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.
“Walang pera kasi kami,“
(It’s because we do not have any
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
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
– 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
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
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
And the mayor ... Good, you
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
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,
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
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
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© 2007 Bulatlat
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