Dateline Manila: The cost of the Mindanao war PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 13 February 2015 13:32

BY Sammy Santos


In a recent article on Rappler online, Isagani Abunda II, an advocacy officer of the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), a Philippine-based regional and solidarity advocacy NGO, had this to say about the cost of the 40-year old Mindanao war:

“Official data reveals that the impact and social cost of the war in Mindanao have been vicious and costly. The conflict has claimed over 120,000 lives, and displaced millions with 982,000 Internal Displaced Persons (IDPs) just in 2000 when then President Estrada declared an all-out-war. And another 600,000 persons during the failure of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain in 2008.”

“The number of IDPs is estimated at two million since the conflict started in the early 70s, according to International Alert. Economic losses have amounted to around P640 billion from 1970 to 2001 — that’s P20 billion annually, in terms of damages to businesses, properties, and potential investments in the region. The 2000 all-out-war policy alone cost P1.3 billion, while the government spent P73 billion on combat expenses in its war with the MNLF from 1970 to 1996.”

Abunda says the pursuit to achieve a ‘just and lasting’ peace in Mindanao was never an easy task. “Many have tried, many have failed. Peace is a long journey that requires patience, sincerity, goodwill, political will, and utmost dedication of all concerned and affected sectors, hence, the need for a carefully crafted peace process and the people’s collective and meaningful participation in finding resolution to and addressing the roots of the conflict,” he wrote.

In his article, Abunda challenged the critics of the current Mindanao peace process, whom he described as “warmongers including those who are flirting with the slogan of an all-out-war to kindly and dispassionately look at the costs of Mindanao’s armed conflict, which has directly affected not just Mindanao but the entire country—discouraging foreign and local investments, while also compromising the nation’s coffers with the previous governments spending more on war than basic social services.”

“Many of the victims are civilians who are either displaced from their communities or killed in crossfire,” he added.

The Initiatives for International Dialogue is the secretariat of the Friends of the Bangsamoro, an umbrella of peace organizations that aims to mobilize the broadest mass support to help achieve meaningful and sustainable peace in Mindanao.

There is no denying—the long quest to end the protracted and costly war in Mindanao suffered a big blow with the killing of 44 members of the elite Philippine National Police Special Action Force in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last January 25. The tragedy also claimed the lives of 18 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and seven civilians.

Both the House and Senate Committees hearing the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law have suspended the hearings while a number of legislators have withdrawn their support for the bill in the face of the public outrage over the incident.

In his opening statement at the start of the Senate hearing on the Manasapano incident last Monday, Senate President Frank Drilon articulated the public indignation over the killing of the police commandos out to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Bin Hir, alias Marwan, and his Filipino partner Abdul Basit Usman.

“The tragedy that has befallen our 44 heroes reveals the brute force and mercilessness of terrorism. This evil cannot be underestimated and, at the culmination of this inquiry, we expect to come out stronger in our fight against those threatening to cause mayhem under the guise of advancing an ideology. Let us review our counterterrorism protocol and security capabilities,” Drilon said.

“This is a crucial time in our quest for lasting peace in Mindanao. The death of our 44 SAF commandos in the hands of the MILF and the BIFF cannot be ignored and written off,” he pointed out.

“To our brothers in the MILF, I ask: Be one with us in finding the truth in the Mamasapano clash and in giving justice to the family of those who have been slain,” Drilon added. “Let the guilty be punished. Be one with us in our fight against terrorism and lawlessness - do not provide refuge to Usman and others of his kind. When the government goes after them, do not stand in the way; rather, show us the way. Now, more than ever, we must show the people that we both desire peace.”

“We already lost 44 lives. Let not peace and justice be the 45th,” the Senate President stressed.                                                                                                         * * * *

SENATE POTPOURRI: The Senate approved on final reading last Tuesday a bill seeking to reform the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) system by barring family and relatives of second degree of consanguinity and affinity of appointed officials from seeking position in SK elections, adjusting the age ceiling for SK officials, and providing trainings to make the elected SK members aware of their responsibilities.

Once enacted into law, Senate Bill No. 2401, known as the proposed Youth Development and Empowerment Act of 2015, would prohibit relatives of any public official, from national, provincial, city, municipality, and barangay levels, including appointed ones, up to the second degree of affinity and consanguinity, from seeking any SK position.

The anti-dynasty provision was introduced by Senator Bam Aquino who sought to expand the general scope of the anti-dynasty provision of the SK reform bill during the period of amendments deliberation of the bill.

In the previous version of the bill, only family members and relatives of provincial, city/municipal and barangay officials are prohibited from running for any SK position.

“We welcome the expansion of this provision because this is a big help in our efforts to remove the SK from the clutches of partisan and traditional politics,” said Aquino, chairman of the Senate Committee on Youth.

According to Aquino, the move could be a precursor to the omnibus anti-dynasty bill that pro-administration legislators hope to enact soon.

The bill also expands the SK age range to 18 to 27 years old to make them more accountable for their actions. The bill also mandates SK officials to undergo mandatory training programs before they assume their posts, equipping them with necessary skills in governance and leadership that will be useful in their position.

Meanwhile, Senator Sonny Angara has filed a bill seeking to create the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to ensure that innovations in information and communications technology (ITC) would benefit the Filipino people and contribute to nation-building and global competitiveness.

Angara filed Senate Bill 2368 or the proposed DICT Act, which seeks to create the department to ensure the application of ICT to the various processes and functions of the government to improve the productivity of national and local government programs.

The application of ICT to the processes of government functioning, or what we call e-governance or electronic governance, will bring about efficient, ethical, accountable, responsive and transparent governance in our country, Angara explained.

The DICT will also be mandated to plan, promote, and help develop the country’s ICT sector and ensure reliable and cost-efficient communications facilities and other multimedia infrastructure and services. It must ensure universal access and high-speed connectivity at fair and reasonable costs as well as the availability and accessibility of ICT services in areas not adequately served by the private sector.

Under the bill, the DICT will promote the use of ICT for the development and promotion of the country’s agriculture, arts and culture, history, education, public health and safety, and other socio-civic purposes.

A digital revolution, Angara said, “is taking root throughout the country, driving fundamental changes in the way we work, communicate, play, travel, learn, participate—ultimately in the way we live. These far-reaching transformations demand the full attention of government.”

Angara is the vice chair of the Senate committee on science and technology.

A 2013 report from the National Statistical Coordination Board showed that Internet access in the Philippines has covered over a third of the country’s population.

While the DICT is mandated to promote the access to and encourage the widespread use of ICT, it must also ensure the cyber security of assets of individuals and businesses including the rights of individuals to privacy and confidentiality of their personal information, Angara said.

Angara’s bill mandates that the DICT will be established out of a reorganization of the current Department of Transportation and Communications since the needs of the information and communications sector are distinct from transportation, and thus merit equally distinct technical expertise and governmental support.