Press Release
April 22, 2010

Speech of Sen. Benigno S. Aquino III
Peace & Security Forum
April 22, 2010, Mandarin Oriental Manila

The essential principle of democratic government is the consent of the governed. Nineteen days from today, our people will go into thousands of precincts all over the archipelago to exercise their right to vote. They will give their consent to be governed by their chosen leaders.

It is this essential principle of democracy that is threatened by the developments - or lack of them - in the preparations for the first Automated Election System (AES), decisions of the Comelec and the Supreme Court, and recently, the DOJ Secretary's decision to absolve two powerful members of the notorious Ampatuan clan from the massacre of 57 civilians, mostly women and members of the media.

The release of Governor Zaldy Ampatuan of ARMM and Mayor Akmad Ampatuan comes at a suspicious time - a few weeks before the elections. The consent of our fellow brothers and sisters in Maguindanao, we can predict, will not be given freely and honestly.

The infamous Ampatuans of Maguindanao have become the symbol of everything that has gone wrong in Maguindanao, ARMM and other conflict-ridden areas. While political warlords like the Ampatuans live like kings, their own constituencies live in abject poverty and hopelessness. While their kind roam freely, their constituents will continue to live wretched lives, and worse, their consent to be governed - the essence of democracy - will never be freely given.

But, from a different and broader perspective, the Maguindanao massacre and the Ampatuans are the symptoms of a deeper systemic problem: the failure of the Arroyo administration to implement a comprehensive National Security Policy that focuses on the root causes of war and conflict.

Unless we correct this problem immediately, the democratic way of life will never be secure in our country and progress will remain an elusive dream.

The situation in the ARMM and in other conflict areas in Mindanao reveal how the present administration merely paid lip service to the quest for true peace, security and progress.

For close to a decade, the present administration has wasted opportunities to resolve our internal conflicts and move this nation forward. Instead it exploited the conditions spawned by the internecine conflict for political gain. It chose to coddle warlords willing to deliver command votes come election time rather than arrest them and implement the law.

The rejection of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA - AD) has taught valuable but costly lessons to the advocates of peace.

The absence of a clear national policy and coherent strategy for peace negotiations led to confusion and false expectations across the table.

The negotiations were done secretly and without involving the views of key stakeholders whose futures depend on the "promise of Mindanao."

Moreover, negotiations were done in haste to meet deadlines set to gain "brownie points" from an expectant international community.

The result was a patchwork of provisions in a document that caused greater division than unity.

Today, the quest for peace, security and progress in Mindanao is in tatters.

The next administration will have to pick up the pieces and resume the quest for peace with vigor and clarity of purpose.

For 9 long years the Arroyo administration has failed to put in place a coherent National Security Policy that addresses the root causes of strife and conflict.

Within the first 3 months of the next administration, the next National Security Adviser must complete the drafting of a comprehensive National Security Policy for the approval of the National Security Council.

This vital document should be a product of consultations from various stakeholders including representatives from the different components of the security sector and other agencies.

This strategic document will guide our national defense and internal security policies that, in turn, will shape our respective national military and law enforcement strategies.

This work should be completed by the end of 2010. All together, these documents will provide a coherent policy framework for the development of operation plans and work programs with defined timeliness, key result areas and clearly defined measures of accomplishment, as we move forward towards peace, security and progress.

Our quest must not only focus on ensuring stability of the State and the security of our nation. Our ultimate goal must be the safety and well-being of our people. Thus, our National Security Policy must focus on 4 key elements: (1) Governance; (2) Delivery of Basic Services; (3) Economic Reconstruction and Sustainable Development; and (4) Security Sector Reform.[1]

The government must be present and accountable to its citizens especially those living in the poorest and most remote areas.

We must put an end to the long history of patronage politics used by a national leadership merely interested in exploiting the region as a source of votes and malleable support. In this vein, our security forces must be directed to dismantle all private armies.

We must ensure that our next leaders are freely elected by the people.

We must help the people realize the power of their vote. Let us strengthen their faith in democratic processes and the rule of law. We must enable them to hold their elected leaders accountable for the public trust they have reposed in them.

While engaged in conflict resolution, we must deliver basic services (health and education specifically) to depressed and vulnerable barangays in conflict areas with the help of international partners, the private sector and non-profit organizations. We must also put in place effective and transparent mechanisms to ensure that aid reaches those most in need.

To alleviate the plight of innocent civilians caught in the conflict, we must renew government programs that build access roads, school buildings for basic and adult education, provide potable water and sanitation facilities, basic health care, electricity, assist in shelter reconstruction, and provide temporary livelihood interventions.

The ARMM remains the laggard in Mindanao's march to sustainable economic growth. It is no coincidence that the center of peace and order problems in Mindanao is in the ARMM. Clearly, the conditions obtaining in the ARMM constitute a significant roadblock to the development of Mindanao and the rest of the country.

For these reasons, the economic reconstruction of the ARMM should be fully integrated in all Mindanao-wide and national development plans to bring the blessings of peace to its people and set it on its way to sustainable development as a valuable contributor to our national movement towards progress.

