By Raïssa Robles
“The government has captured the hive but the angry bees have escaped and are regrouping to attack.”
A Moro National Liberation Front official said right after the fall of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Camp Abubakar following President Joseph Estrada’s All-Out War in 2000
To get an estimate of the costs, let’s look at the All-Out War that then President Joseph Estrada launched in the year 2000.
Ordinarily, the cost of this kind of internal conflict is shrouded in secrecy.
But in 2005, the United Nations sponsored a ground-breaking study entitled the Philippine Human Development Report. For the first time, a team led by Arsenio Balisacan examined the costs of conflict. Dr. Balisacan is Dean of the University of the Philippines School of Economics and Executive Director of the Philippine Center for Economic Development. Among the advisers for this Report was former Economic Planning Secretary and UP economics professor Solita Collas-Monsod.
The cost in terms of body count
The study found that during Estrada’s two and a half-year presidency, 471 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels and 222 government soldiers were killed.
We can presume that most of the fatalities occurred during the 2000 All-Out War.
In addition, during the same period, the MILF claimed 92 rebels were injured while the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported 270 injured – or 431 injured from both sides of the conflict.
There is no accounting here of civilians killed in the crossfire.
During last week’s Basilan clash between MILF rebels and government soldiers, 19 soldiers and at least five rebels and were killed.
An All-Out War would considerably increase that body count. And if one goes by the Year 2000 figures, total body count could reach several hundreds.
If the objective of a new All-Out War is to avenge the deaths last October 22 of the 19 soldiers, would the death of several hundreds more in such an operation be worth the cost?
You know what? The Christian majority in the country has always frowned upon and thought the concept of “rido” or vengeance killings among southern Philippine clans weird and barbaric. Wouldn’t avenging the deaths of the soldiers be like a state-sponsored “rido”?
An All-Out War would also have serious collateral damage on the citizenry
At the height of Estrada’s All-Out War in mid-2000, the number of refugees fleeing from the conflict swelled to 800,000 non-combatants. Imagine the trauma of leaving behind almost everything you own and had worked for because of the fighting.
An All Out War in Basilan could, however, result in a much lesser number of refugees (called Internally Displaced Persons or IDPs) because the island population there is only half a million.
Still, is it worth disrupting the lives of so many thousands? And would the military be breeding more rebels this way?
The formation of MILF camps in Basilan was an offshoot of Estrada’s All-Out War
Estrada is rightly credited for dismantling the MILF’s main headquarters, Camp Abubakar, and several other smaller camps. These had for years been a huge embarrassment and affront to the Philippine government and its sovereignty.
The gains of the All-Out War, however, turned out to be temporary. Other camps have sprouted in place of Camp Abubakar. And one of those camps is the one in Al-Barka, Basilan, near where the deadly firefight took place last week.
I was interviewing Allan Pisingan of the Basilan Human Rights Network and Bantay Ceasefire yesterday. I asked him why the MILF now has a camp in Basilan. As far as I knew, the traditional stronghold of the MILF was central Mindanao, never Basilan.
He told me that the MILF gained a foothold on the island after angry Muslims rallied to the call of jihad by the late MILF Chairman Hashim Salamat in response to Estrada’s 2000 All-Out War.
After Camp Abubakar fell and Estrada celebrated his military victory by holding a lunch of beer and lechon (roast pork) there – which angered and insulted the Muslims – I got to talk to the late Angelo Reyes who was then the Armed Forces Chief of Staff. He predicted that the rebels would switch to guerrilla warfare but “I believe only the hard-core would do it.”
The problem was, he could not say how many of the MILF were hard-core.
At that time, Congressman Roilo Golez also expressed misgivings over capturing Camp Abubakar. The former navy official warned that “a wounded tiger fights more fiercely.”
An official of the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a peace pact with the government in 1996, put the problem in perspective. He told me then:
The government has captured the hive but the angry bees have escaped and are regrouping to attack.
Soon enough, they did by bombing the LRT on Rizal Day that yearend, killing 14 and injuring 100 commuters. That LRT bomb also hurt the national economy and instilled a sense of fear and helplessness in the nation’s capital.
The violent cycle has gone on and on and on.
