Peace and Security)

  2. On COIN model’s political function – The key function is to provide a “framework of political reconciliation, and reform of governance around which all other COIN activities are organized.”

    = The IPSP cites President Aquino’s pronouncement “to offer opportunities for negotiations toward a just and lasting peace”; that “achieving a transparent and participative peace process requires a comprehensive understanding of the root causes of conflict, under clear policies and driven by a genuine desire to attain a just and lasting peace… The AFP remains committed to the peaceful and just settlement of conflicts”… “adhering to the primacy of the peace process and supporting peace building activities such as reconstruction and rehabilitation of conflict-affected areas.” (Executive Summary)

  3. On measuring success – “Success in COIN can be difficult to define, but improved governance will usually bring about marginalization of the insurgents to the point at which they are destroyed, co-opted or reduced to irrelevance in numbers and capability…Ultimately, the desired end state is a government that is seen as legitimate, controlling social, political, economic and security institutions that meet the population’s needs, including adequate mechanisms to address the grievances that may have fueled support of the insurgency.”

    = IPSP: The AFP’s “strategic intent” or “end state” is: “The capabilities of internal armed threats are reduced to a level that they can no longer threaten the stability of the state and civil authorities can ensure the safety and well-being of the Filipino people… Against the NPA, the AFP’s internal peace and security initiatives shall focus on rendering the NPA irrelevant, with the communist insurgency abandoning its armed struggle and engaging in peace negotiations with the government.” (Strategy for Internal Peace and Security)

Legacy of human rights violations

As earlier mentioned, Oplan Bayanihan is the latest in a long line of counterinsurgency operational plans (oplans) that have been drawn up by the AFP, under the successive governments beginning with the Marcos martial-law dictatorship. Historically, such plans have been heavily influenced, if not essentially directed, by the US defense and military establishment – given the reliance by the AFP on its American counterpart for both doctrinal and practical training and equipage supply (consisting of World War II vintage equipment and discarded but “refurbished” weapons).

Each plan has relied primarily on military might and means in trying to suppress and strategically defeat the CPP-NPA-led “people’s war” (which started in Central Luzon in 1969, now has spread to over 70 provinces). Each plan has failed, and each left in its wake widespread human rights violations across the nation, reliably documented by human rights monitoring organizations, principally Karapatan.

The Arroyo government’s “Oplan Bantay-Laya” – relentlessly pursued in two phases over nine years – was most notorious for having sweepingly categorized as “CPP-NPA front-organizations” and thus as “enemies of the state” several open progressive people’s organizations, political parties, and even religious organizations. Killer squads, mostly riding tandem on motorcycles with backups, viciously targeted and attacked several hundreds of legal mass leaders and activists for extra-judicial killing. Hundreds also became victims of enforced disappearance.

In the first six months of his administration, Aquino extended the implementation of OplanBantay-Laya despite outcries of popular protests, thus enabling the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances to continue under his watch.

But even after Oplan Bayanihan officially replaced Oplan Bantay-Laya, the killings and other forms of human rights violations continued — notwithstanding the AFP’s vow that henceforth its operations “will always be within the bounds of universally accepted principles, such as international humanitarian law, human rights, and the rule of law.” Consequently, the human rights community — both national and international — has denounced Oplan Bayanihan for being “no different from OplanBantay-Laya” and has called for its immediate termination.

As of end-June 2013, extrajudicial killings under the Aquino government numbered 142, with another 164 cases reported as “frustrated extrajudicial killings.” Of the 142 victims, 80 were peasants and 27 were leaders of indigenous peoples. There were 16 incidences of enforced disappearances. (Karapatan Monitor)

This is not surprising when one looks closely into the IPSP section on “strategic concepts” pertaining to specific tasks. Pursuant to its “end state” against the NPA (to render it irrelevant), IPSP says: The AFP “shall continue using legitimate force and conducting combat operations with even greatervigor but only against armed insurgents… Intensified and relentless pursuit of the NPA is intended to exhaust their armed capabilities and diminish their will to fight.”

In the six-year timeframe of the IPSP (2011-2016), focus on the first three years is to “substantially” attain the “end state”. That would allow the AFP to devote the period 2014- 2016 to handing over the lead role in counterinsurgency to local government units so that it can “initiate its transition to a territorial defense-focused force.”

Thus 2013 is the crucial year to achieving the IPSP “end state”. But from the way it looks – with less than six months remaining – Oplan Bayanihan appears to be running out of time.

