IN line with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s order to launch a “humanitarian offensive” in Basilan and Sulu, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has recently created the National Development Command (NDC) — a move that has drawn mixed reactions from human rights workers and peace advocates.
The Mindanao PeaceWeavers (MPW) supports the effort as it provides what Professor Octavio Dinampo deems is an alternative to the “usual military formula of war or force as an instrument of national security.”
The NDC, according to Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro will be focusing on development projects in connection with the President’s order to defeat the Abu Sayyaf group and the communist insurgency by 2011. As reported by The Philippine Star, the AFP public information chief also said that the NDC aims to “transform conflict-affected communities into peace and development areas through barangay-focused rehabilitation and development.”
Within the next two weeks, the government plans to send two army engineering battalions to Jolo and another battalion to Basilan in order to build and repair roads, health centers, and schools, according to The Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Dinampo, however, cautions about the current “humanitarian offensive” being turned into “propaganda in advancing the AFP’s interests.”
In contrast, Ruth Cervantes, public information officer of the human rights alliance Karapatan, thinks that no amount of humanitarian projects could offset (the AFP’s) violations of the conduct of war.
Cervantes says that the most humanitarian thing that the AFP could do would be to follow international humanitarian law, which includes protecting civilians, respecting hors de combat (wounded combatants), and following procedures when dealing with prisoners of war and representatives of their families.
Cervantes believes that civilian functions should be done by civilian authorities. Health services, for example, are best left to the Department of Health, while the Department of Education should be responsible for the construction of school buildings.
Instead of undertaking humanitarian missions, the AFP should follow international humanitarian law, or better yet, return to pursuing peace talks, says Cervantes, claiming that the all-out war policy against the Abu Sayyaf is affecting many more civilians than combatants.
Despite the launch of its so-called humanitarian offensive, the AFP has not shown sign of letting up on its military operations in Mindanao. Arroyo has ordered the military to wipe out all armed rebellion by communist insurgents and Moro secessionist rebels by 2010. The AFP has also been ordered to increase its offensive against the Abu Sayyaf.