In support thereof, the national government, in partnership with international donor organizations, must assist the new ARMM regional government in building a capable bureaucracy with streamlined and transparent procedures to increase the region's absorptive capacity for development projects that will come its way.

Reforming the Security Sector must begin with restoring the pride and honor of our uniformed services. We need strong, capable and disciplined security forces serving under firm democratic civilian control to achieve and sustain peace and security in our land.

Unfortunately, this government has repeatedly undermined our security institutions. Because of politically driven policies and actions, well-conceived and promising reform programs like the Philippine Defense Reform (PDR) and the PNP Integrated Transformation Program (PNP-ITP) were reduced to mere window dressing that concealed the decline of our institutions. The most recent of these actions include:

Midnight appointments in key leadership positions based on personal loyalties instead of merit and fitness

Corruption in "supplier-driven" midnight deals that are being rushed even as we speak

The coddling and arming of warlords and private armies that have acted with impunity as shown in the Ampatuan Massacre

The reversal of policies to insulate the military and police from partisan politics

The repeated abuse of Commander-in-Chief powers to advance a political agenda in the guise of addressing emergencies

It is unfortunate how the present administration has quickly forgotten that as a result of similar acts in the past, some of our men and women in uniform have taken to the extreme and rose in mutiny.

However, within our security institutions, is a broad and moderate reform constituency of security professionals who remain optimistic towards the future of their organizations and the possibility of winning the peace. They are professionals who uphold the Constitution and seek positive change under competent leadership that is imbued with integrity. They seek and deserve a Commander-in-Chief who will lead by example and who will help restore pride in the hearts of those who have answered the call to serve our nation.

Decades of neglect of the national leadership to provide the most basic needs of our security forces have greatly diminished the capabilities of our security institutions. Providing mission essential equipment and basic training to our security forces must be a top priority of the next administration.

As our troops take to the frontlines and our police go on patrol, it is our responsibility to look after their welfare and that of their families.

In the medium term, the link between security and economic development must be translated to adequate budgetary support for the development and maintenance of capabilities of our security organizations. For instance, as the economy improves, the defense budget must eventually become a set proportion of our national GDP, taking into account the limitations provided under the law and without sacrificing the delivery of basic services.[2]

Lost capabilities will not be restored and honor will not be regained in our security institutions unless the endemic corruption that eats away at our security organizations is curbed. Every peso stolen from the budget of our security organizations represents a drop of blood of our soldiers, airmen, sailors and police officers who risk their lives in the service of our nation.

Thus, "supplier-driven" contracts must be a thing of the past for the next administration. Comprehensive procurement reforms that promote transparency and efficiency must be fully implemented and include the participation of reputable watchdog organizations. Anyone caught profiting from procurement contracts will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

In this regard, we call upon suppliers and representatives of foreign governments to refrain from entering into eleventh hour contracts with this outgoing administration. If such midnight deals are concluded just the same, they must all be subjected to the strictest scrutiny and immediately rescinded whenever warranted.

Personnel procurement for the PNP must be immediately rationalized and safeguarded to ensure that those enlisted in the service possess all qualifications required by law. Credentials of applicants including those already in the service must be strictly scrutinized to eliminate forgeries and fraudulent enlistment.

Provincial police recruitment must be closely supervised by the PNP leadership under strict policies to be issued by the NAPOLCOM to crack down on recruitment rackets and preclude undue influence from local politicians in the enlistment process that results in the formation of private armies with the involvement of some unscrupulous police officers.

Police and law enforcement personnel found guilty of using and trafficking drugs, engaging in kidnapping, extortion rackets that victimize traders and the poor, and graft and corruption involving public funds shall suffer the most severe penalties to instill a culture of public accountability within the organization.

Even as we invest time and effort in building strong, capable and disciplined security forces, we are prepared to offer an olive branch to those who have taken up arms against the State and now wish to join us in our quest for just and lasting peace.

The next administration must reaffirm the government's commitment to the suspension of armed hostilities.

We must revive the peace process on the basis of a comprehensive understanding of the root causes of the conflict, under clear policies that pave the way ahead, and driven by a genuine desire to attain a just and lasting peace.

We shall endeavor to restore confidence in the peace process that is transparent and participative, and renew our faith in our shared vision of a peaceful, secure and prosperous future under one sovereign flag.

With this approach, and with the consent of our people, I am confident that the next 6 years will be a watershed period in the history of our young nation that is at peace with itself and proudly marching towards an even brighter future.

# # #

[1] These elements are derived from a universally accepted template for post-conflict stability, reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts used in such war-torn places as Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan.
[2] Invariably, our defense budget is approximately 1% of the GDP. Ideally, this should increase to at least 2% once the resurgent economy can sustain it taking into account the constitutional mandate that the State shall assign the highest budgetary priority to education [Section 5(5), Article XIV of the Constitution. For other ASEAN countries, as of 2005, the ratio of defense spending to GDP is as follows: Thailand 1.8%, Malaysia 2.03%, Vietnam 2.5%, Indonesia 3% and Singapore 4.5% [Source: CIA Factbook].

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