Let’s not exaggerate. Retired Armed Forces Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon is not really as Senator Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal described him.

Senator Madrigal compared Esperon to Adolf Hitler and to Josef Stalin when she learned that Esperon had been appointed Presidential Peace Adviser. Esperon did have command of the Armed Forces. But he commanded no force as powerful as the Wehrmacht as Hitler did, or an army as vast as the Red Army Stalin used to defend Soviet soil.

Neither did Esperon focus the energies of an entire nation into the conquest of vast territories and the annihilation of over six million men, women and children. And he certainly had not the vision, perverted as it may have been, of a thousand-year empire, or of a system in which all would be equal.

Hitler wrote a book, Stalin several. Esperon didn’t— and he doesn’t seem to have even “written the book,” figuratively speaking, on the Armed Forces’ Bantay Laya anti-insurgency strategy. Other men, from all appearances led by creatures who claim to be for others, seem to have done that. Or at least systematized and tweaked that part of a strategy that goes back to the days of the Huk rebellion by refocusing, and providing the justification for, the use of state violence on activists and unarmed militants.

What’s being laid at Esperon’s door is small potatoes, offenses trivial, puny, picayune and piddling when compared to the truly great crimes of our age. One is hawkishness, and of presiding over an Armed Forces accused of committing some of the worst human rights violations, including extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances, since the martial law period.

He’s also being accused of pivotal involvement in the electoral fraud of 2004, having been mentioned in the “Hello Garci” tapes by Virgilio Garcillano, that paragon of bureaucratic virtue, among the generals that assured Gloria Macapagal Arroyo a final tally of more than a million votes over the late Fernando Poe Jr.

Nearly a thousand men, women and children have been killed, and several hundreds abducted, over the past seven years. Those numbers don’t even come close to the millions slaughtered in Hitler’s death camps. But they do have a bearing on how successfully the peace adviser can do his job. As small time and paltry as his purported offense is compared to Hitler’s, if he’s being blamed for at least some of these deaths, negotiating in bad faith would be only the first complaint against the government; total insincerity would be the other.

But that’s to assume that both he and the appointing power are indeed after an honorable negotiated peace as the rest of the world understands it, not a peace premised on the annihilation of the other side– in this case the 40 year old Communist Party-led rebellion as well as the Muslim movement for autonomy.

The latter does seem to be the logic behind the appointment, as illogical as it may seem to less crafty folk. In short: Esperon’s negotiating abilities, whatever they may be, would come into play only when, as the Arroyo regime has pledged, it has reduced the New People’s Army to insignificance, and forced the Moro Islamic Liberation Front into surrender.

In the meantime, Esperon wouldn’t be doing so badly, earning his keep as a peace adviser by adding his voice to those of the other hawks advising Mrs. Arroyo on how to best defeat social movements militarily. Reward enough, it would seem, for services rendered both during as well as post-2004.

A military man as peace adviser? A hawk for the dovish tasks of peace negotiations? It shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Arroyo regime of ironies and mockery has done as badly and even worse.

It’s put secretaries in the department of environment who have issued logging and mining permits as if they were going out of style, the better to assure the communities involved that the next floods will be worse than the most recent. It’s appointed secretaries of agriculture who can’t explain why the country’s rice production is so low it has to import rice in vast quantities.

It has a justice secretary whose concept of justice is so unabashedly political he didn’t see anything wrong in pro-active involvement in the defense of US Marine Corporal Daniel Smith and company. Much less does the same secretary see anything contrary to justice in persecuting those party list representatives with whose politics he doesn’t agree, no matter how often the same charges are made, dismissed, and again made only to be dismissed again.

Over the same regime presides a putative president who every now and then vows allegiance to free expression and claims this country to be human rights haven, even as demonstrators are beaten, journalists arrested while on the job, media franchises threatened with cancellation, community journalists killed with impunity, and activists assassinated and abducted.

It’s a national security regime disguised as a democracy, a reign of assassins cloaked in legal cloth. It’s a regime of mockery in which an Esperon for peace adviser makes as much sense as a Raul Gonzalez for justice secretary.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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