Economic costs of an All-Out War
Neither the military nor the government has ever disclosed how much a massive military operation costs taxpayers. This has always been shrouded in mystery. But we can presume that the government diverts funding to these unbudgeted events.
For Estrada’s All-Out War, the military deployed at least two marine and two infantry battalions, or the equivalent of around 2,400 men, not just for days but for at least over a month. Think how many bullets and bombs they needed.
In Basilan, an M14 bullet can be bought in the black market for P30 each; while an M16 bullet for P25 each, according to Allan Pisingan. Each M14 magazine can hold from 10 to 30 bullets. Given these kinds of figures, Estrada’s All-Out War must have been horribly expensive.
That particular war, however, had little direct impact on the national GDP, the UN-sponsored report concluded. Because in the first place, Mindanao island’s contribution to the GDP is “not particularly large from the viewpoint of the national economy.” It comprises only around half a percentage point of the national GDP.
But the report also cited a paper written by Schiavo-Camp and Judd on the Mindanao conflict. The authors argued that an All-Out War in Mindanao would have “a larger implicit economic cost” in this manner:
There is anecdotal but persuasive evidence from the international investment banking community that the troubles in the island have adversely affected the image of the country as an investor-friendly venue. This is consistent with the evidence…to the effect that capital flight is a main result of civil conflict, with capital repatriation following a settlement of the conflict.
In the case of Mindanao, however, such capital flight (limited by the low level of the initial capital) has been compounded by a failure to attract the equity investment that could be expected based on the area’s location and factor endowments – investment which was deflected to other areas in East and Southeast Asia.
The report also noted that the resulting deaths would also mean loss of potential income that could have been generated by the slain combatants for their families. The report estimated the loss at P69,300 yearly for a soldier killed (based on a private’s monthly salary); and P27,443 per year per rebel killed. The latter is lower in value because the basis used was the average per capita income of the Philippines as of 2003.
The most telling effect of the continuing conflict in Muslim Mindanao
An All-Out war is a tremendously psychologically draining experience which could affect a person’s health. The UN-funded report decided to correlate the average life expectancy of residents in the most war-torn areas with those areas where residents seem to live longest.
Apparently, residents live longest in the following five provinces, based on 2003 government data:
Cebu – around 72.6 years old
Pampanga – 72.2
Batangas – 71.8
Bulacan – 71.4
Camarines Sur – 71.3
In contrast, residents of the following five strife-torn provinces in Muslim Mindanao seem to have the shortest average life span:
Basilan – 60.6 years old
Lanao del Sur – 57.9
Sulu – 52.8
Maguindanao – 52
Tawi-Tawi – 51.2
Wow. That’s a 10-year difference in life expectancy between Cebu and Basilan.
And a 20-year difference between Cebu and Maguindanao where the MILF is centrally based. And yet the rebels stay there to pursue their dream of a Bangsamoro Homeland through an armed struggle, despite being the object of several All-Out Wars.
Why Estrada wanted and needed an All-Out War in 2000
It is only by placing Estrada’s All-Out War in historical context that we can understand why he did it.
Before launching the All-Out War, the Estrada administration was reeling from several money scandals and from two humiliating incidents that put it in the global spotlight.
On March 20, 2000, the Abu Sayyaf grabbed 58 students and adults in Basilan and held them for ransom. The following month on April 22, 2000, the Abu Sayyaf again seized 21 mostly foreign holiday makers from the Malaysian island resort of Sipadan and brought them to Sulu to be ransomed off.
On top of this, Estrada’s popularity was tumbling from a fresh batch of scandals. A Catholic nun, Sr. Christine Tan who then headed the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, disclosed that 87% or P430 million of the P495 million intended for its charity projects had been diverted to the offices of President Estrada, his wife, Luisa, and his son, Jinggoy.
Estrada’s Vice-President then – someone named Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – warned that the fund diversion “will result in the waning trust of the people in the government.”
It was also around this time that the scandal over alleged insider trading of BW Resources shares broke into the news, along with two other money scandals implicating top officials and friends of Estrada.
A P304.9 million contract to buy fire trucks was allegedly cornered by a company that reportedly used as go-between two movie stars close to the movie actor-turned-President. Estrada ordered an investigation on the matter.
