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COMMENTARY

A new tack to fight extremism?

05:05 AM January 17, 2018

The search for peace is an arduous task. An advocate is impelled to travel the proverbial extra mile in pursuit of the dream. In Moroland, it has been as elusive as the Holy Grail. The government has invested so much time, manpower (indeed, soldiers’ lives), and money in addressing the “Moro problem.” But the light at the end of the tunnel gets dimmer.

With these thoughts in mind, I sought a top honcho in the bureaucracy who could possibly help liberate Moros from the quagmire: the secretary of national defense, Delfin Lorenzana, a simple, unassuming and taciturn retired military officer who, from the accounts of people who know him, is inflexible on the principles and values that he stands for. The agenda: peace. I wanted to pick his brain on how to go about the campaign for peace.

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There is a smorgasbord of options to address the problem. It’s not as though I am a stranger to the campaign, being a veteran campaigner as a lawyer, both in the government and privately, with my writing. I was surprised to know that Secretary Lorenzana hails from Parang, Maguindanao, considered a hotbed of the Moro rebellion, and where the major camps of the rebels are strategically located. No wonder — having personally witnessed the death and devastation inflicted by the Moro rebellion — he has put his mind and heart to arresting the social conflagration.

I visited Secretary Lorenzana’s office last November, and was pleasantly treated to protocols befitting a diplomat (which have I missed since I left the foreign service). He is every inch a diplomat himself.

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We had an interesting exchange of ideas on how to sustain the momentum of the pyrrhic victory over the IS-inspired militants in the war in Marawi. We discussed my insights expressed in the commentaries I have written for the Inquirer. He still clings to the constant, if trite, strategy about winning the hearts and minds of the Moro people as the fundamental tack to use in making inroads to peace. It is not the gun that will solve the problem but the government’s right approach, which is preferable as it avoids fratricide and unwanted damage.

His ideas are not original but a rehash of strategy which was tested in the US campaign in Vietnam. It was a template and mantra I had heard from then Col. Jose Magno, now retired, who earned the sobriquet “peacemaker” when, as a young officer in the early 1970s, he was assigned in the Lanao areas to put out the flickering rebellion (on certain occasions I stood as his interpreter in his public speeches). The failure of the strategy was one of the excuses of then President Ferdinand Marcos to declare martial law in 1972.

But Secretary Lorenzana is resurrecting the strategy with a fresh approach, so he said, with added vigor apropos the current war against faith-based extremism. I suggested that the frontline actors in the campaign could be the barangay officials who have personal contact with the natives, the truism being that any insurrection can only succeed if supported by the people. The barangay government should address basic needs like the supply of water, infrastructures and other necessities. I suggested a management and financial audit of barangays to realign their resources and targets toward achieving peace. If the barangay fails, the national government can reinforce it with a special body, similar to the Presidential Assistance on Community Development of the Marcos era, with a focused mandate. (The Department of the Interior and Local Government is ideal, but its wide mandate would dissipate its attention. And the military’s Civil Military Relations unit is always suspect, being manned by “men in uniform.”

Who knows, Lorenzana may have a trick up his sleeve. His combined attributes as a retired military officer cum diplomat could hopefully lead us to peace.

* * *

Macabangkit B. Lanto (amb_mac_lanto@ yahoo.com), UP Law 1967, was a Fulbright fellow in New York University for his postgraduate studies. He has served the government as congressman, ambassador, and undersecretary, among other positions.

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TAGS: Delfin Lorenzana, extremism, Inquirer Commentary, Marawi siege, Mindanao peace
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