Torture, an anathema to democracy


“Just as ecologists define ecosystems by the presence of certain ‘indicator species’ of plants and birds, torture is an indicator species of a regime that it is engaged in a deeply anti-democratic project, even if that regime happens to have come to power through elections.” – Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine

People may perhaps be wondering why President Benigno “Noynoy” C. Aquino III has been playing blind, deaf, and mute to the calls for justice of victims of human rights violations of the previous administrations, from the Marcos dictatorship to the equally-hated regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. While the Aquino government appears to be finally running after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for electoral fraud, it has not filed any case of human rights violation against the former president nor has it made any effort to try to search for the disappeared when it is in its power to do so. What appears to be more ironical is that the number of victims of human rights violations of this administration, which has won on the slogan of change, is rapidly increasing.

In just one year of the Aquino presidency, Karapatan was able to monitor 48 cases of extrajudicial killings, five victims of enforced disappearances, and 29 victims of torture. Not only that, the campaign of terror by the military, disguised as peace and development operations, has been continuing in both rural and urban areas, mostly in communities of the poor.

The question is why?

Without having to analyze Philippine society deeply, one would see the answer clearly by just studying what happened and is happening to other countries that are close allies of the US, politically and economically. That is exactly what Naomi Klein did in her book The Shock Doctrine.

She observed that there is a direct correlation between the push for the neoliberal agenda and massive repression in Central and Southern American countries, especially Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, then Bolivia. She was able to conclude, based on historical events, that the imposition of the neoliberal agenda – to pass on the social cost of the crisis onto the poor – in these countries was done through shock therapy. The people should be too shocked and too scared to resist. The “economic reforms” imposed on these countries were accompanied by torture, killings and disappearances. These abhorrent crimes against the people were meant to quell resistance, through breaking the will and sense of self of or physically removing those who are likely to resist while sending a clear message to those who might think of resisting. That is why the repression unleashed by the state is always not commensurate to the actual threat of resistance.

She also observed the same shock therapy in the US and UK in the 1980s. In the UK, former prime minister Margaret Thatcher used the popularity she gained in the Falkland war to impose “neoliberal “reforms,” then attacked the strike of the coal miners in 1984 using 8,000 riot police on horseback. Then US president Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, terminated 11,400 air traffic controllers, who went on strike, in one single blow. Just recently, the administrations of Bush, father and son, used the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the September 11, 2001 attack to curtail civil liberties at home to push the neoliberal agenda further. While the Obama administration used the 2008 economic and financial crisis to push for the same policies that triggered the crisis in the first place.

When the Aquino administration took over the reins of government, the country was in deep crisis. This is not only because the Arroyo government was deeply enmeshed in corruption. It is mainly because the neoliberal policies of deregulation, liberalization, and privatization, which were vigorously implemented by the former Arroyo administration, have left the Filipino people vulnerable to the international economic crisis and to the profit-seeking and speculative attacks of multinational corporations and banks.

However, the Aquino government has no plans of reversing these policies; it is merely doing the same, thereby making the life of the Filipino masses increasingly more miserable. The Aquino government is trying to make the Filipino people believe that what could lift the country out of the crisis is by doing the same: enticing the same mining companies to continue plundering the economy; offering the country’s basic services and utilities, which should be provided by the government, to investments and profit-making by big foreign companies and their local subsidiaries and partners at the expense of the people; the same policy of passing on the taxes of business to the people through the value-added tax; and placing the country’s sovereignty and patrimony for sale. The Aquino government wants the people to believe that it is Arroyo’s corruption and not its policies that sunk the country deeper into crisis and the people deeper into poverty.

And the only way for the Aquino government to continue doing this is through likewise continuing with the repressive policies and acts of its predecessor, the Arroyo administration, which became infamous for the spike in human rights violations, especially extrajudicial killings during its reign. Thus, the previous Arroyo administration’s bloody counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya was merely replaced, in name, by Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan. The Aquino government is hoping that the combination of the shock of the economic crisis, to which the world has not yet recovered from, combined with the shock of repression would paralyze the Filipino people’s perceptions and understanding of events, make them believe that everything would be solved by stamping out blatant corruption, and agree to continuously bear the burden of the crisis.

However, shock therapy might work in the immediate but its effects do not last forever. Look at where the peoples of Central and Southern America are now. They have elected progressives in Venezuela, Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador, Argentina, among others, although it remains to be seen whether the election of progressives in government brought about genuine change. They have formed the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, excluding the US and Canada, to counter the imposing influence of the US on the Washington-based Organization of American States.

Likewise, the Filipino people have gone through the worst times of Martial law and would not be easily shocked into submission anymore. Protests against the economic policies of the Aquino government are mounting, especially on its self-imposed helplessness in curbing the greed for profits of oil companies, as well as its unabated human rights violations. And the rising clamor for genuine change and democracy would soon drown out the worst shock therapy that the Aquino government would be able to deliver. (

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