Today, the number of political activists and critics killed and missing has surpassed several times over the number of suspected ASG members killed or captured. The “war on terror” has given the government an excuse to go after legal people’s organizations, to suppress legitimate political dissent and threaten the citizens’ civil and political rights.
BY BOBBY TUAZON
Rather than peace and security, an escalating state of siege. A war against terrorism that has mutated into a reign of terror and what is increasingly becoming Asia’s “killing fields.”
This is what has befallen the Philippines five years after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo backed U.S. President George W. Bush, Jr.’s Operation Enduring Freedom that led to the attack and occupation of Afghanistan and of Iraq a year later. Arroyo welcomed Bush’s declaring the Philippines as the “second front” in the U.S.-led global “war on terror” in a bid to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf, then tagged as having links with Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda which is alleged to be behind the 9/11 bombings in the U.S.
Before 9/11, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had triumphantly declared that they had reduced the ASG (or “Bearer of the Sword”) into just 100 hard-core bandits with a few hundreds of sympathizers mainly concentrated in Basilan, southern Philippines. The group had by then degenerated into a kidnap-extortion gang with even a few military and police officials believed to be coddling them.
But making the Philippines as the “second front” in the “war on terror” led to the entry of U.S. troops under the reactivated Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) war exercises including special operations forces (SOFs) who began to train the AFP in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency. The SOFs gave intelligence, air and combat support to Philippine soldiers who were running after the defiant and slippery ASG.
Five years later, after the killing and/or capture of a number of ASG members, the U.S.-backed AFP remains locked in battles with the remnants of the group whose number, based on latest reports, remains at 250 with hundreds of supporters. Police reports – often unverified – continue to fly about ASG plots to bomb Metro Manila and other cities. Meanwhile, the continuing siege in Basilan, Sulu and other parts of Mindanao has left unimaginable scars: hundreds of civilians or suspected ASG supporters killed, hundreds of others arrested without warrants and the lives of thousands of simple folks permanently disrupted.
Then and today, the “war on terror” which was launched in the aftermath of the 9/11 bombings, has been denounced in many countries as nothing but a pretext by the U.S. to toughen its global supremacy and widen the sphere of the corporate-driven free trade. It was going to pursue this by redrawing the map of the Middle East, extending its military presence across the globe and bringing down states that refuse to toe the geopolitical and geo-economic objectives of the superpower.
In the Philippines, Macapagal-Arroyo’s unflinching support to Bush’s armed aggression opened a close military cooperation that saw the increase in U.S. military aid, the entry of hundreds and thousands of U.S. troops and military logistics. The Philippine president also served as the U.S.’ spokesperson in Southeast Asia for the projection of U.S. military power and interventionism in the guise of fighting terrorism.
Backed by U.S. military aid, Macapagal-Arroyo’s counter-insurgency campaign against the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) assumed preeminence in the “war on terror.” Once again, Marxist guerrillas became “terrorists” and, following intense diplomatic efforts by the Philippine government, the U.S. and other foreign governments listed their underground infrastructures as “foreign terrorist organizations.” A year after the “war on terror” in the Philippines was launched the AFP came up with an internal security plan that seeks to crush the communist armed struggle in a few years and, to quote some generals, “neutralize” its “front organizations.”
From that year on, the counter-insurgency campaign that was renewed by Macapagal-Arroyo in her first year of presidency began to escalate with reports of assassinations and abductions of activists reportedly perpetrated by death squads. To date, the number of victims of extra-judicial killings has reached 752; 181 others have been declared missing.
The extra-judicial killings and abductions have triggered worldwide indignation with concerns expressed by international organizations and a number of governments criticizing the Macapagal-Arroyo government for its failure to rein in its armed forces and stop the executions.
Bigger and systematic
These cases highlight a bigger and systematic pattern of atrocities that include massacres, torture, forced evacuation and displacement, illegal arrest and detention, and other violations constituting crimes against humanity. From January 2001 to June 2005, some 4,207 cases of human rights violations believed to be committed by Macapagal-Arroyo’s security forces were reported. The cases affected 232,796 individuals, 24,299 families and 237 communities throughout the country.
So far, however, these cases have been denied by government or, at the most, dismissed as a “necessary collateral damage” in the anti-insurgency campaign, to quote Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales. Yet evidences and testimonies gathered by many Philippine and foreign fact-finding missions attest to a policy of political repression that does not differentiate a civilian – be s/he a rights worker, peasant, church leader, party-list organizer, student activist – from an armed combatant. These underline an unwritten policy of suppressing political dissent or the advocacy of social and economic reform or the mere articulation of a Macapagal-Arroyo resignation due to electoral fraud – either by physical elimination or other measures.
The physical elimination of active critics of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration has coincided with other measures like the anti-terrorism bill, the declaration of emergency rule (in February this year) and the calibrated preemptive response which is a reinvented Marcosian edict against the freedom of expression and assembly.
Once again, the media has come under attack with the closure of an oppositionist newspaper and a radio program early this year. Under Macapagal-Arroyo’s watch, 47 journalists have been slain – more than the number killed under Aquino, Ramos and Estrada combined. The media killings have made the Philippines as the most dangerous country for journalists, second to Iraq. Instead of coming to the rescue of the besieged media, government through National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, recently warned that media is under surveillance because of “communist infiltration.” A number of media outlets and personalities have been in fact included in the military’s “terrorist” hit list.
It is the same Gonzalez who led, and continues to lead, government’s policy of demonizing legitimate people’s organizations and political parties as “fronts” of the underground left and hence, by affiliation, are a fair target of the state’s national security apparatuses. Gonzalez’s watchlist has apparently become the military’s hit list.
Those calling for the impeachment of Macapagal-Arroyo became “destabilizers” or are probably influenced by the “communist terrorists.” Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, who has earned the notorious title of “butcher” for allegedly having the biggest number of civilians killed or abducted, has been further promoted by Macapagal-Arroyo to the National Security Council which he will assume after retiring on Sept. 11. She had earlier praised the general for his anti-insurgency record.
Failed in other aspects
In other ways, the U.S.-Arroyo “war on terror” and the U.S. military aid that finances it was supposed to make the AFP in fighting form and united in the fight against terrorism, yet it has failed in other aspects. It has not been an antidote to repeated coup attempts nor has it calmed the unrest that continues to hemorrhage the AFP amid reports of endemic corruption in the top hierarchy and a commander-in-chief who has questionable constitutional legitimacy.
Some officers who took part in the July 27, 2003 Oakwood mutiny spoke out to reveal secret missions inside the military to bomb parts of Mindanao and blame these on the Abu Sayyaf or other Moro rebels. An alleged CIA operative almost killed himself when a bomb went off prematurely inside his hotel room in Davao. He was hastily spirited out of the country. A group of U.S. navymen, who were supposed to participate in war exercises, is now on trial in a Philippine court for raping a Filipina.
Today, the number of political activists and critics killed and missing has surpassed several times over the number of suspected ASG members killed or captured. The “war on terror” has given the government an excuse to go after legal people’s organizations, to suppress legitimate political dissent and threaten the citizens’ civil and political rights. It has also allowed Macapagal-Arroyo to stay in power courtesy of continued U.S. and AFP support.
There’s no end to all these. After all, according to the Pentagon, the “war on terror” is a “permanent war.” (Bulatlat.com)