Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VII, No. 11      April 22- 28, 2007      Quezon City, Philippines











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Copyright 2004 Bulatlat


Living at the Edges in Negros

Counter-democracy and government fronts

The farmers of Negros took their future in their hands.  They worked so hard to acquire a land of their own, to eke out a better life for their families.  Then, soldiers entered their village.  Their future now hangs in the balance. 

Contributed to

“Walang pera kasi kami,“ (It’s because we do not have any money.) said the girl. She is young. She ought to be in school at this time of the day.  But she was not.  Elementary education is free.  But people here are so poor that even free education is out of reach.  They cannot afford the fare for the tricycle, to buy snacks, school uniform, and shoes, and to pay for projects. Public schools request parents for project contributions: for fixing leaking toilets or the school’s roof and for so many things needing repair.  These constitute the “hidden” tuition fees.  Walang pera kasi kami.”  She is so young and yet she has already learned the hard lessons of life: what little money could and could not do.   

Her family is living a few meters off the highway. Before, her grandparents were engaged in homestead farming just a little up the mountain.  Life was hard and simple.  They managed to make a living though ... until the military moved in.  A rebel-infested area this is, so they were told.  And that the president declared a total war on the communist rebels.  “To get rid of them once and for all,” they said. Upland areas were turned no man’s land, free fire zones. Her grandparents were driven downhill.  They built their first make-shift house a little off the highway. 

Helicopters strafed the uplands.  Ground troops searched and destroyed.  Rainy season came.  Sanitation and hygiene were poor. The weakest died a sorry death in the course of the “Total War.”

Eventually her grandparents were hired in a hacienda; doing odd jobs on lands of the mayor’s clan.  For three days a week they toiled, living a ragged life way below poverty line. This they did year in, year out.

The people in the neighborhood learnt about CARP, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.  The land was petitioned for CARP inclusion.  The mayor’s family resisted but lost.  It was a great victory for the people.  AMMACAN was formed – a people’s organization first which later developed cooperative structures.  The land was collectively titled in its name. 

The Kabankalan-based Paghidaet sa Kauswagan Development Group (PDG) accompanied the farmers throughout the whole process.  Concentrating on Central and Southern Negros Occidental, this non-government organization assisted farmers in getting organized.  It is a difficult task.  But PDG’s staff is very committed.  Farmers are motivated time and again.

The PDG has been training and coaching farmers for twenty years now.  The group also works with AMMACAN.  “We really observe a lot of passion, commitment and dynamics especially with this group,” said Atty. Ben Ramos Jr., PDG’s executive director.

It was January. We were sitting in a poor man’s house.  Actually, it was not much of a house. It was more of a shelter; there were no windows or doors; just holes in the walls.  They described a room without flooring, a small bamboo construction adjacent with enough space for a sleeping mat, and with galvanized iron as roofing.

My companion called the owner “Tatay” – father.  The younger ones addressed him in this respectful manner. He did have the looks of an old man. He was barely in his fifties. Too much work emaciated his body.

A teenage girl came in.  She nodded at us and went to the man.  They whispered then called my companion and they whispered again. 

We were told to leave immediately.

The future hanging in the balance

The military was moving around by truck loads.  Nobody knew what they were up to; supposedly, for no good – based on experience.

The soldiers returned often since that day in January.  They paid their visits to other communities as well.

Intruding village life, soldiers lingered around and lodged themselves in private houses.  Villagers were interrogated on the whereabouts of PDG staff.  Denouncing text messages were sent. The military rounded up the population and branded PDG and party list groups like Bayan Muna or Gabriela as NPA fronts.  AMMACAN members were coerced to join a Civilian Volunteer Organization (CVO) – definitely a misnomer.  In the Philippine context, CVO actually stands for a martial, paramilitary structure.  From government internal documents we learned that CVOs are strategically embedded in counterinsurgency campaigns. 

Under the CVO structure, AMMACAN members were coerced to work with people who were armed and had minimal military training.  These people are very dangerous. 

Everything is a dirty scheme.  The cooperative was young and internal structures needed time to develop.  Village folks were forced to join a supposedly counter-insurgent umbrella.  Nonsense!  There was no NPA active in the area.  The CVO scheme put the cooperative directly under the joint control of the military and city hall.