Last Thursday, AFP Chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, credited as the “key author” of Oplan Bayanihan, called a command conference to assess the military operations in the first semester of 2013. The assessment was a mixture of success and failure.

Here are some of the data presented:

  • The AFP increased its “engagements” against the NPA in January to June to 350, from 312 in the same period in 2012, and “apprehended” 99 NPA members as against 50 in first-semester 2012. (Bautista claimed altogether 323 NPA members were “neutralized” without citing the period covered).
  • The NPA, noted the AFP, also had also increased tactical-offensive attacks against the AFP to 173, from 162 in the first half of 2012.
  • Bautista placed the number of NPA fighters at “more than 4,000”. Journalists pointed to AFP records showing that NPA membership remained at 4,000 in the last three years. So no palpable reduction, despite “sustained momentum focused on military operations against the NPA.”

About that the AFP chief explained: “We have significant numbers of surrenderees from the NPA ranks… (but) there has been continuous recruitment and it’s unfortunate the recruits they’re getting are from the youth, from farmers and indigenous peoples.” (Note that per Karapatan Monitor, of the 142 victims of extrajudicial killings 80 were peasants and 27 were leaders of indigenous peoples).

How were the NPA members attracted to surrender?

Since Gen. Bautista’s appointment as AFP chief in January there has been a flurry of Oplan Bayanihan activities designed to induce NPA leaders and members to yield their firearms.

Starting in May, AFP field commanders have been reporting “surrenderees” who availed of its “Gun for Peace” program, initiated in April. Under the program, each surrenderee is paid for every firearm he yields (P200,000 for light machinegun; P60,000 for M-14 rifle; P50,000 for M-l6 rifle or .45 caliber pistol).

In addition, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) – which oversees the government’s “peace and development program” under PAMANA (Payapa at MasaganangPamayanan or Peaceful and Prosperous Communities) — reportedly provides P50,000 to each NPA surrenderee as “customized package and means of livelihood” through its “Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP)”, started in July 2012. Also provincial governments that have reportedly cooperated with the AFP (such as those of Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Leyte, and Davao del Norte), have supposedly offered P10,000 financial assistance and P25,000 livelihood support fund for each surrenderee.

This surrender-through-financial-inducement is a slide back to the old counterinsurgency mindset of “treating the symptom rather than the disease” – which failed.

A good question at this point is: Given that the US COIN Guide used in Iraq and Afghanistan has failed to defeat the insurgencies and to achieve stability for the US-backed governments there, can it succeed when applied in the Philippines? In corollary, it can be asked: By using the failed COIN Guide template in the Philippines can the IPSP/Oplan Bayanihan succeed?

Meantime, the Aquino government has been under pressure to “enhance” the AFP’s capability for external defense in light of China’s increasingly aggressive pronouncements and maritime actions, following a standoff in a small but resource-rich area of the South China Sea over which both the Philippines and China claim sovereignty.

The Aquino government has called on the US for support – and offered in exchange free accessby US (and Japanese!) forces to Philippine military bases, which has spurred strong objections among the Filipino people. China’s reaction has become more bellicose.

It’s not farfetched that the Aquino government may seek direct US military support to the counterinsurgency campaign against the CPP-NPA. Examine these three indicators:

  1. Since August 2002 the US government has included the CPP-NPA in its listing of “terrorist organizations”, against which it continues to pursue the “war on terror” initiated by George W. Bush in 2001. Thus far, the US has focused on pursuing targets of attack — through Special Operations forces on the ground and, on an ever-expanding territorial scope and increased tempo, via missile-bombing by unmanned aerial vehicles called drones.
  2. The preface of the US COIN Guide ends with this ominous statement: “Whether the (US) should engage in any particular counterinsurgency is a matter of political choice, but that it will engage in such conflicts during the decades to come is a near certainty.”
  3. The Pentagon document, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for the 21st CenturyDefense, which discusses the US “pivot” or “rebalancing” to Asia-Pacific, lists as one of its 10 primary missions the conduct of “stability and counterinsurgency operations”. In part it says:

“U.S. forces will nevertheless be ready to conduct limited counterinsurgency and other stability operations if required, operating alongside coalition forces wherever possible. Accordingly, U.S. forces will retain and continue to refine the lessons learned, expertise, and specialized capabilities that have been developed over the past 10 years of counterinsurgency and stability operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.”

Certainly the anti-imperialist, patriotic and freedom-loving section of the Filipino people will vigorously oppose this type of direct US military intervention. Certainly nobody in this conference will stand for such interventionist war.

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