In addition, reports bared that the chief government lawyer, Solicitor General Ricardo Galvez, had brokered a deal involving the awarding of 4,689 hectares of a military reservation in Nueva Ecija to a private individual. Estrada ordered the deal scrapped.
What damaged Estrada’s presidency the most at this time was the surprising confirmation of his chief presidential palace aide Aprodicio Laquian of the existence of Estrada’s “midnight cabinet”. Laquian said that:
at 4 o’clock in the morning, I am the only sober person in the room [and that] if there is one person who is sober in the room who would be able to take all of these things that were signed and then hide them in my record book, then the decision-making will probably be, in the beautiful light of the morning, very rational.
You can read more about Laquian’s outburst here.
In light of all these, political analysts at that time expressed the belief that Estrada’s motives for launching an All-Out War were partly self-serving. He needed to shore up his sagging presidency.
Six months after Camp Abubakar fell, Estrada himself had been shooed out of office.
Why President Benigno Aquino III does not want nor need an All-Out War
It is true that among all presidents, PNoy has a big stake in keeping peace in Mindanao after having personally met with MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim and other key rebel leaders in Tokyo.
That, however, is only part of the reason.
The Aquino administration is about to embark on a bold, ambitious and multi-billion pesos plan to bring development to Muslim Mindanao using the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) structure as the vehicle. It is still trying to persuade the MILF to be a partner in this experiment.
All these will come to nothing with an All-Out War.
But what about justice for the slain soldiers?
This is a question that’s been bothering me since the incident. The Republic has to stand by its soldiers.
This issue has been clouded, though, by the fact that neither the military nor the MILF has released a comprehensive post-battle report. We are being bombarded by confusing reports about what happened.
Meanwhile, the Army chief, Lt. General Arturo Ortiz, has already relieved two field commanders without any explanation.
Amid this confusion, President Aquino is faced with mounting criticism for not acting decisively and not ordering hot pursuit operations or an All-Out War at once.
And he is insisting on holding the peace.
And so we Filipinos are faced with the question – do we give peace a chance or go to war again?
To many of us, intermittent war in Mindanao has become so much a part of our reality.
A Cebuano named Jr. Kilat rightly pokes fun at this war mentality in his rap song entitled “M16”. You can listen to it below:
To download the 2005 Human Development Report, click on this link.
Josh A says
No matter what happens peace can never be attained through war. Yes, the bombing and gunfire may stop. But how about the fear inside the civilians created by these countless encounter resulting to killing, now tell me is that peace?
The government in Manila has been trying to work for a peace plan for some time. The one group that has seemed to want to work towards peace too was the MNLF. However, this group allowed known international terrorist to live amongst them. Why? The two terrorist which the SAF are teachers. They teach terror. They teach terror tactics. They are NOT MNLF. One is not even Filipino. The MNLF did not just harbor these two men, they were learning from them. . All the other Muslim terrorist groups in Mindanao have no say in the peace process since they do not agree with it and are actively trying to prevent peace unless it is on their terms. These other groups should NOT be in areas controlled by the MNLF. Why? The MNLF is the largest and strongest of the terrorist groups in Mindanao. If the AFP are in MNLF territory, then they too are being protected and harbored. . The MNLF does not want peace. They lie and put up a front like they desire peace,. but they know ‘peace’ as everyone wants, will not get them what they really want. Dragging out this violence is beneficial to them. Perhaps they are waiting for a particularly weak kneed president who will bend over for every thing the MNLF REALLY wants. Anger? You are damn right people are angry. They are angry with every single idiot who ordered this raid. They are angry that every doctrine of prisoner extraction taught to the SAF men seems to have been ignored. They are angry that there was no back up for the hours this bloodbath went on. They are angry at whom ever butchered injured SAF troops on the ground as they lay after the fight. They are angry that maybe some of the injured SAF men were tortured before they were murdered. They are angry the dead bodies were looted for person effects. They are angry that the SAF men who were not killed or wounded in the fight ran away and left their fallen comrades, alive or dead, in the hands of butchers. Damn it, I am a foreigner and I am angry.
dats cal moro says
All out war…panibagong gastusin ng gobyerno…at panibagong buwis na bayarin ng taong bayan. sana yung gusto ng giyera…sila na ang pumunta sa labanan, para maging bayani pagdating ng araw.
