Senate President Vicente Sotto must have copied the wrong answer on Monday, June 8, when he claimed that addressing poverty and social injustices would not eradicate terrorism.
“Mali ‘yun [na dapat sugpuin ang kahirapan at kawalan katarungan sa paglaban ng terorista]. They want to live in a perfect world. Hindi naman ‘yun ang problema ng terorista eh. Ang problema ng terrorista, ideology. Ang tinatarget ng Anti-Terror bill ay yung ideolohiya na guluhin ang gobyerno,” Sotto said in an interview over Dobol B sa News TV.
He thought he found a rock to help defend his stand on Anti-Terrorism Law by pounding on ideology as the root cause of terrorism not knowing that the same rock will just crush his argument.
When doing the research for the book, Issues and Critical Actions in Governance, one of the interesting stories we found was the role of a circumferential road in the decline of New People’s Army (NPA) recruits and community support in Irosin, Sorsogon. That single road the then-mayor Doc. Eddie Dorotan helped built connected the rural and hard-to-reach barangays to the town center thereby facilitating access to local government services and information, and resuscitated the dying local economy. Was there an iron hand used? None. But the then mayor exerted political will talking to both sides (Philippine Army and the NPAs) to have his road project built without any interruptions. And both sides listened because of the premise that he was talking to sane people — the leaders of the government’s armed forces and the NPAs who exercises logic and can accept explanations.
The same is also true in Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte where Mayor Rommel Arnado offered planting seeds and asked nothing but trust and support from the members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). By addressing food insecurity, poverty, hunger and inequalities, Mayor Rommel was able to help over 600 former combatants reintegrate into society through farming and by decreasing the rate of poverty in the area to 40 per cent in 2016. Did Mayor Rommel use an iron hand to convince these combatants? The answer is also no.
Photo credit: LGU-Kauswagan
The point here is, there are many ways to address an issue though only a few delivers good results. Those that deliver good results are not a product of luck but of honest-to-goodness situation analysis and consultations. Automatically ruling out the idea of addressing poverty and social injustices to address terrorism clearly shows a lack of complete understanding on why ideologies exist in the first place.
Ideology is formed out of perceived injustice. It is always born out of conviction that the oppressed must rise up — violently or otherwise — and work for a new, if not maintaining the old, order. Even Ku Klux Klan members believe that the society is unjust for allowing people of other races to be treated equally with them. The society has to respect hierarchies, they claim, and altering the same is doing injustice. That was also the claim of Adolf Hitler so he tormented the Jews. And that is also the claim of those jihadis who color their belief with religion.
Second, ideology is defined in terms of the economic, socio-cultural and political relations of the members of the society. The death of George Floyd, for instance, can be traced to social relations that are tied to economic-related claims. Because Floyd was black, he must be a criminal and therefore the money he paid could really be fake. Unfortunately, that assumption led to the tipping point that led to the “Black Lives matter” protests. Colored people went out to protest because of what have perceived as social injustices. Even jihadis have economic interests in what they are doing — the belief that they will have sufficient bread and virgins when they accomplish what they need to do here on earth. But if they can have their fill in this world, why would they desire to sacrifice for something they haven’t seen and only their faith can promise?
Domestically, Moro rebels exist because they feel robbed of their lands, among others. NPAs also exist because they see poverty being unsolved while some politicians stuffed their pockets with the taxes taken from the hard-earned money of the people. But, when leaders like Mayor Rommel and Doc. Eddie gave the people the services that could alter at least these socio-economic relations, things eventually change.
Next, ideologies are not automatically violent. The kind of democracy that the Philippine Constitution espouses, the social democratic tendencies of the Scandinavian countries and the political theosophy of Dalai Lama are ideologies that are not violent. But while it is true that there are ideologies that use violence, countering violence with violence just makes everyone involved the same. Where is the truth then to the saying “there are many ways to kill a cat”?
No doubt, the Philippines need an anti-terrorism law. However, that law should not be a terrorist in itself. That law should be founded on a humanist, not atavistic, perspective and should take an approach different from the evil it sought to address.
Given these, is Senator Sotto correct by sweeping under the rug the issues of poverty and social injustice to address terrorism? Well, maybe he needs to look at a different answer sheet.