Dangerous times for progressives

Karl G. Ombion
The Essentials

In this column I divert from my usual subjects on renewal energy, science and technology, and national development, because I am quite disturbed by the continuing state political persecution of the leaders, organizers, mass activists and development workers of the progressive movement, groups and institutions.

I was surprised to hear that a certain Iver was arrested in Bacolod by Bacolod police units and intelligence elements of the 303rd Brigade. Upon verification, I found that it was indeed an Iver Larit, long-time community organizer of KADAMAY and liaison officer of militant transport group UNDOC. Both organizations are service-oriented and legal.

What is shocking was the fact that Iver’s name was not in the warrant of arrest presented to him by the arresting unit – it only mentioned a John Doe and a certain Ricky Larit, implicating Iver in an NPA operation in Northern Negros a few years ago. The warrant of arrest was issued by San Carlos court; and so Iver was reportedly immediately brought there for detention and tactical interrogation.

While being arrested, Iver insisted that he was not the person mentioned in the warrant.

He also vehemently denied the military’s charge that at the time of his arrest he was an active member of the White Area Committee of the New People’s Army.

The case against Iver was similar to the case used against another progressive leader Romulo Bitoon and development worker Rogina Quilop. When the warrant of arrest used on them first came out, it still listed some John Does. At the time of their arrests, the warrant was amended to include their names.

Bitoon’s case was dismissed after more than a year for lack of a clear complainant. The case proved to be without legal merit; it turned out to be just pure political persecution, said his legal counsel. But the downside was, Bitoon’s family had spent a hefty sum of hard-earned money to bail him out.

Quilop was arrested early this year and still languishing in the provincial jail without a clearly stated case and set hearing.

Meanwhile, the names in the warrant of arrest remain flexible—it changed to arrest the supposed “culprits”.

What are the key issues here?

First, the circumstances leading to Iver’s arrest shared the same pattern with that of Bitoon, Quilop and others. Their arrests were not circumstantial. These were planned and organized. The persons arrested and targeted by state political persecution are people who conscientize, organize and mobilize others for reforms and change.
Their unwavering commitment to the people and social change is so infectious the oppressive institutions and power circles trembled in fear on the face of it, and sought to silence them.

Second, the unabated punitive actions by the state against the leaders, organizers, and staff workers of the progressive legal democratic movement seemed to be result of the gross failure of the state’s militarist approach to armed insurgency.

To cover up its repeated failures in weakening and decapitating the armed movement, it vent its ire and madness on the unarmed citizen’s movement, justifying its actions by painting the unarmed citizens as the “front” and the support base of the former.

To make it appear that the campaign against the progressives is not a form of political persecution, the state has to manufacture legal cases against them, turning their political actions into criminal ones and thus supposedly subject to the country’s penal code and related executive orders. In fact, the former administration even formed under an executive order the so called Inter Agency Legal Advisory Group to create criminal cases against the progressives.

The tactics of linking the progressives with the NPAs using legal cases against the former has been used in all past administrations, and even under the present Aquino administration despite its declared commitment to protect human rights and stop extra judicial killings.

Third, under post-Marcos administrations, political dissent is no longer differentiated from all anti-administration position, including armed insurgency. Critics are viewed by the state as simply against the state; you are by extension an ally of those seeking to topple the state by armed means.

It looks very simplistic but that’s how it is.

There are a number of explanations to this change in view that led to decreased tolerance of political dissent.

But one of the most logical and credible reasons is the militarization of civilian bureaucracy since the time of Ramos. Dozens of Marcos martial law military generals including the most dreaded security intelligence officers were placed in key positions in state bureaucracy. This became the norm up to the Aquino administration which is employing the services of former military generals and has even integrated some into the president’s inner circle.

This trend has affected the so-called republican and liberal currents within the state, replaced by a strong militarist current. The closest allies of this current are the traditional politicians who have a penchant for quick processes rather than the much slower democratic process.
With these conditions in place, what good scenarios can we expect?
Whatever that is, it is clear this is a dangerous time for the progressives of all variants.

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