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By Juan Mercado
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:02:00 01/29/2011

Filed Under: Books, history, insurgency

?THE BEGINNING of wisdom is to call all things by their right names,? a Chinese proverb says. Will that axiom help when talks between the Philippines and festering insurgencies restart? Australian National University?s Benedict J. Tria Kerkvliet thinks so.

Facilitated by Malaysia, discussions between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and government resume in Kuala Lumpur from February 9 to 10. Brokered by Norway, aborted peace talks with communist rebels restart in Oslo from February 15 to 21.

?A Different View of Insurgencies? is sketched out by comparative politics professor Kerkvliet in the new Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR). Titled ?In Search of a Human Face,? this book is co-published by Human Development Network and the UN Development Programme.

There have been seven PHDRs since 1994. They?ve covered themes from education to political institutions? impact on human development in the Filipino context. ?In Search of a Human Face? revisits earlier PHDRs.

Kerkvliet has written extensively on topics ranging from the Huk rebellion to ?Beyond Hanoi: Local Government in Vietnam.? His essay focuses on the 2005 PHDR which dealt with ?Human Security and Armed Conflict.? Excerpts from his essay follow:

Government accounts, news reports and academic publications depict NPA fighting to establish a communist or socialist political economic system. Muslim insurgents are portrayed as seeking a ?new nation, Bangsamoro, independent or at least autonomous from the Philippines, [that?d be] perhaps an Islamic state.?

Is there hard evidence for these claims?

PHDR 2005 ?does not show that communism, Islamic nationalism or any recognizable ideology, has much to do with the conflict?s causes or objectives.?

Poverty itself is not the cause for both communist and Muslim insurgencies, PHDR 2005?s sophisticated probe concluded. But ?deprivation and injustice lie at the heart of armed conflict ?. These range from lack of water, health care to rural families having no or too little land ... and being cheated of their fields.?

From its peak in the 1970s and 1980s, the Communist Party of the Philippines ?withered and splintered ? A party evaluation showed signs of ideological superficiality. Mindanao?s communism party-building was notably weak??

?Many new recruits joined not because they were attracted to Marxism (or Maoism), but to avenge personal, family or community tragedies caused by military abuses. Their objectives are better termed ?reformist,? rather than revolutionary.?

Communist ideology is part of leaders? vocabulary. ?But for most ordinary members, that is not the case.? From Nueva Ecija to Davao, their ideological framework is systematic oppression of the many by a few in Philippine society.

People Power overthrew the Marcos dictatorship while communists quarreled, in safe houses, over methods of struggle. These triggered internal pogroms (?Ahos? to ?Cadena de Amor?) that ended up killing hundreds of CPP members. That sowed chaos in the party.

This shaky ideological scaffold shifted in the Cordilleras. For many NPAs in Abra, Kalinga and Mountain Province, their fight was against ?government-initiated development projects that infringed on highlander?s land, property, community-use rights ?. The guerrilla movement evolved into a struggle for Cordillera identity.?

In recent years, some NPAs evolved a ?kind of business enterprise that sells protection in exchange for money and other compensation. Its customers include corporations, gambling and drug syndicates, government agencies and large landowners. Extent of this gunslinging-for-hire remains to be documented.?

The PHDR showed the extent of deprivation and injustice that hobble Muslim Filipinos. Their provinces are debilitated by the highest levels of penury and infant deaths. These interlock with lowest life expectancy and cellar educational attainment rates. ?The dismal picture has not improved.?

But there?s patchy proof that Muslims ?are driven by a Moro ideology or even a sense of Moro identity.? Consider the ethnolinguistic make-up. ?Of the Muslim population ? Maranaos and Maguindanaos make up for a quarter each. About 9 percent are Yakans. Iranons make up 4 percent.?

Despite years of appeals to Bangsamoro nationhood, insurgents and relatives identify themselves by their tribes. Moreover each group is often split ?along clan, familial, generational cleavages as well as rivalry among leaders.?

The Moro National Liberation Front is composed primarily of Tausugs. Moro Islamic Liberation Front ranks are staffed by Maguindanaos. (Abu Sayyaf is really a ?number of armed gangs.?) ?Power rivalry is a prominent dynamic among armed insurgent Muslims ?. Underneath the Islamic veneer ? is the stark reality that fuels the Muslim rebellion in Mindanao: economic and social exclusion.?

?Ordinary people?unemployed, with little social status, meager education and finances?join the MILF, driven by need?.The rank and file (in the MILF) don?t talk of preserving Islam but of military abuses and of their need for land and livelihood?The ideological gap between the leaders and rank and file is wide and palpable.?

Calling these insurgencies ?communist? and ?Moro? encourages military responses. Talking about justice as the basis of these insurgencies emphasizes reforms that lead to development that focus on people.

Gaps in current studies range from consequences of an aging communist leadership to massive corruption of some Muslim leaders. But ?In Search of a Human Face? helpfully underscores that ?the beginning of wisdom is to call all things by their right names.?

* * *

Email: juanlmercado@gmail.com

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