POSTSCRIPT / April 1, 2001 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Needing ‘peace’ by May, GMA tries appeasement

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo cannot deliver in her remaining three years a lasting and just solution to the parallel problems posed by the communist insurgency and the Muslim secessionist movement.

Aiming for instant gratification, the Arroyo administration is therefore shopping, and preparing to pay the heavy price, for even just a semblance of peace now and until the May 14 elections.

Look closely and you would see GMA solving a complex problem by stages. First and priority stage is winning the May elections. Peace during the campaign, or a fair facsimile thereof, is seen as contributing to poll victory.

Hence the sudden election-driven peace initiatives all around.

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WITH the limited time given them to operate, it is impossible for government negotiators to work out a just and lasting formula. Pressed to produce something before the elections, they have to grab anything that gives a hint of peace.

This handicap will explain the reckless acceptance of rebel demands. It will also explain why GMA’s gofers sought out the top guns of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to buy the MILF leaders’ presence at initial peace talks in April — ahead of the May 14 polls.

The price? Among other concessions, the Muslim secessionists will be given back Camp Abubakar and other rebel camps captured by government troops.

In a related move, Moro leader Nur Misuari whose stewardship of the Muslim autonomous region is widely criticized, has been rehabilitated all over again and sent as the Arroyo plenipotentiary to the Islamic bloc.

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TO make the deal with the MILF palatable to the greater population, especially voters, the return of Camp Abubakar — a symbol of Moro military might — is being repackaged as a joint development of an ethnic community.

In a crude attempt at relabelling, Abubakar would no longer be called a camp in government propaganda although it is still a strategic bailiwick in the minds and hearts of the Moro separatists who will now go back to it.

Abubakar has thus become Exhibit A of the government’s lack of resolve and consistency. In the minds of the rebels, it is also proof of the Manila central government’s weakness and its consequent efforts at appeasement.

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THE same time constraint will explain the seeming shortsightedness of the government emissaries talking to the National Democratic Front leaders based in the Netherlands.

The not-so-funny thing is that the NDF veterans (as it is with the MILF leaders) know the inherent negotiating weakness of the Arroyo administration. They know that President Arroyo, facing her first electoral test next month, is desperately in need of a semblance of peace.

Of course rebel leaders also need a momentary escape from the stress of battle. Offered a “peace” package bursting with goodies, they would be crazy not to grab it. Anyway, they can always leave the negotiating table after the elections and continue the fight.

* * *

TALK is cheap. Both the Moro and the NDF leaderships won’t mind talking (as salesmen peddling an ideology, they are used to talking) — while enjoying the government’s incentives to sit down and talk.

The cunning rebel leaders are taking advantage of this moment of weakness of the Arroyo administration. The NDF has gone to town flaunting its status of belligerency accorded it by the Arroyo administration. The NDF now enjoys the status of an equal of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

To a rebel group, a secessionist movement, a liberation front, or any breakaway political faction, attaining such a status vis-à-vis the formal government is the equivalent of winning 90 percent of the struggle.

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DON’T look now, but the NDF seems to be raising its asking price. Even with the announcement of the upcoming peace talks between equals, the NDF still sent its guerrillas to harass government troops and inflict some telling damage.

We see the fresh unprovoked offensives of the New People’s Army as the NDF’s way of telling GMA that they want something more.

The insurgents probably think that if GMA wants the pre-election peace gab that badly, she might just agree to pay a higher price for instant gratification.

* * *

TIME, or the lack of it, is also one of the reasons why, despite our bellicose but puerile antics, we will never win our long-running dispute with Beijing over some corals and islets in the South China Sea.

One Philippine president has a management time frame of six years, while the ruling clique directing China’s foreign relations has a perspective spanning decades, if not centuries.

If tactics dictate that one must sit it out and wait, China can very well sit and wait. In contrast, a Philippine president is under pressure to produce something within a six-year term.

It’s worse in the case of GMA. She has to show something before the elections next month, then think of how to show much more during her remaining tenure of two short years.

* * *

BY the way, if you’re driving up to Baguio or farther north this weekend, you might wonder as you gaze to the east when you reach Pozorubio and Sison in Pangasinan about a poor mountain with an ugly gash on its now exposed slope.

That scarred mountain is in barangay Labayug, Sison town, some 10 kilometers from where you are on the highway. It is still part of the lower Caraballos, not the Cordillera Mountains north of it in the Benguet-Baguio area.

Its rich limestone deposit is being surfaced-mined by the Northern Cement Corp. owned by the family of businessman Danding Cojuangco. A huge cement factory, put up during Marcos martial rule, is there beside the mine site.

* * *

JUST like those much-abused hills in Antipolo that are also being quarried and the rocks sent to the cement factory as raw material, the Labayug mountain would soon disappear from the map as production progresses.

We asked from people in the area and found out that around eight barangays near the mountain are exposed to the air pollution whipped up by the cement plant operation. This is the same problem of residents of Teresa town and nearby places in the Antipolo area.

You would think that we residents of communities around Mt. Pinatubo are the worst possible victims of the invisible volcanic ash floating in the air and being breathed in by us — until you imagine other people inhaling cement dust and having the deposit hardening in their lungs, or catching it in their eyes and developing eye problems.

* * *

THE Northern Cement waste products are reportedly discharged into the Aloragat river, whose polluted waters pass through several towns before joining the Bued river, which is also polluted by mine tailings from other operations up river near Kennon road leading up to Baguio.

We were told that there is a resthouse in the Northern Cement compound. We mention this as a footnote, because it seems that this house was enough legal reason for Mark Cojuangco, one of Danding’s sons, to register as a resident of Labayug and run for congressman representing the fifth district of Pangasinan.

Although Mark could logically have run in Tarlac, which is now quite crowded with political celebrities, or in Ayala Alabang, he chose the mine site in Labayug as his base.

* * *

YOU want to see a White Elephant this weekend? Drive to Clark Field an easy hour away from Balintawak on the North Luzon Expressway. Just be careful on this very unsafe road supposed to be managed by the Philippine National Construction Corp.

In Clark, look for the famous (?) Expo Filipino, that P3-billion centennial structure built by then President Ramos. It was closed by his successor President Estrada (some say to ensure its demise), but you flip P20 to the guard and he would let you in.

The centennial exhibits are no longer there, but a walk through the huge Expo project will give you an idea of the grand plan behind this White Elephant and what a big waste it has been after Erap padlocked it just because it had Ramos’ fingerprints on it.

* * *

WE feel strongly that Expo Filipino should be rehabilitated and made operational. A management team, maybe under the Clark Development Corp. itself, could be assigned to dust it off and make it earn its keep. Its potentials are great.

When you’re done, you can repair to the sprawling picnic grove near the Mabalacat gate and relax under the giant acacia trees (culigtus to Capampangans). Just make sure you do not oversleep on the zacate grass spread all around like carpet.

And, please, do not litter like many city folk who come over with their filthy habits.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 1, 2001)

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