“the expected source of funds for the Bangsamoro, according to Iqbal, include:
Around P35 billion from the block grant
Around P10 billion from the special development fund
Around P18 billion from the internal revenue allotment of LGUs
Around P12 billion for funds from national agencies awarded to regional departments
“All in all we are looking at around P70 billion,” Iqbal said.
and thats just the initial budget for the first year……taken from taxpayers money
At magkano naman ang budget para sa all out war plus the casualties?
Why do I keep having this nightmare that someone in deep deep trouble is orchestrating this ALL OUT WAR stategy to process removal of PNoy from office before the 2016 elections? Hindi na maka-intay. I wish media will not give these war mongers air time to sow dissent and ruin our peoples chance for peace. Please, please my dear kababayans – let us support the BBL.
Nest Reyes says
better read the full contents of Bangsamoro Basic Law before you support it…Miriam Defensor Santiago says it’s Unconstitutional that can lead to a sub-state…
Sir, that’s the opinion of only one person. The law has been reviewed and re-reviewed by competent and highly capable lawyers, making sure that it is in the best interest of the Philippines, but at the same time able to improve the quality of life in Mindanao.
Support BBL? If I may I please ask was the content of that agreement open to the public so it can be understand? Not as far as I know, before agreeing to it, Filipino people must have a full understanding on Bangsamoro Basic Law.
The BBL for your information has been available in public for months and months now. The problem is we are quick to say our opinions without first informing ourselves diligently and objectively. Read the BBL it’s there in cyberspace available for your review and scrutiny.
War is NEVER nice nor entertaining, unlike the video games that many turn to nowadays. War is ALWAYS expensive. And, yes, war is never easy. But the doctrine of an all-out war is probably an echo of the Powell Doctrine that has the ff conditions: “In brief, the Powell Doctrine calls for:
1.Clear political objectives;
2. no mission creep;
3. the use of force as a last resort;
4. the employment of overwhelming military force only to secure vital interests;
5. no restraint on military operations by political leadership;
6. establishment of political support prior to military intervention;
7. immediate withdrawal after victory in accordance with a pre-designed exit strategy, and;
8.building broad support by the American people.”(Source: http://ciceromagazine.com/opinion/dont-bring-back-the-powell-doctrine/).
Along that line, the Philippine version of this Doctrine wlll probably flounder on Nos. 1, 5 and 6 alone, much less on #4. However, I believe Mr Erap Estrada and his military advisers did not envision total annihilation of the rebels in 2000, but to neutralize or even push back the alarming possibility of the rebels for military equality w/ the AFP AND the latter’s increasing temerity to conduct ambuscades of soldiers and bombings of civilian installations. The capture by the sprawling Camp Abubakr Camp, was, to many, justified even as the rebels used the FVR-built irrigation canals as concrete bunkers from which MILF snipers began their deadly work. But they were no match for the 105mmm howitzers…and the losers called it “unjustified total war.”
That said, government forces will just be have to be content w/ Limited War vs the mujahideen guerillas, and – just the same – many from both sides will die or be maimed. The Americans (and the Russians before that) are finding this to be so in Afghanistan, and now, the ISIS.
So, what will it be? Total War- Philippine Style, or, Limited War-PNoy Style, wherein we will probably have a few more repeats of the SAF44 Massacre, before equality with the MILF/Bangsamoro- militarily and economically – wiill be achieved? And pls., don’t tell me the “proper safeguards” are in place to ensure that this will not happen.
It’s already happening now…
Two choices. MILF should actively pursue terrorists and kidnapers and take over peace and order in their areas instead of turning a blind eye and coddling them or TOTAL WAR. Unless you want this farce to keep happening and you want the kidnapings and bombing to continue.
Total war, as long as you relocate in war affected areas while war is happening and you let evacuees stay in your original house while war is raging. Deal?
