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Enough of this total war!

So you want to return to a total war policy against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)? This is a nice way to stoke popular anger, but before you proceed can I ask how you would deal with the following issues? 

How much will it cost you, not only in terms of lives but also of precious resources, monies, in short, to win this war? I doubt if you know. However, let’s use an earlier revolt as basis for comparison.

There is no exact figure of how much the Moro National Liberation Front’s rebellion cost the Marcos dictatorship, but I distinctly remember Walden Bello and Severina Rivera, in their now classic Logistics of Repression and Other Essays: The Role of U.S. Assistance in Consolidating the Martial Law Regime in the Philippines (1977) estimating the cost to about $1 million a day for the dictatorship. At P7.40 pesos to a dollar, and you’d assume a month of face-to-face conventional warfare, the total would be roughly P229 million ($30 million). At today’s rates, (P44.1 pesos to US$1.00O), that would be about P1.367 billion pesos ($31 million). 

So, are you ready to spend that much of our savings on this war? And where will you get the money from – the AFP’s P142-billion budget? That would be easy. But what if the war extends to another three months? Will you be ready to tell the AFP to shift the monies it has allotted to buy jets and ships necessary to defend our territory from the Chinese navy? 

If you go to war, it means you also have to reorient the military once again – to take away a large chunk of its force away from the retraining necessary to make them an external defense force, and back to its old role as an internal counter-insurgency army. How much would that cost in terms of money, how would this affect the mindset of our officers and soldiers and how much of a time will we waste with this reorientation?  

Let’s talk about the impact of this total war on the communities in the war zone.

What happened in 1975?

Again there is no exact data on the human cost of the MNLF war. We specifically do not have numbers on how many civilians were killed or wounded as the war raged around the Lanao and (then) Cotabato areas, and in the Sulu archipelago. Bello and Rivera again estimated the number of displaced about 1 million people (many ending in Sabah), and came up with 50,000 in terms of casualties. These were already large numbers, and I am sure they would go up if we factor in what happened to the communities affected by the war. It is now forty-one years since Jolo was burned (to save Jolo) and the physical and psychological scars are still visible among the residents there. 

So, you want to go all out war now, and, say, fight the MILF for a month. Will you be prepared to host 1 million internal refugees or oversee the rehabilitation of destroyed towns? Christians and Muslim?

The battle zones will most likely be in the Maguindanao-Lanao del Sur areas. That means refugees will be heading to the cities of Ozamiz, Iligan, Cotabato and maybe as far as General Santos.

 

Drain on local resources

In 2008 we interviewed the mayor of Iligan city who complained about how much Iligan City’s hospitals have been stretched to the limit of their resources, because residents of nearby Lanao del Sur go there for medical treatment. The latters’ medical facilities and services are just simply inadequate. This was before Umbra Kato attacked the coastal towns near Iligan and just across from Ozamiz!  

One therefore can imagine the hospitals in these four towns having to go into emergency mode, using up reserved medicines, telling their doctors and nurses to work double hours, filling upwards and private rooms, etc., as the war spreads. Will you, war freaks, come to the rescue of these embattled cities? I doubt it.

Finally, it would be foolhardy to assume that just because its firepower is not as potent as that of the AFP (that has tanks and aircraft), the MILF can be easily beaten. In 2000, their camps were indeed captured by the military (this is the source of Erap’s confidence), but the assault did not destroy the Bangsamoro army. Instead it shifted to some form of guerrilla warfare, that appears to have succeeded only because that army – sans Kato – is still pretty much there. 

And it is an army that has the strong support or sympathy of a majority of Maguindanaoans. This means then that if this total war will not eliminate each and every MILF mujahideen, then the AFP will have to deal with an alienated population, one that will do all it can to protect its defenders and provide them with new recruits. The AFP will have to stay and assume its old role – that of an occupation force.

Is the AFP ready for another war of the flea, given that it still has to deal with the communist New People's Army?

If you want to go on an all-out war and get the public’s support, you might want to start coming out with credible answers to these questions. 

If these are difficult to answer, shouldn’t we just all go back to the negotiating table and settle things out? It’s a lot cheaper. – Rappler.com

 

Patricio N. Abinales is from Mindanao.