Still, the killings and disappearances persisted. According to a report by Special Rapporteur Philip Alston in April to the UN Human Rights Council, the AFP has not, to his knowledge, “changed its counterinsurgency techniques in such a way as to eliminate the likelihood that leftist activists will be killed. Moreover, forced disappearances and illegal detentions remain all too common, as does the bringing up of trumped charges against Filipino activists and human rights abuse victims.”
Karapatan condemned the boast of Arroyo and its “killing machine AFP” that there was an “improvement” in its human-rights record “when the trend in political killings had been reduced to once a week in 2007 and 2008 from once every other day in 2006,” while enforced disappearance occurred “only” twice a month in 2007 compared to the six cases per month in 2006.
To make up for “de-escalating” the killings and disappearances, the US-backed Arroyo regime seems to have “shifted to illegal arrests which increased by 109 incidents (by 48%) in 2007 and 94 (by 42%) in 2008 compared to 2006,” Karapatan said.
While some public statements have been made, reported Philip Alston in April, he said he has not received “evidence of any institutional reforms by the Government designed to prevent the targeting and execution of civil society activists. Deeper reforms thus remain essential in order to pull back the curtain of impunity that has existed for many years, and to prevent a return to those policies.”
Gloria Arroyo’s Many Firsts and Worst in 2009
Countless atrocities happened to the Filipinos’ rights and welfare, many of which occurred in 2009, the year leading to the 2010 deadline of OBL2.
Human-rights violations in 2009 are “numerous and varied and no sector of society is exempted,” belying the Arroyo government’s claim, echoed by the US state department secretary Hillary Clinton, that steps have been taken to improve the Philippine government’s human rights record.
In fact, it was this year when an “unparalleled massacre happened in Ampatuan, Maguindanao.” Far from just a simple election-related violence that went overboard, the massacre is clearly a direct result of the government’s “zealous implementation of OBL” because all the actors of OBL’s counter-insurgency campaign, including the paramilitary groups which act as auxiliary units of the military and the police, have been tagged by witnesses as perpetrators,” Karapatan said in their report.
A first, too, in post-martial law years, a Roman Catholic priest, Father Cecilio Lucero, 48, parish priest of a Samar town, was summarily killed. Fr. Lucero “had taken up the cudgels for victims of military abuses in the province.”
It was in 2009, too, when unidentified armed men believed to be members of the military committed the seven-day abduction and torture of Filipino-American writer and activist Melissa Roxas. Despite her trauma and the threats of her erstwhile captors to her life and family, Roxas appeared in court and affirmed her testimony about her torture and how her captors had tried to force her to admit she was a member of the New People’s Army.
In 2009, a 20-year-old teacher, Rebelyn Pitao, was “killed for her father’s revolutionary zeal.” Rebelyn was the daughter of Leoncio Pitao, a top NPA commander in the Davao region. Her death, according to Karapatan in Davao, signaled a shift in the military’s counter-insurgency campaign, this time targeting relatives of NPA guerrillas even if they were not guerrillas themselves. There are other cases similar to Rebelyn’s.
A national artist, Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera, was harassed when his address was given to a member of the Philippine Marines for supposed “surveillance exercises,” along with a storyline that his house is being “frequented by communist insurgents.”
Two pregnant women and a child — “collateral damages” in military parlance and an excuse devised by US troops who “inadvertently” killed unarmed civilians in other countries ––lost their lives in 2009 as a result of separate military operations.
In 2009, two activist doctors, Dr. Rogelio Penera and Dr. Bartolome Resuello, were assassinated by masked armed men in separate incidents in Davao City and Northern Samar.
No thanks to OBL coupled with Arroyo’s insistence on her neoliberal economic programs that allow almost unhampered exploitation of the country’s resources by foreign multinationals, Karapatan reported that the indigenous peoples opposed to mining have also become military targets in 2009.
According to Karapatan, the Lumads of Agusan in 2009 saw some of their leaders gunned down by paramilitary units formed by the military among their fellow Lumads as well as by forces from CAFGU. The Lumads of Surigao, meanwhile, saw the schools they built from non-governmental assistance destroyed because they were accused of being an “NPA school.” The Ata-Manobos’ local school in Davao del Norte, set up by the Rural Missionaries, was likewise occupied at one time and labeled by the military as a “communist school.”
Entire communities in the Philippines fell prey to various military operations which included food restriction, forced evacuation, conscription to the CVO to help the soldiers monitor the NPA, and “clearing operations” for RP-US Balikatan exercises such as the one held in Sorsogon in 2009.
Even legitimate political exercises such as an electoral consultation in Cagayan Valley were raided by suspected military men, who, armed with M16 rifles and .45 caliber pistols, barged into the sleeping quarters of representatives of peoples’ organizations and partylist groups. They reportedly threatened to kill the victims and took all of their personal belongings including laptop computers, personal documents and money.
As if these were not enough, Karapatan called attention to attacks on human rights defenders who, in 2009, increasingly became prey to “wholesale filing of trumped up charges.”