A bit of good news.. sana tuloy tuloy na…
Let us be an agent of PEACE. Taas-taasan natin ang ating anntena or pag uunawa at..magkaisa tayo at sabay sabay tayo mag balik for peace Ang ating pagtatagumpay ay nakasalalay sa ating mga kamay..Hawak kamay at harapin natin ang kinabukasan ng ating bansa ganun din sa susunod ng henerasyon..Ikahiya natin at matakot tayo sa Panginoon sapagkat ang Panginoon ay hindi kailan man makaramdan ng antok ni man makatulog. Ang panginoon ay sadyang makatarungan…
And your point being –
Understand how the Moros wage war before talking about peace. If they want peace then they should take over the peace and order function of government and actively pursue the JI, abu Sayaff and any lost command instead of hiding them and warning them if someone is after them. Unless you want the illusion of peace where they secretly help those group bomb, kidnap and plan the demise of who they consider “infidels”.
since the beginning moros don’t want to be living in co existence with anybody. they will die for freedom’s sake as they call it.
If Mindanao is not a part of the Philippines then I would agree that AFP will honor the MILF’s right to arm themselves and act on an equivalent level.
If we cannot co exist with them peacefully, no matter what we intend to do will not materialize. We have no choice…. we will heed to war as the shortest way to gain peace, and make a point that the true meaning of war is peace. After the war whoever survives will benefit the true meaning of peace…. alone.
Steve R says
Rightly so, in my view, all out war is the only way to peace in Mindanao. The PH can’t allow a sub-state as it will be used to attack the entire PH as we know Abu Sayaffs and MILF rebels made statements that co-existence is not acceptable to them. Sayaffs and MILF are reported to have trained in Mid East countries & returned as highly trained terrorists. The LRT bombing that killed 14, 21 killed by bomb blast & 48 wounded at Davao Airport in 2003, One hundred sixteen (116) killed during the Superferrry bombing, the worst to date. In 2007 8 soldiers were killed as a result of armed rebels supported by armed villagers, 26 soldier were ambushed & killed, 14 marines were killed and 10 were of the marines were beheaded. In 2008 a convent was raided, one was killed. In 2009 3 Red cross workers were kidnapped 2 soldiers killed, 2 U.S. soldiers killed in Jolo & one teacher beheaded. There is nothing to negotiate in Mindanao. In Davao, street children were reported to have disappeared mysteriously & the mentality behind Mayor Duterte’s puching a court officer is not acceptable in any Democratic country.
You know what, I’d like you to try living in Basilan or Maguindanao during an all-out war there.
If you really believe that’s the only way to peace, perhaps you should volunteer to fight.
MILF and Abu Sayyaf NEVER trained in Middle East. They trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan with Bin Laden forces.
Lorenzo Cureg says
Freedom is not free. If one party is not inclined for peace, the only solution is war. But for the sake of our country, let’s give peace a chance and try to feed the hungry. Perhaps, mindanao will a better place.
thank you for joining the discussion.
Josh A says
How sure are you that the next generation of these muslim rebels will not take revenge for the death of their fathers/brothers in case the government win an all out war at present.
Manuel C. Diaz says
Read the Koran and the Sharia law, the Muslims are indoctrinated to kill all unbelievers that is us non Muslim!
TO ALL “OUT WAR IN MINDANAO” MOVERS, If you think WAR is the best way to resolve problems and issues, then try killing your children and partner when you have problems at HOME. Then, if it works for you to attain PEACE, then, we MUST have war.
The Philippines is OUR HOME where in every member of the family needs deep understanding and selfish-less care and love to attain PEACE and have a big happy family…
It would be very difficult task to kill especially your own family but this will depend on the situation… like if you are an enlisted soldier of the AFP and as you have said your family is on the other side like the MILF its really hard and tough decision to make to kill them… but the law must be applied to all otherwise no law at all.
Steve R says
Cassey, You can not compare disciplining of children to that of the beheaded AFP marines in 2007 and the barbaric murders of six (6) soldiers in October 2011. The stern belief of MILF and Abu Sayyafs to die than to coexist with others in the Philippines has been reported in the news several times. Survey also have shown that only ten (10 %) percent of people in Mindanao are favoring non-coexistence with others who not not Muslims.
that is the most childish and escapist, non logical arguement that I have ever heard. before talking, please read how the Moros wage war. This is real politic. Peace without commitment from both parties (meaning the MILF should if they want to take over all functions of government, keep peace and order, actively pursue JI, Abu Sayaff and any “lost command ” instead of codling, helping and secretly supporting them) is not peace at all. It just means you are too scared to look at reality and demand what is right. Do you not know their warrior culture and how they fight?