The “Palparan solution” to armed rebellion has never been a solution at all. As Philippine experience with the rebellions that have been part of the Philippine landscape before and after 1946 has amply demonstrated, it has always been part of the problem.
To the perennial unrest that’s the consequence of an unjust social order, all Philippine governments without exception have responded with the use of state violence. With predictable inevitability, that approach has included the arrest, torture, forced disappearance and killing not only of those who have taken up arms, but also of sympathizers, reformers, and protesters exercising their right to free expression.
On the other hand, the roots of rebellion in a society where the distribution of wealth is among the most skewed in Asia–where a handful of families has everything while millions have nothing– are less than half-heartedly addressed. Mostly limited to paying lip service to “social justice” and “the mitigation of poverty,” these mock efforts undermine claims that the misery savaging the lives of millions of Filipinos has diminished and even abated.
The use of state violence fuels rather than puts out the fires of resistance against social injustice. To that view the police and the military protest that they have to respond in kind to the violence that’s part of the secret war that for nearly three hundred years has persisted in this archipelago. In too many instances they forget that arbitrary arrest, torture, forced disappearances and “salvaging” are illegal, and that these methods undermine the very order state forces say they’re defending.
Since the Marcos period of extreme repression, it’s been known even within certain wings of the military that this approach doesn’t work. Civic action was once the flavor of the month in the military. It was in obvious recognition of the truth that at the very least government must make it seem that it’s interested in improving lives rather than taking them.
The single most important lesson for policy- and decision-makers to emerge from the martial law period was thus simple enough. It should by now be the cornerstone article of government policy. To address rebellion you can’t rely on repression and the use of force; steps have to be taken to root out its causes.
Those steps include assuring the citizenry of both social as well as simple justice, in addition to redistributing the wealth that the millions who produce it, such as farmers and workers, don’t have. Meanwhile, simple justice requires that the law be applied evenly and without bias, even as it demands respect for the rights of the poor and powerless.
These lessons were only too obviously lost to the Arroyo regime, during whose protracted and putrid watch between 2001 and the present, the number of extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations has escalated under virtual martial law conditions in the countryside. These conditions the regime accompanied with efforts to replicate them in the cities in 2006 and 2007, by deploying troops in urban poor communities.
Retired General Jovito Palparan, whose heart of darkness turned Samar and vast areas of Central Luzon into veritable replicas of Col. Jake Smith’s “howling wilderness,” was the most visible exponent of what was so obviously a regime policy. But if we’re to believe the Arroyo regime and the most recent statements of the commanding general of the Armed Forces’ Central Command, he was also the only one, and might even have been its father.
Failure is so obviously an orphan. But Lt. Gen. Pedro Inserto not only declared the “Palparan solution” a failure during talks with other military commanders and with the mayors of Samar cities on the state of the military’s counter-insurgency campaign. He also validated claims that the basic components of the “solution” are the extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations that like his shadow followed Palparan to his places of assignment.
Alas, as if to feed the suspicions of the cynical, Inserto also claimed that, despite public acknowledgment by Mrs. Arroyo of his “achievements” during her 2005 State of the Nation Address, Palparan enjoyed neither the government’s nor the military’s support.
Inserto also declared that “a new generation of military officers” has come to realize that “winning the battle (against insurgency) is not through an armed struggle (sic) but winning the hearts and minds of the people.” Indeed, Inserto said, the proffered solution contributed to the problem: “The military operations that we have conducted were one of the reasons why up to now, the insurgency problem still persists in the country.”
To the long suffering people of the Philippines, especially those in Central Luzon where 71 summary executions, five massacres, 14 frustrated murders and 46 disappearances occurred during Palparan’s watch in 2005-2006, practice awaits the validation of the promise implicit in those statements. It is the promise to end extra-judicial killings, torture, disappearances and other human rights violations—those crimes that throughout the sad recent history of this country have savaged a land where to the vast injustice that rules it has been added the injustice of killing those who protest it.
The skeptical would point out that the lesson Inserto was claiming at least his part of the AFP has only recently discovered is an old one no regime has ever really learned. It is also a mantra every regime since 1986 has repeated without its making a difference in the way it has attempted to neutralize, defeat or crush insurgency and rebellion. And yet in the battle for hearts and minds, statements don’t make a difference; it is acts that do.