Philippine congressman Satur Ocampo visited the Netherlands and spoke to around 50 expatriate Filipinos in Amsterdam Wednesday. Plus two Dutch and one American, if I counted correctly.
I begin by pleading a lot of ignorance about the Philippines.
This man's resume has to be read to be believed. Suffice it to say he's a leftist leader who was tortured under the Marcos regime and arrested as recently this year on rebellion charges. He's never been found guilty and was re-elected to the opposition in May.
Here are two clips of his talk.
In the first he says the U.S. has taken the opportunity of Sept. 11 to re-establish a permanent military presence in the Philippines, using the threat from Muslim separatist (terrorist) groups like Abu Sayyaf and the communist (terrorist) groups (linked to Ocampo) as justification.
Though U.S. troops were expelled from the country in 1992, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo wants U.S. assistance, and her government is dependent on the support of the Philippines' military for survival. So the expansion of defense budgets is a political necessity, and with all that funding, the military must be seen to do something. They've been carrying on military "exercises" in cooperation with U.S. troops continually for five years now, most recently this month.
But victory over either 8,000 communists (?) or the 200-member (?) Abu Sayyaf has remained elusive.
From an outsider's perspective, I'd say Abu Sayyaf (tiny), the Communists (small) and the Army (huge) are all involved in struggles to exert power where they can; all are trying to extract "taxes" by various means in their spheres of influence; and none always follows the rules of war.
Only Iraq has been a more dangerous place for journalists to work since 2003.
The whole reason we hate Al-Qaida is that they kill innocent civilians. Who shall we hate in the Philippines?
The economy is performing well under Arroyo; but bribery is rampant and the human rights record of the country is terrible, according to Amnesty International and others: leftists suspected of links with communists _ and members of the opposition _ are targeted by (para)military forces for summary executions.
To contrast with Ocampo, here's an Agence France Press report on Arroyo from Wednesday:
Speaking to local officials ... Arroyo said the 39-year-old Maoist rebellion "impedes the progress and development of a number of rural areas" where the majority of the poorest Filipinos live.
"So if we are to become a first world country, we'll have to put a stop to this ideological nonsense and criminal acts once and for all and we want to defeat them by 2010."
In the second clip, Ocampo says the military push doesn't jibe well with a general amnesty Arroyo offered to communists in September. He questions whether the economic development that's meant to be paired with the offensive will work in practice.
As a very last remark, I'd say that the intractable problem is trying to get all sides to disarm. Focusing on the army: they must have an enemy and be fighting him in order to justify their existence. Having a large standing army causes all kinds of problems. The Romans knew this, as did U.S. president Eisenhower.
So until the region in demilitarized, including a reduction in the size of the army _ which is not currently on the cards _ I can't imagine that the Philippines will know true peace & stability.