Macapagal-Arroyo is not literally deaf and blind to the persistent protests and appeals here and abroad to cease the wanton violations of human rights. Out of lust for power, she has been consumed by her own “war on terror.” Crafted to stop the criminal activities of the ASG, used against the NPA and now as a tool to suppress political dissent, the anti-terrorism track is now being harnessed simply to keep Macapagal-Arroyo in power.
By Bobby Tuazon
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is not known for heeding demands to whip into line the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and other security forces for what is reported as their brazen violations of human rights. This is so not only because political repression is evidently a state policy that is at the core of the embattled president’s “war on terror” but more so because maintaining her perceived illegitimate rule has increasingly relied on brute force and other anti-democratic forms.
Macapagal-Arroyo’s accountability for the continuing spate of military atrocities against civilians especially those identified with the militant people’s organizations and progressive party-list groups was underscored once more when Army troops opened fire on a group of 47 civilians at the break of dawn Nov. 21in Barangay (village) San Agustin, Palo, Leyte. Various accounts tended to show that the soldiers, wearing ski masks and armed with high-powered rifles including grenade launchers, appeared geared for a mayhem. There were no warning shots. “They (soldiers) just fired at us,” a survivor narrates.
The shooting lasted 30 minutes. As the smoke of gunfire settled, seven of the civilians lay dead. Two others died in the hospital. Among the dead were two women one of them pregnant. Eight others were critically wounded; eight were also arrested for being New People’s Army (NPA) suspects.
Military officials called the incident a “legitimate encounter” with the NPA and even showed reporters firearms they said were taken from the victims. Nothing was said however whether the firearms were fired or why not one soldier was hurt from the “encounter.”
Preliminary investigations by church and human rights groups and Bayan Muna (BM or people first) – whose two organizers in Leyte were among the casualties – revealed that those fired upon were farmers from the San Agustin Farmer Beneficiaries Association (SAFBA) and BM party-list. They were in a meeting about “balik-uma” or occupation of the land awarded to them by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
Macapagal-Arroyo extolled the soldiers but characteristically shed no tears for the civilian victims. The alleged perpetrators of the massacre came from the Army’s 8th Infantry Division – the same unit that was previously commanded by Brig. Gen. Jovito Palparan with 570 cases of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
The Palo massacre happened on the heels of similar incidents of extra-judicial killings, disappearances, forced evacuation and other human rights violations committed in recent days and weeks and which add to the more than 4,300 documented cases since Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in 2001. The cases affected 235,000 individuals, 24,500 families and 240 communities. At least 400 persons were victims of summary execution; 110 of forced disappearances. Twenty of those killed were rights volunteers.
What kind of a president would possibly turn the whole country into a killing fields of sorts?
Macapagal-Arroyo took power in January 2001 on the crest of a second civilian uprising and, as president, took charge of a military institution that is also widely considered as a surrogate army of the U.S. Until that time, the AFP had a 30-year record of hundreds of thousands of victims of military abuse that begun during the Marcos dictatorship. The new president soon courted the support of the politicized AFP to defend her presidency against her political opponents and so-called “destabilizers.” It became her trademark that under the “war on terror” which she launched to support U.S. President George W. Bush’s post-9/11 “war without borders,” she began to transform the AFP into a “counter-terrorist” war machine.
Even before unleashing her “war on terror” in 2002, however, Macapagal-Arroyo had backed the AFP’s continuing campaign against the armed Left. It was clear to her that a few weeks after taking over as president the AFP was already gearing for yet another full-scale war against the NPA but that this time the alleged legal infrastructures of the underground Left more particularly its alleged party-list network would have to be reckoned with more than ever. At about this time, although so much hype was played on the Abu Sayyaf bandit group defense and military officials were pointing to the armed Left as the “top national security threat.” By mid-2005, Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz would pledge to break the backbone of the NPA in 10 years.
The real danger, of course, came from Macapagal-Arroyo’s own “war on terror.”
The “war on terror” not only traded the country’s sovereignty for U.S. military aid and the return of U.S. forces in the guise of military training and war exercises; it also posed a graver threat to the people’s democratic rights and civil liberties. On the pretext of fighting “terrorism,” Macapagal-Arroyo revived the mothballed National ID system and declared as priority the anti-terrorism bill (ATB). The ATB has been denounced as a mechanism for curtailing civil liberties and as Macapagal-Arroyo’s political weapon against her critics particularly the Left.
Above the law
Under the “war on terror,” political dissent, progressive legislation and ideologically-driven rebellion were lumped with the ASG and other alleged “terrorist networks.” Macapagal-Arroyo toed the line of Bush by placing the war against terrorism above the law and above critical dissent: “terrorists” and mere suspects have no rights and have to face the iron fist.
