They have taken Benjie Bayles; Stop them from taking Fred Caña

Last June 14, 2010, Benjamin “Benjie” Bayles was killed in Negros Occidental. He was the 1,200th victim of what is seen a military campaign against civic society activists. Yet his case is different. For the first time, the suspects were arrested by the police. A dirty game is going on now. There military pressures to get their men out of prison. Civic society group do not want it to happen and organize protest actions and information campaigns. A dangerous scenario is building up against Fred Caña of Karapatan Negros Occidental. His killers may already out for him

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Human Rights Violations and the National Power Structure.
Shortly before the inauguration of President Benigno Aquino III, local and international human rights activists were stunned by the increase in extra-judicial killings (EJKs). Benjamnin “Benjie” Bayles was just one of them. He was killed June 14, 2010, in Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental. During the first nine days under the new Aquino administration, five more EJKs occurred. Although the victims were selected from amidst the usual circles of civic society groups, the masterminds had delivered a message not to these groups but to the new president. A blunt and cynical demonstration of power, it was.

There is the notion that Aquino deserves the chance of working towards a better human rights situation. Yes, of course, he does. But we need to be specific and have to point out that said chance does neither allow the new government for an EJK handicap nor, with particular regards to human rights, for a political honeymoon.
Human dignity is categorical and not disposable. Being the core of the human rights canon, this is the strict, exclusive and immediate benchmark to be applied on the human rights conduct of any new administration.

Complying with these standards requires a strong and clear cut government leadership. There are hints that Aquino is lacking actual authority for this task. It was speculated a while that the new government may be ready for peace talks. However, it is not Aquino but the generals who are claiming power for defining strategies, policies and time frames.

Military vs. Civic Leadership

A few months ago, both US President Obama and German Minister of Defense Von Guttenberg dismissed high ranking military personnel because the latter, in separated incidents, went out on a limb. Explicitly stressing civilian control over the military’s chain of command, Obama restored nothing less than the primacy of politics. Whether or not the generals’ statements were correct is not the point. It was all about this fundamental principle of civic control over armed forces. Within Philippine society, the same basic principle is structurally distorted.

Shortly after President Aquino’s inauguration, the likewise newly appointed AFP chief of staff Lieutenant General Ricardo David dared to give a time frame for the proposed crushing of the country’s rural insurgency. Clearly, this is none of a general’s competences. David was challenging the president and snatched what he is believing to be AFP’s share in executive authority. And he got away with it. He was not dismissed nor being told where his limits are. The casting is not new, we’ve seen that before. Already the president’s mother, Corazon Aquino, during her term of office had to bend with the military and eventually punished intimidating coup plotters to do push-ups.

No doubt, in the Philippines the configuration of power is complex. The president cannot just simply retreat to legal positions because, long since, due constitutional organs practically abandoned the civic concept of separation of powers. Under the impression of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, we conclude that the real centers of power are held by families and clans who derive their power from ownership of, and control over, land. Having almost complete control over their regions’ votes, clans eventually determine who amongst them is governing the country. In Philippine elite politics, political programs are meaningless. Traditional parties are nothing but platforms for loose family alliances. Therefore, the tremendous number of more than 1,200 EJKs, numerous other awesome human rights violations, the plunder of public funds, and the blunt corruption and nepotism, as experienced under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, on the analytical level must not be credited (solely) to the criminal energy of the former president. Rather, it is important to focus on systemic distortions.

Popular Sovereignty Merely an Option

Is this conclusion strong enough for taking as granted that the situation will not change under the administration of Benigno Aquino? No! But he could continue – at the same risks – where his predecessor stopped. And that is the crucial point. The basically feudal character of Philippine society becomes manifest also in the president’s practical options of running – or not running – his office constitutionally aligned to and along legal requirements.
Both chambers constitutionally mandated of controlling the executive branch, the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives, are heavily dominated by delegates with traditional political elite backgrounds. The overwhelming majority of them spent election campaign funds that are a good deal bigger than their entire remuneration over a complete term of office. And no cheap stereotype, they had run for office because it is an accepted source of enrichment. Moreover, if Aquino actually is determined to lead the country to the rule of law and the spirit of the constitution then he must turn precisely against the interests of the political elite — the interest of his allies and power base, that is! These thoughts in mind, we do not want to imply that those expecting something like a moral redemption from Aquino’s presidency must be naive altogether. But definitely they need to be rather optimistic. Frankly, we are not sure if we can share their enthusiasm.

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