Benjie Oliveros | Arroyo Regime Has No Respect for Human Rights and Democracy


MANILA — When it comes to human rights and democracy, the Arroyo government never fails to provide ironies.

On the 20th anniversary of the 1986 People Power uprising that ousted the Marcos dictatorship, the Arroyo government placed the country under a state of national emergency, through Presidential Proclamation 1017. The office of the Daily Tribune, a Manila newspaper, was raided and the two major TV networks were guarded by soldiers. The Philippine National Police (PNP) tried to impose guidelines on news reporting, which, however, was blocked by journalists, human-rights advocates and people’s organizations. The “no permit, no rally” policy was strictly enforced resulting in violent dispersals of peaceful demonstrations. And the representatives of progressive partylist groups were hunted down resulting in the arrest of a representative of Anakpawis party, the late Crispin Beltran, and the House arrest of Bayan Muna Reps. Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño and Joel Virador, Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano, and Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Liza Maza.

Also in the same year, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo practically abolished the death penalty by commuting the sentence of those in death row. But 2006 was also the peak of extrajudicial killings of political activists, which by now has reached 1,118, according to the records of Karapatan.

Add to this the number of victims of enforced disappearances, which has now reached 204 and torture, 1026.

The country is supposed to have the freest press in Southeast Asia and yet it is the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, with 63 journalists killed since 2001 and 99 killings since the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship. As can be gleaned from these figures, the most number of journalists killed was during the Arroyo administration, and this does not yet include the 30 journalists killed in the Ampatuan massacre.

Now, on the occasion of the 61st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the country is still reeling from a gruesome display of impunity committed only last November 23, the Ampatuan massacre. Worse, a part of the country had been placed under martial law.

The Arroyo administration and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had tried to justify Proclamation 1959 placing Maguindanao province under martial law by pointing to the urgent need to bring justice to the victims and a supposed imminent danger of rebellion from the Ampatuan clan and its private army. The Army and police have been showing to media several caches of high-powered weapons and ammunition — with markings of the AFP — dug from locations near the residences of the Ampatuan clan.

Although martial law was lifted over the weekend, the Arroyo government seemed to think that it could get away with it as administration allies in Congress were confident that they could muster enough votes to affirm Proclamation 1959. (And I thought the Liberal and Nacionalista parties now constitute the majority in congress with the supposed defections from the ranks of the administration. This is a portent of things to come after May 2010, if and when Arroyo becomes a representative of the 2nd district of Pampanga.)

The Ampatuan massacre did not warrant a declaration of martial law. In the first place, the Ampatuan clan was able to accumulate so much wealth and power because of the patronage of the Arroyo administration. Second, it is highly improbable that the Ampatuan clan was able to acquire stockpiles of weapons and ammunition from the AFP through a few corrupt officials. The delivery of such enormous stockpiles of weapons and ammunition necessitates the collusion of almost all AFP officials in the region or a direct order from the Department of National Defense and the commander-in-chief, the president.

Thus, the Arroyo government and the AFP did not need martial law to clip the powers of the Ampatuan clan and give justice to the victims, it just needed to uphold the rule of law and did what it was supposed to do.

The Ampatuan massacre merely provided the justification for the Arroyo administration to declare martial law in Maguindanao and eventually, if left unchecked, the whole country. Notice how the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Department of Justice had been telling the media about the dangers of the supposed rebellion in Maguindanao spreading to the National Capital Region because members of the Ampatuans’ private army have purportedly escaped to Manila and with the transfer of the hearings in Quezon City?

The Ampatuan massacre has been serving the interests of the Arroyo administration well, as the September 11 twin towers attack did to the administration of US President George W. Bush then. The only difference is that the Bush administration did not use the September 11 attacks to keep itself in power but it used the attack to constrict civil liberties through the Patriot Act, and to invade Afghanistan and Iraq in the service of corporate America.

The declaration of martial law in Maguindanao has got nothing to do with justice or preserving democracy — it was all about laying the groundwork for keeping Arroyo in power beyond 2010. All her options have been laid out: a subservient Commission on Elections, the much-delayed and disorderly preparations for automated elections, Arroyo’s candidacy and her declared intention to push for amendments to the 1987 Constitution (House Speaker Prospero Nograles has been declaring the benefits of a unicameral legislature now that Congress is in joint session.), and the declaration of martial law with Maguindanao as the test case.

All these show the Arroyo administration’s total disregard for human rights and democracy. For the Arroyo administration, human rights is merely a public-relations problem. It is wont to undertake token measures only when pressured by the international community, but with every opening, it keeps on attacking the Filipino people’s rights. It is thus up to the Filipino people, with the support of the international community, to fight for justice, human rights and democracy. (

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