The impending disintegration of the Arroyo regime is evidenced by its resort to intimidation, bureaucratic repression, and death squads. It is bound to implode in one big catastrophic upheaval that will unleash indiscriminate violence and dehumanizing abuses symptomatic of the advanced decay of the bankrupt neocolonial system.
By E. SAN JUAN, Jr.
Philippines Cultural Studies Center
Contributed to Bulatlat.com
Pressured by Amnesty International (AI), the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Asian Human Rights Commission, Reporters without Borders, and other international organizations, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo shrewdly assembled a group to look into the allegations of massive human rights violations – over 745 victims of extrajudicial killings, and more than 180 enforced “disappearances,” by the latest count—during her administration. The spokesman of the National Democratic Front Philippines (NDFP), Fidel Agcaoili, quickly dismissed the move as a scheme to hide the regime’s complicity in Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), the internal security program designed to wipe out the 37-year old insurgency in two years.
Can the culprit indict and condemn herself? How can Arroyo acquit herself when this unprecedented “genocidal” campaign to suppress all dissent (as Agcaoili and others claim) has been master-minded by her own Cabinet Oversight Committee for Internal Security staffed by sycophantic bureaucrats and military factotums? In 2001, the U.S. State Department averred that “Members of the security services were responsible for extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention” (Berrigan 2003).
Citing government officials, Agcaoili said that the killings and abductions were meant to strengthen the government’s negotiating position in its peace talks with the NDFP. But, surely, this is not just a matter of scoring talking points. It is not just an Arroyo public-relations maneuver to deflect attention away from impeachment charges or any other urgent court investigation.
At present, Arroyo faces no challenge from the crony-filled Congress or from the ineffectual Supreme Court. The supremacy of the executive branch over the judicial and legislative in Philippine politics has a long history dating back to the U.S. military and civil governors of colonial rule following the Filipino-American War of 1899-1903. What triggered this sudden concern is a convergence of events. The mass media joined the daily recital of political killings with the suffering of Filipinos in war-torn Lebanon. Combining the victims of repression at home with the impending deaths and expulsion of Filipinos abroad (whose remittance of $10 billion or more annually enables the stagnant, indebted economy to stay afloat) was an explosive mix for the precarious, unstable ruling coalition.
What is at stake is not the lives of citizens but their remittance capacity, the unpaid surplus labor used for capital accumulation, profit for the privileged few. Confronted by the plight of Filipino workers in Lebanon, inquiring officials discovered that billions of pesos paid by these workers to help them during emergencies abroad were not available because they were used for other illegal purposes. Arroyo and her clique were revealed to be clearly responsible for this anomaly. Charges of graft and corruption, manipulation of public moneys, violation of enacted rules and public norms, and so on, piled up amid political chicanery, mock prophecy envisioning Filipina “Supermaids” flooding the world, and a bizarre mirage of impending prosperity. The electoral and media influence of about nine million Filipinos overseas could not be ignored.
But so, too, could the voices of Amnesty International, the United Nations, Asia Human Rights Commission (2006), KARAPATAN (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, 2003), World Council of Churches, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor of the U.S. Congress (2005), and so on, not be allowed to dominate the public arena. It was necessary to maintain acquiescent normalcy and “business as usual.”
Intervention from international monitors
AI’s observations on the Arroyo ethos of maintaining peace and order are instructive. The politically-motivated pattern of killings, according to AI, can be discerned from “the methodology of the attacks, including prior death threats and patterns of surveillance by persons reportedly linked to the security forces, the leftist profile of the victims and climate of impunity which, in practice, shields the perpetrators from prosecution” (2006). The phrase “climate of impunity” elegantly condemns Arroyo’s insouciance. Such indifference is a ruse, a subterfuge. The February declaration of a “State of Emergency,” “the arrest and threatened arrest of leftist Congress representatives and others on charges of rebellion, and intensifying counter-insurgency operations in the context of a declaration by officials in June of ‘all-out-war’ against the New People’s Army, …the parallel public labeling by officials of a broad range of legal leftist groups as communist ‘front organizations’ directly linked to the insurgency”—AI points out—“has created an environment in which there is heightened concern that further political killings of civilians are likely to take place” (2006).
While AI has correctly situated the incidents of extrajudicial killings and abductions in “the climate of impunity” enabled by autocratic-military rule, its moralistic remedy accords with its conciliatory mission. AI calls on the Arroyo-led state to “fulfill its obligation to protect the right to life of every individual under its jurisdiction,” as required by the Philippine Constitution and international human rights law. But how can the mastermind (as AI implies) arrest, prosecute and convict her minions and hirelings? Of the 114 killings recorded since 2001 by the government’s Task Force Usig, the police have arrested suspects in just three cases, without any convictions reported. AI calls on Arroyo to halt the “corrosive impact [of military-instigated killings] on public confidence in the administration of justice” by heeding its 14-Point Program for the Prevention of Extrajudicial Executions, establish a Witness Protection program, and invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions.” Well, thank you and good luck!
A discordance exists between AI’s realistic diagnosis of the environment and “climate of impunity” and its wish-fulfilling recommendations. Obviously, AI cannot engage in a comprehensive, in-depth political analysis of the social relations, ideology, economic factors, and political circumstances that define the barbaric policies and acts of the Arroyo fraction of the comprador-landlord class. Nor can it mention the long-lived complicity of the U.S. government in supporting, abetting and rewarding those policies and actions with military aid, logistics, U.S. Special Forces, training of soldiers and officers, in the global war on terrorism—more specifically, on the New People’s Army, the Communist Party of the Philippines, and various Moro rebellious groups that the U.S. State Department labels “terrorist.” Current attempts to impose a national identity card system, screening of newspaper reporting, and curbs on other media of communication, etc. are intended to follow the model of the USA Patriot Act and the machinery of the Homeland Security State. But, of course, the Philippines are only a peripheral instrument for the metropolitan behemoth (Mahajan 2002).
The Arroyo regime’s complete subservience to the Bush administration and its war-obsessed scheme to repair its fragile white-supremacist hegemony underlies the conduct of Arroyo’s cabinet officials and the officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in their demonization of Bayan Muna activists as “communists” and stigmatization of all dissenters and critics as “terrorists.” This kind of neofascist rule dispenses with Marcos’ “constitutional authoritarianism” by relying primarily on gangsterized military and police elements, lacking any real mass support and constrained by opposition from fractions of the ruling class (groups around Cory Aquino, former president Estrada, and sections of the business elite).
But can one analyze this group behavior as simply a symptom of neocolonial mendacity and servitude to wily American patrons? Is it an equal consortium of criminals? Why does an administration claiming to be lawfully installed (though majority are convinced that Arroyo is guilty of cheating) resort to intimidation, coercion by brute force, warrantless arrests, torture, and murder? And, despite its boasting of success in economic progress, why does it ignore a public accounting of its record in respecting civil liberties, promoting a culture of civic dignity and nationalist independence, and a genuine process of participatory democracy? Why is its authority imposed by violence and its legitimacy enforced by prohibitions and military aggression, as exemplified by General Jovito Palparan’s methods of pacifying ordinary civilians in Mindoro and Central Luzon? Certainly, “winning hearts and minds” is far from the minds of the heirs of Ramon Magsaysay and Col. Edward Lansdale of the CIA.