General Prem Tinsulanonda, Manila, March 4, 1995
Honorable Rafael M. Aluman
The Honorable Renato S.De Villa
General Arturo Enrile,
Officers of the AFP,
count myself doubly fortunate: first, to be here in the company
of distinguished friends of the Philippine Armed Forces with
whom we in the Royal Thai Armed Forces have traditionally
enjoyed close ties of friendship and fraternity; and, secondly,
to be given the opportunity to share a few thoughts with you
on this happy occasion. I am thankful to His Excellency President
Fidel V. Ramos for his kind invitation to visit once more
your great country. I also wish to thank General Arturo Enrile,
Chief of Staff of the AFP, our gracious host, for his generous
hospitality his evening.
visiting the Philippines this time around comes with a special
bonus. This morning, I was with His Excellency the President
attending the graduation ceremony at the Military Academy
in Baguio. I found myself sharing the pride and excitement
of the new graduates, reliving vividly the moment of
birth of my own military career. At one stroke, I felt
as if fifty years had been taken off my age. That, gentlemen,
was the special bonus!
understand that this audience may be interested in comparing
notes on our respective experiences in, combating insurgency.
Where the Thai experience is concerned, I do not think you
would expect me to go through the technicalities of the formal
provisions, by which I mean the relevant regulations and orders,
in particular, Prime Ministers Order No. 66/23. Rather,
it may be more useful if I could give an account, some of
which would necessarily be from a personal angle, focusing
on how we in Thailand perceived the problem of insurgency,
how we set about addressing those problems as well as the
underlying rationale for the policy and various measures we
adopted. Of course, I would not be so presumptuous as to say
that our own experience might be applicable, or even relevant,
to situations and problems found elsewhere. Thats for
others to say. Situations and problems do vary from place
to place, both in their nature and magnitude.
me, it began 22 years ago towards the end of 1973. I was assigned
to the Second Army Region in the Northeast of Thailand, well
known then as the hotbed of communist insurgency. Though I
vaguely knew that the situation there had become critical,
I had little or no true knowledge of the problem. On the second
day of my arrived, I lost twenty-three of my men in one single
ambush. The whole town barely had enough coffins to put them
in. I was plunged into the depths of sadnesslost for
took us quite a while to grasp the nature of the problem.
Suffice it for me perhaps to point out certain salient features.
communist infiltration into the local populace was so deep-rooted,
so widespread that we had no means of knowing foes friends.
Every day, we would be fired on by those whom we mistook as
friends or we ourselves would be firing on people mistaken
as foes. Unless this basic question could be resolved, there
was not the remotest chance that we could be resolved; there
was not the remotest chance that we could even begin to grapple
with the situation.
this had to do with the perception each side had of the other.
In my early days, my own perception of the self-styled Communist
Party of Thailand or CPT and their sympathizers was one of
the invading enemies from some foreign land, people who must
be put down at all cost. And certainly I was not alone in
harboring that kind of an attitude, which had over time been
seeping into our collective mentality. Nor could I, at the
same time, understand why local inhabitants were full of mistrust
for the authorities in all the manifestations. As soon as
we set foot in a village, their villagers would run away;
at best, they would ignore our presence and instantly clamp
up upon our approach. The misperception and the distrust were
leads me to my third point, that is, trying to identify the
cause of this mistrust. Of course, we had heard of oppressive
practices which officialdom in remote areas were prone to.
But to come across it at first hand made us intensely conscious
of the intimidation, the harassment and exploitation, which
had become all too routine. Once we succeeded in getting the
villagers to talk to us, we learned of extortions, of husbands
and sons being summarily put away at the slightest
suspicion or of daughters being abducted to satisfy the casual
needs of someone or another. In short, officialdom was its
own enemy, turning ordinary villagers into communist sympathizers
determined to avenge the wrongs perpetrated.
people in the rural Northeast at the time were so poor that
they more or less became economic outcasts. They were living
a hand to mouth existence at the very outer edge of society.
For them, food was whatever could be gathered at large, day-to-day
or moment-to-moment. They had no schooling, thus condemned
to a similarly bleak future.
villages were inaccessible. One day, having covered some distance
on foot on the way to a village, we came across coconut trees.