And the mayor ...  Good, you remember! 

The great majority of AMMACAN members were not convinced about the benefits of joining the CVO. But they were scared to death. They just gave in to military pressure and joined this organization, such an intriguing game.

AMMACAN members took their future in their own hands.  They worked so hard for it. And now everything seemed to be hanging.

They were asked to go to city hall to get their CVO IDs, AMMACAN members and non-member alike.  They found themselves in a rally against communism, terrorism, against left-leaning party list groups.  They were asked to rally against themselves; Kabankalan was a Bayan Muna (People First) stronghold during the last elections; and Bayan Muna is their party list.

All of these events are but part of a cold‑blooded master plan.  Internal military documents reveal that this is part of an Internal Security Operation Plan being implemented by the Armed Forces of the Philippines together with the Philippine National Police and Local Government Units.  They do it step by step.  And there are more.

Since President Gloria Arroyo took power in 2001, KARAPATAN counted some 832 victims of extrajudicial killings, numerous disappearances, harassments, intimidations, etc. 

Definitely, this plan has no place in a civilized world!

De facto martial law

“The country is a state of de facto dictatorship,” said Vicente M. Navarra, Bishop of Bacolod, and other distinguished co-signatories in a petition against the Human Security Act of 2007, the Philippine version of the Anti-Terrorism law.

During the last months, national and international bodies and authorities expressed their concern about the seemingly widespread contempt for human rights by the government.  The Melo Commission clearly linked now retired Major General Jovito Palparan to the killings of left-wing oppositionists.  In an open hearing before the U.S. Senate on extrajudicial killings, Senator Barbara Boxer treated AFP and PNP personnel as rouge regime representatives. Fearing that witnesses would be intimidated, she expelled military and police officials from the hearing.

Earlier this year UN special rapporteur on Extra Judicial killings Philip Alston visited the Philippines. His report described accurately what is going on in this country: vilification and labeling of legitimate organizations as “front organizations,” perceived as enemies of the state.  Legal personalities are considered as legitimate targets.  Extrajudicial killings of political, social, religious activists or plain group members are encouraged or facilitated by the government’s counter-insurgency strategy.

“Alston describes exactly what we are going through – individuals and organizations who are labeled and vilified become targets for disappearances and extrajudicial killings,” says Fred Caña from Karapatan Negros. “The pattern was clear to us before.  It’s just a good description of our reality. Actually, Alston could not have arrived at a different set of conclusions. Now, does this make his delegation a kangaroo court?,” he asked. 

Alston reported about orders of battle “adopted systematically by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and in practice often by the Philippines National Police.”  Such a document was leaked to him.  It is a military listing of ‘illegitimate’ groups and individuals.  Said Alston, “ when a significant number of individuals killed in incidents implicating the armed forces or police are also listed in an order of battle, it raises serious questions about the appropriateness of this practice.” 

Quite some amount of diplomatic expertise is required to avoid the term commonly applied to such lists: death lists.  This is the implication of Alston’s statement, nothing more, nothing less.

A few weeks after the UN delegation left the country, the The-Hague-based Permanent People Tribunal (PPT) held a session on political killings in the Philippines.  The PPT also found the Arroyo administration responsible for grave human rights violations.  Robert Vornis, Dutch ambassador to the Philippines, obviously felt provoked and labeled the PPT a kangaroo court.

Kangaroo court, this is a favorite term used by apologists of state terrorism in the Philippines.  Yes, the PPT is a political body – nobody claims the opposite.  Yes, the PPT was not likely to come up with a different verdict.  Sometimes patterns are strong and simply very clear. 

There are parallelisms in the blatant political killings in the Philippines with the massacre of Screbrenica:  Those who do not want to turn their eyes away, could see.  Incidents become clear even before it finds its long route through the judicial system.

There was absolutely no need for the Dutch ambassador to taunt the victims of state terror.  Rather than collaborating with the Philippine government, he simply could have adopted the practice of other European envoys to the Philippines.  They furnished interested persons with the Alston statement.  Quietly.  This is way better than the collaboration of Vornis. Contributed to Bulatlat




© 2007 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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