ROUGH CUTS| Where soldiers should fight their best

NEWLY installed Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (EastMinCom AFP) Chief Lt. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal seems to be starting his stint well-grounded.  And he is standing strongly with his two feet well-anchored on stone.

And we mean his intensifying what his predecessor now AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero started — the EastMinCom’s Community Support Program. According to Lt. Gen. Madrigal during a media forum in a local hotel, his command is helping in the delivery of basic government services and doing awareness campaign in areas identified as vulnerable to rebel recruitment activities.

We believe that at these critical times when the government and rebel talks for peace have been terminated, fighting insurgency should not only be limited to conducting armed offensives. It has to include a humane approach considering that it is the people in the community that stand to be the most affected in the conflict.

Somehow General Madrigal knows that at this time the balance in the government’s effort to contain the spread of communist insurgency must tilt to the long but somehow less appreciated “battle for the hearts and minds of the people” strategy. And this lack of appreciation comes from the very people who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of that military campaign.

Many might ask why the government forces appear to be losing such battle. From our personal analysis based on our own observations during the many times we have gone to the areas believed to be under the influence of the rebels, we believe it is the very meager presence of government services in the areas concerned.

In places for example where one has to walk on rugged terrain, or take to riding on horseback of carabao-drawn cart several kilometers going to the barangay proper to find medical intervention for a sick family member, finding an empty village health center is definitely frustrating. And when the family of that infirmed person is referred to the nearest available government hospital  whose assigned doctor is often in the city or provincial capital doing supposedly “official” business that would be teeth gnashing time for the relative of the sick individual.

Of course the government is doing something to address this deficiency in the delivery of important services to the people in the margins mostly located in isolated places. But such efforts are slow in coming. This makes the rebels’ promises of good life dangled to the people in the community more enticing.

Thus, every time the rebels know of persons or families having denied or failed to get the needed government services, they see this as their most prized opportunity to convince them to join their cause.

On the other hand, there are also questions on why those tasked to deliver basic government services are hesitant to go to the rural barangays or villages. Well, they may not openly admit it but the real reason is always their personal safety. No, not really cowardice, but practicality.

Any such sojourn in the most rural of villages would have been one big opportunity for them to show that government is still very much concerned of the plight of the people in the hinterlands. However, their hesitance, or even refusal to go to the areas is blowing that opportunity up to the detriment of the government they represent.

That is why we are not surprised if teachers are somewhat the less affected among government workers in the half a century old insurgency struggle. They are the remaining steadfast faces of government in the hinterlands.

As it was in the past, the military’s presence in the rural areas is treated more as part of the government’s offensive operation against the insurgents. That is why every time people in the community see soldiers they cower in fear instead of openly welcoming them as their protectors.

Why is this so? It is because there is the possibility that they could be suspected as members of the rebel group or are supporters to the insurgency movement. Or, if they openly welcome the military they could end up under the rebels’ scrutiny. Any which way, they can become collateral damage.

However, this plan of Lt. Gen. Madrigal of intensifying the EastMinCom’s Community Support Program may have already taken into consideration the perceived weaknesses in the implementation of this strategy of fighting insurgency in the past. If he has not may we recommend that they do consultations with the leaders of the barangays in order to find out what exactly are the most pressing problems plaguing the people in their areas. In doing this the military will get the right information as to the problem obtaining in these remote communities. Thus, the military can coordinate with the concerned government agencies that can best address the problems.

This way the military personnel from EastMinCom become bearers of development gifts first and foremost, to the people in the community, and only second as soldiers of government out to do battle with the rebels.

We know the rebels are claiming they are fighting for the people’s welfare? But half a century after their dream of heaven for the Filipino people still it has remained nebulous.

On the other hand, the government has under its wings resources that could turn the rebels’ nebulous dream into reality. And the military has the option to make itself an effective vehicle to travel the road towards the realization of that dream.

Therefore, from where we are perched, we can see that the best battle ground is still the people’s “hearts and minds.” It is in that arena that the soldiers, as correctly opted by the EastMinCom leadership, should fight their best.

Posted in Opinion