Impunity and “democracy”


I would have written about President Aquino’s request to the US to fly its spy drones around Scarborough shoal and its impact on Philippine sovereignty when the killing of Willem Geertman happened. Geertman was a 67-year old advocate of peasant land rights, indigenous people’s rights, and environmental defense and protection. He was the executive director of Alay Bayan Inc. (ABI), which is a member of the Citizens’ Disaster Response Network.

Geertman’s involvement in development work and advocacies and the fact that he was made to kneel and cursed at before being shot to death immediately dispels the “robbery” theory of the Philippine National Police. His death fits the pattern of extrajudicial killings of activists and environmentalists. Added to this, when the reaction of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is to ask for proof and the police immediately comes up with a theory absolving the military of involvement in the killing, then you could bet your life that the military is behind it.

If the military was not behind the killing, its initial reaction should have been to conduct a thorough investigation immediately. If the AFP was not behind it, President Benigno Aquino III should have been fuming mad upon hearing of the killing. But the AFP reacted defensively and President Aquino is silent, its as if what happened is not a serious crime.

When Italian priest Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio was killed in October last year, I wrote that impunity has reared its ugly, brazen head. Not since Martial Law has a religious from the Catholic church been victimized so brutally. And it happened in 1985 to Fr. Tulio Favali and Fr. Rudy Romano when the Marcos dictatorship was desperately clinging to power.

That another foreigner has been killed – in a country where foreigners, especially Americans and Europeans, could get away with a lot of things – further indicates that the country is under the worst kind of impunity.

How could this happen if we are under a democracy? Isn’t impunity inconsistent with a democracy?

Human rights violations, especially the worst kind such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture, should not even exist under a democracy. The fact that it is being done with impunity goes to show that we are not under a democracy; and those in power are implementing an undemocratic, anti-people, and oppressive project.

What we have is the perception that we are under a democracy, as the Aquino government would want to make us believe. Sure, we could criticize the government through the media, in rallies, and in dialogues and conferences. That is for as long as one does not seek to change the existing property relations; for as long as one does not try to help the peasants in their struggle for the land they have been tilling against those who have monopoly of the land; for as long as one does not side with indigenous peoples whose land is being grabbed by mining companies and their local partners; and for as long as one does not side with workers who are struggling against oppression and exploitation and the urban poor who refuse to give way to local and foreign corporations. These would surely make one a target of the vilification campaign of the military, and earn a spot in the list of those who are for “neutralization.”

Impunity under a dictatorship is condemnable but is characteristic of its ways; impunity under a blatantly corrupt and brutal government is likewise condemnable but is predictable; impunity under a popularly–elected president is more dangerous as the tendency is to sweep it under the rug and because those in power think that they could get away with anything. And we should not let them get away with it. (

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