As the situation in the south deteriorates by the hour, I cannot help but think that alot of the blame must fall on the President’s shoulders simply on first principles alone. As Commander-in-Chief, the responsibility for war and peace rests in her hands.
Now a Commander-in-Chief can be a shrewd general – like JFK was, when he beat down the hawks who wanted nothing more than to nuke Cuba – or he can be megalomaniac who believes himself the fount of all wisdom but is actually a mediocre general – like Adolf Hitler and Kim Jong Il. And they can be surrounded by generals and who can run the spectrum from brilliant to stupid. These generals can offer advice – both tactical and strategic – and the Commander-in-Chief can take it. But at the end of the day, it is the Commander-in-Chief’s decision making, her game plan, that takes precedence. After all, it is not for soldiers to reason why; theirs is but to do and die.
And they are dying over there in Mindanao.
Now it can be argued that the President is no soldier – but then again, neither was JFK. The truth is, being a soldier or not is beside the point because wars can be won away from the battlefield, and avoiding a war is a political game. In fact, the existence of war is conclusive proof of two things: somewhere, somehow, the political process failed; and that both sides have decided that they’ve run out of solutions and have had to resort to brute force to get what they want.
That’s exactly the problem in Mindanao right now.
No more solutions
It is widely said that the ongoing conflict in Mindanao springs from the failure of the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Homeland of the Bangsamoro.
The thing is this – the President’s men (and therefore the President herself) dangled the idea of the BJE in front of the bandits and sold themselves on the idea that it would work. This played them right into the bandit’s hands: by putting all their eggs in the BJE basket, the President’s men gave the bandits the opportunity to set up an ultimatum – give us the BJE or we start shooting again.
When the BJE was scuttled the bandits got their casus belli. Now admittedly its a flimsy rationale for the resumption of hostilities, but it is just solid enough to rile up the cannon-fodder and convince them that they’ve been shafted and therefore need to avenge their slighted pride. It’s Moro psychology 101, if anyone had bothered to check.
And that’s the point: the Commander-in-Chief is supposed to be able to take in the whole picture; to understand how various factors all contribute to the outcome. In this case, because the President’s men were allowed – perhaps even encouraged – to formulate a do-or-die solution, it is clear that there were critical factors that were ignored, not the least of which is the very well known tendency of Moros to exaggerate insults to their pride.
In hostage negotiation, one of the most basic lessons is to never say no to the hostage taker. But then again, this also covers situations where saying ‘yes’ sets you up to say ‘no’ later. Let me clarify: by saying yes to the idea of a BJE, the President’s men were committing to an outcome that was not in their control. It was stupid for them to imagine that the BJE would slip through unnoticed. More to the point, the President’s men simply failed to anticipate a negative outcome, i.e., the BJE would be challenged and stopped. So, by saying yes, to the BJE, they were blindly rushing into a future where – when the Supreme Court invalidates the MOA for instance – they would have no choice but to say no to the BJE. And there you go, they said NO to the hostage taker.
This turn of events led the hostage taker – the bandits – to now feel backed into a corner. The only way out of that corner would have been a MOA for the BJE. But with no MOA forthcoming, and the additional insult of the ARMM elections being conducted, the bandits embraced the belief that there would be no other solution than to come out with their guns blazing. No solutions. War.
Failed political process
Hand in hand with the loss of viable solutions – or perhaps the direct cause of it – was the failure of the political process. The peace talks – like a hostage situation – should have been more adroitly handled, and the do-or-die scenario would have been avoided. The damned talks have been going on since before I was born, for crying out loud, why was there a need to hurry? The do-or-die solution of the BJE was a desperation shot. One hailmary pass to secure a win. It was a bad gamble, but it was not inevitable or even reasonable; simply expedient.
And that was the failure of the political process. The political process was subverted by the insane legacy-building trip this administration has been on since the start of 2008. And so, instead of drawing out the talks some more, the government negotiators in effect laid their last card on the table, setting up the do-or-die situation that should’ve been avoided like the plague.
Could the President have affected this? Well, hell yeah.
If legacy building had not been prioritized over sound strategy, there would have been no need at all for a quick do-or-die solution. If the President had not boasted that the ARMM elections would be postponed, the added slight to MILF sensibilities would not have taken place at all and the situation in the south would not be as bad as it is now. If the Supreme Court had not intervened in a mere MOA, the process of creating the BJE could have been managed to the satisfaction of all – or if not to the satisfaction of all, then with a least a minimum of abrasiveness.
An aside on the SC ruling on the MOA: I have read neither the MOA nor the SC decision. However, it seems abundantly clear to me that a MOA is not a law but rather just an instrument recording a meeting of minds. Therefore, if the two parties agreed to work for a constitutional amendment, then they cannot be construed to have committed an un-constitutional act. If every intention to change a law were to be considered a contravention of that law, then no laws would ever be changed. It is only the worst form of squirreling that allows the argument that by agreeing to amend the constitution,the MOA signatories (and the MOA) itself have committed an unconstitutional act.
The confluence of these two factors has led us to this brute force war. And for that, I accuse the President of being a lousy Commander-in-Chief who now has no choice but to put her soldiers and her people in harm’s way.
Which leads me to think of 2010. I can do nothing about this Commander-in-Chief’s failure, but I can do something about who the next Commander-in-Chief will be. So, I’ll focus on that and make sure that 2010 is ever on my mind.
The next President must not be as one-dimensional as this one. It’d be good if he’s an economist, but he cannot be just a bean-counter. He must understand all facets of statecraft, including the waging of war. Sun-Tzu said something like that and he wasn’t wrong.
The next President must be, in equal measure, a hawk and a dove. He must know when to apply force and not wait for the eve of apocalypse as this President has. He must strive always for principled peace and he must work to strengthen the political power of restive groups like the Bangsamoro. By bringing them into the political arena, solutions can be worked out through words in the halls of power, rather than with guns on the battlefield.
In Ireland, this happened when the Sinn Fein joined the political game; the IRA laid down their arms and peace became possible. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the peace easily becomes permanent; but at least it gets a chance.
The next President must not trust his alter-egos overmuch. While the ability to effectively delegate is the mark of a good leader, the inability to oversee the exercise of delegated power is a badge of incompetence.
I could prolly go on and on, but I don’t want to be too utopian. These three imperatives are enough basis for me to choose come 2010.