By Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) Updated January 24, 2011
The chief of the military’s Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) uses the caldero or cooking pot as a gauge for measuring the success of a counterinsurgency campaign.
When a Nolcom soldier no longer needs to bring along a caldero while on field duty, it means he has won the trust of local residents sufficiently enough to eat with them in their households.
His message to the Nolcom troops, says Lt. Gen. Gaudencio Pangilinan, is, “You are the soldier of the people.”
Nolcom soldiers have also been instructed to tell civilians to stop addressing them as “sir” and instead use their first names. This is in line with the inaugural speech of the new President and commander-in-chief, in which he said the boss is the Filipino people: “Kayo ang boss namin.”
On the first day of 2011, the Nolcom, which has jurisdiction over Northern and Central Luzon, launched a new strategy for “winning the peace.” Called Bayanihan, it seeks to address not only armed threats but also “long-term risks” to national security, which include social injustice, exploitation, corruption, malnutrition and illiteracy.
I asked Pangilinan last week if Bayanihan and its “campaign plan” called Ugnayan would not be blocked by local politicians, who are the ones tasked to deliver basic services.
Pangilinan, who can talk like the military version of a financial technocrat, said he didn’t expect opposition because Bayanihan was drawn up together with stakeholders in the campaign to win the peace, including local government executives, civil society and the Philippine National Police.
On Friday the other week the first batch of 30 Nolcom field commanders – mostly captains and first lieutenants – finished the one-week seminar on Bayanihan, for dissemination down the ranks. The Nolcom has two divisions or about 20,000 soldiers.
This “people-centered” approach promotes “human security” and gives primacy to human rights and the rule of law. It has “zero tolerance” for collateral damage in armed conflict, Pangilinan said.
The Nolcom, and the military’s Oplan “Bantay Laya” which Bayanihan replaced, for too long operated in the shadow cast by officers such as Jovito Palparan. I know key security officials who still believe Palparan’s counterinsurgency methods had their uses, that someone had to do the dirty work in the military.
Pangilinan acknowledges the need to erase the stigma of Palparan. But how?
He will apply the principle of command responsibility and hold an officer accountable for human rights violations committed by subordinates, Pangilinan said, if the officer ordered, encouraged, or did not discourage the offense.
On rules of engagement, Nolcom soldiers are being instructed not to fire unless fired upon. Soldiers who have been in combat will tell you that complying with this is easier said than done, but give the Nolcom an A for effort. It probably helps when soldiers are reminded that their enemies are fellow Filipinos.
Whether Pangilinan’s ideas will be sustained remains to be seen. A member of the Philippine Military Academy’s Class of ’79, the 55-year-old Pangilinan is retiring from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in July.
As part of requirements for a two-year correspondence course for a masters in strategic studies at the War College in Pennsylvania, Pangilinan submitted a thesis on “assessing the expanded role of the AFP in nation-building.”
Of the 9,854 barangays in Northern and Central Luzon, about 75 percent are classified as rural. The Nolcom, with the help of local governments and civil society, is identifying the “super rural” 10 percent for initial implementation of Bayanihan this year.
Soldiers in these super rural areas will help improve governance. Digging drainage, repairing leaking school roofs, cleaning school houses, even assisting in transporting crops – “these things mean a lot to the people,” Pangilinan told me. “They show genuine concern for the people, that we are caring for you.”
Some Nolcom members are being trained to teach certain subjects and provide limited health care. Pangilinan has also asked for a special enlistment of midwives into the AFP Medical Corps, with the first batch of 20 to join the Nolcom’s Army contingent.
Nolcom officers, meanwhile, are being trained on the ways of empathy, compassion, and engagement with their boss the citizenry – Dale Carnegie-type programs on “how to make people like you,” Pangilinan said.
He is realistic enough to admit that in some areas such as Abra, parts of Mountain Province and the conflict zones of Mindanao, these programs are not enough and “you have to show a bit of mailed fist.”
Pangilinan is also skeptical about ceasefires with rebel groups, which he says are used for propaganda purposes, although he supports the suspension of military offensives during certain periods such as the Christmas season.
“We talk and fight,” he said.
Bayanihan is in line with the concept of Security Sector Reform developed for global application by the United Nations, which has received an ISO 9000 certification in public governance. It aims to achieve discipline in society through effective law enforcement and local governance, a credible judiciary, and a system characterized by accountability and transparency.
“Non-combat, development-focused military activities shall be improved and diversified, in order to demonstrate genuine government concern for our people,” according to a Nolcom document on Bayanihan. “A peace and security constituency has to be developed.”
The program aims to defeat terrorist groups by isolating them from any mass base, other local threat groups, foreign organizations that can provide financial and technological support, and from the international front where they can spread propaganda.
“Once isolated, your AFP is in a better position to apply military force with precision and without collateral damage,” the Nolcom document declares.
“Bayanihan patrols” will be conducted by teams to maintain a “persistent presence” in certain areas.
With the support of stakeholders, Bayanihan aims to give the AFP the moral high ground in “winning the peace.”
I’m waiting for the first soldier to lay down his caldero.