The irony and tragedy that is General Esperon

May. 26, 2008

InPeace Mindanao

General Hermogenes Esperon’s appointment as new adviser to the peace process is not only ironic but also tragic and outrageous.

Ironic because in the effort to address the issue of armed conflict raging in Mindanao between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the revolutionary forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the National Democratic Front (NDF), principled dialogue and sincerity is the key.

But with Gen. Esperon, comes a warhawk who is hell-bent to quash the armed conflict rather than talk peace.

His record as AFP Chief of Staff shows nothing that qualifies him as peace adviser, aside from the imprudent idea that a freshly-retired general, not a civilian, is tasked to address the complexities of the country’s continuing civil war.

Under his watch, the AFP was engaged in a counter-insurgency program called Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) which has resulted in massive evacuations of communities, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and scores of other human rights abuses against farmers, workers, activists, lawyers, the religious, and journalists. Such atrocities led UN special rapporteur Philip Alston to implicate OBL as responsible for the killings and disappearances and to pinpoint blame on the AFP under Esperon.

Before relinquishing the reins of the AFP, Esperon left a bloody trail of evacuations and human rights violations inflicted by government troops in the Caraga region, Compostela Valley , and Davao Oriental, and in many other parts of the country.

Esperon’s appointment also becomes tragic. What advise would Esperon give to Ms. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in addressing the issue of peace?

The people remember it was Esperon who vowed to crush the insurgency by 2010. It was Esperon who, a few months ago when his term was extended as Chief of Staff, said the months ahead would be bloody. As a military man he has relentlessly pursued war as a solution to the country’s armed conflict without making himself accountable for the devastation wrought by military operations and all-out wars on civilians. Esperon is no student of history to believe that the military solution can root out a political movement that is bred by decades of poverty and injustice in just three years.

Finally, Esperon’s appointment is so contemptible it insults the common sense. What credibility, for example, does the Hello, Garci general have in talking about the substantive agenda in the peace process such as socio-political, economic, and electoral reforms?

By surrounding itself with loyal hawks like Gen. Esperon, the Arroyo administration shows no hope and sincerity to seriously talk peace. What Arroyo gives with her left hand, she takes back with her right: while informal talks with the NDFP were opened in Norway at the start of last week, Esperon was appointed peace adviser at the end of the week.

Of course, we could all be wrong, if the peace Arroyo and Esperon mean is the silence of the graveyard.

The challenge remains for us peace advocates to move with the marginalized and oppressed in Mindanao to unite and confront the barriers to peace, starting with rejecting a general’s appointment as government’s peace czar.#

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