Tired and thirsty, we asked the owner who was standing nearby
if we could buy some coconuts. He happily brought over the
coconuts, Asked how much we should pay for the coconuts, he
said that he didnt know because he had never sold a
coconut in his life, To me, this showed the extent of the
neglect, People were being abandoned to an existence beyond
the pale of society.
for one did not subscribe to the view that the insurgency
was a question of ideological struggle. It was poverty and
neglect that were the fertile soil on which the CPT could
easily sow the seeds of discontent.
you can see, we were caught in a vicious spiral: mistrust
begat mistrust, violence begat violence. The magnitude of
the problem was such that we could not hope to solve it all
at once, but a start had to be made somewhere. The first step
was to win trust. We went in and offered to help: teaching
children to read, tilling the fields, tending to the sick
or doing whatever chores they would let us. I distinctly remember
one village, which was especially difficult. The first time
our men went in they had to pitch camp outside the village
because they would not be let in. Villagers just hurled insults
and abuses at them. Luckily, the man we picked to lead that
squad was a man of understanding and perseverance. Thought
repeatedly turned away, he would always be back the next morning
offering help to villagers working in the fields. It took
all of seven months before the villagers started to feel sorry
for our men and agreed to join in the Self-defense Volunteers
Self-defense Volunteers Program was later to become the thrust
of our counter-insurgency campaign in that it served as the
organizational framework for dialogue and interaction with
the villagers at grassroots level. The Program took on life
from an initiative of a local District Officer whose commitment
to his work was total. He went around recruiting local teachers,
village leaders or just acquaintances, engaging them in discussion
on how best to organize and train self-defense volunteers
to resist the CPT. We simply amplified on his initiative and
extended it cover all other villages.
began to trickle in and we also started to learn who our friends
were. Even if there were CPT infiltrators among the volunteers,
we would at least be able to keep an eye on them, to monitor
their movements. We would know where they were and what they
did at various times of the day and night. Some would vanish
into the jungle at night and return to the village in the
morning. In truth, the villagers themselves already knew who
these so-called jungle people were It was a question
gaining their trust and confidence before they were prepared
to tell us what they knew.
was within the framework of this Program too that we made
sure the villagers could also distinguish between friends
and foes, between the good and the bad elements within the
bureaucracy. A mechanism was put into place enabling us to
effect the instant removal of the bad elements from the scene
once they were identified as such, with diplomacy action taken
where needed, Justice had to be seen to be done for it to
have any credibility.
What I have described were essentially measures to contain
the CPT. By far the more formidable task was how to tackle
the widespread poverty, which we saw as the root cause of
insurgency and indeed all social ills. The Second Army Region,
despite being the unified command of military and civilian
resources in the Northeast, had its obvious limitations. We
had to do the best we could. We started by identifying three
main areas in which we could be of help to the villagers:
means of subsistence, schooling and health care. In all these
areas, the aim was to help them help themselves.
We simply did not have enough budgets to give handouts, nor
did we have enough manpower to carry out the work on that
scale. If money was given out, it was for seeds, farming tools,
poultry stocks or fish stocks for the ponds. Volunteers in
each locality served as manpower; once trained, they were
put to work applying and extending their newly acquired skills,
be it in teaching or in rudimentary medical knowledge. The
response we had from the volunteers, all of whom worked without
pay or personal gain, went beyond anything I had expected
or indeed had any right to expect.
above account represents the separate pieces, which came together
forming the policy known as politics before military.
Experience gained in the Second Army Region was then extended
to all other Army Regions when I became Commander-in-Chief
of the Royal Thai Army.
Politics before Military became the underlying
rationale of Prime Ministers Order No. 66/23, which
during my time as Head of Government, came to stand as the
clear policy directive for all Government agencies in the
country-wide effort to put an end to insurgency by peaceful
means. Someone has rightly observed that it was a time when
guns were replaced by words.
retrospect, it may be asked, what made it work? In my mind,
the most important thing was what we had together, call it
Shared conviction or common resolve
if you will, which cut across all barriers. From the Commanding
General to the privates, from the Provincial Governor to the
Village Heads, from the District Officer who was behind the
Self-defense Volunteers Program, the platoon leader who never
gave up despite seven months of insults and abuses to the
young men and women who volunteered as teachers and medical
trainees, all pulled together selflessly as Thais in the fight
to win back their country and fellow countrymen from the clutches
of the CPT.
the Thai nation found the way-our way, to end the hatred and
killing between brothers and compatriots. The result, as you
know, made us all very proud. I know that the Philippines
also has her way; and in my heart, I know that your way will
be rewarded with the success it deserves, and it too will
become a source of pride for all the people of this great