The AFP, through its official newsletter Ang Tala, sought to neutralize the Left’s alleged front organizations particularly Bayan Muna and other militant groups. The same time that this came out, a top AFP official warned that progressive party-list groups have no right to be in Congress. More, a concerted campaign was launched by Malacañang’s national security adviser to demonize and criminalize the militant organizations linking many of them to the “terrorist” NPA. This would be followed by the AFP’s low-intensity black propaganda and “hit lists” of legal personalities and groups including certain church-based and media organizations. Not a few of those in the list have fallen as victims of assassination, summary execution and abduction.
If the charges against Brig. Gen. Jovito Palparan are true, it is quite probable that the general’s alleged bloody suppression campaign against unarmed civilians, party-list activists, lawyers, local executives, priests as well as rights volunteers in Mindoro, Eastern Visayas and now in Central Luzon is part of a carte blanche issued by the commander-in-chief to the whole AFP for conducting a reign of terror in the countryside. It is not a coincidence that the number of suspected ASG rebels killed has been surpassed several times over by that of activists and other victims of state terrorism.
A recent report by Statewatch, the Campaign Against Criminalizing Communities, and the Human Rights and Social Justice Institute at the London Metropolitan University, reveals that “proscribing” – or labeling groups and individuals as terrorists – in order to “criminalize their activities or impose sanctions against them with no right of appeal” has become “integral” to the war on terrorism. In their joint report, “Terrorizing the Rule of Law: The Policy and Practice of Proscription,” the three groups also said the proscription of alleged terrorists raises serious human rights concerns.
Statewatch, which monitors civil liberties, says “terrorist lists are frequently drawn up on a basis of secret intelligence, and that the normal judicial process governing such serious accusations, and their prosecution, is “discarded.”
“Hundreds of groups and individuals have now been criminalized around the world and the various lists are expanding as states attempt to add all groups engaged in resistance to occupation or tyranny. Those exercising what many people around the world see as a legitimate right to self-defense and determination are increasingly being treated – on a global basis – the same way as Osama Bin Laden,” the report says. There have been serious breaches of human rights, it adds.
The Philippines, the second front of Bush’s “war on terror,” is no exception. Here, “counter-terrorism” is just a camouflage for state terrorism.
Macapagal-Arroyo, through her generals and anti-communist secretaries, is prosecutor, judge and executioner at the same time. She has replaced the judicial process which, anyway, is biased against the poor and defenseless and is using Congress to ram through the ATB, charter change and other anti-democratic measures. And now she is resorting to more repressive devices such as the calibrated preemptive response (CPR) and gag orders in response to the snowballing call for her removal on charges of stealing the presidency, culpable violation of the constitution, betrayal of public trust and ever-increasing human rights violations.
And yet it is not only at home that Macapagal-Arroyo – who, as a president should be the first to uphold the law – has been condemned for these serious infringements. The regime’s dismal human rights record, for instance, has been either cited or denounced at the UN Human Rights Committee, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Asian Human Rights Commission and several other rights watchdogs throughout the world. Similarly she has been held accountable for crimes against humanity at various people’s tribunals in Tokyo, New York and, most recently, at the International People’s Tribunal in the Philippines. The impeachment charges that Macapagal-Arroyo was able to stop in Congress through trade-offs and alleged bribery are now being heard before the Citizens Congress for Truth and Accountability (CCTA).
In a recent report, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in collaboration with two other international agencies, cited the “militarist policy” of the Arroyo government for worsening the insurgency in the Philippines. The Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR, 2005) also said the U.S.-led “global war on terror” has only added fuel to the local war situation. Likewise, the UNDP report refuted claims by the Macapagal-Arroyo regime that the local communists are “terrorists” by engaging in violent acts against civilians. From its historical record of armed struggle, policy and general practice, the report states, the communists “have not engaged in terrorism or acts of terrorism by deliberately targeting civilians.”
In its current phase, Macapagal-Arroyo’s “war on terror” has spread its tentacles by targeting legal activities aimed at exposing the truth behind the 2004 elections, raising the issue of human rights and rallying the people for her removal. She has tagged broad coalitions of forces seeking her removal as the handiwork of the “communist terrorists.” The brutal and anti-democratic character of the counter-terrorism campaign is now at the heart of the desperate efforts of the regime to cling to power amid the increasing public clamor for her to leave. Having lost all moral, constitutional and political grounds to remain as president, Macapagal-Arroyo will rely more and more on the AFP, the police and other security forces to stay in office.
Macapagal-Arroyo is not literally deaf and blind to the persistent protests and appeals here and abroad to cease the wanton violations of human rights. Out of lust for power, she has been consumed by her own “war on terror.” Crafted to stop the criminal activities of the ASG, used against the NPA and now as a tool to suppress political dissent, the anti-terrorism track is now being harnessed simply to keep Macapagal-Arroyo in power. (Bulatlat.com)