“When the US says jump, the Philippines would ask, to which floor, Your Honor?”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – The United States and the Philippine governments should be held accountable for their violations on the Filipino people’s right to self-determination, witnesses recount before the International Peoples’ Tribunal in Washington DC.
“When the US says jump, the Philippines would ask, to which floor, Your Honor?” Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Neri Colmenares said, describing the Philippine government’s subservience to US dictates.
Colmenares is among the 32 witnesses presented before the jurors of the IPT, an opinion tribunal currently being held in Washington DC, putting both Philippine and US governments on trial for perpetuating human rights violations in the Philippines. Charges against the two governments include violations of civil-political rights, socio-economic rights and the right to self-determination.
The two governments were indicted for committing “gross and systematic violations of the rights of the people to national self-determination and liberation through the imposition of the US war on terror and US military intervention.”
National Lawyers Guild former president Marjorie Cohn said US President Barack Obama continued his predecessor’s “war on terror without calling it a war on terror.” She said Obama defined the rest of the world as a battle field, where anyone suspected of being terrorists may be killed “anywhere he wants, without due process.” As a result, she said Obama killed more people through drones than those who died in the 9/11 attack.
In the Philippines, Aquino continued his predecessor’s counterinsurgency plan under the Oplan Bayanihan, which is patterned after the 2009 US counterinsurgency plan. Cohn said that this has led to “tremendous repression, including large numbers of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture and cruel treatment.”
“The leaders of the Aquino and Obama governments continue to enjoy impunity for their rights violations and aiding and abetting of politically-motivated human rights violations that target Filipino people and groups that struggle against governmental repression. The impunity violates their well-established international law obligations,” Cohn said during her testimony.
“The visitors have never left,” Dante Simbulan, former military official and political prisoner under President Ferdinand Marcos, said during his testimony.
Women’s rights activist Liza Maza said that after the US bases were kicked out of the country in 1991, the Philippines signed three agreements with the US: the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the Mutual Logistic Support Agreement (MLSA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca).
Maza said these agreements violate the country’s Constitution. She added that EDCA, for one, is a basing agreement that would allow unlimited number of “agreed locations” that would be under the direct and sole control of the US.
Maza testified from Manila via Skype, after she was barred by the US government to travel to Washington DC on July 9.
Amira Lidasan of Suara Bangsamoro said US soldiers began arriving in Moro communities in Mindanao in 2002. She said their group documented cases and reports of US soldiers participating in direct combat operations, and the use of drones in Zamboanga City, Maguindanao, Cotabato, and in Basilan and Sulu. These reports were presented before lawmakers that looked into the VFA. When asked about the result of the investigation, Lidasan said they do not know up to now.
Lidasan said the most recent US intervention was the botched police operation on Jan. 25 in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao. The operation killed 44 Special Action Force (Saf) men, 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members, and several civilians.
“The US really planned this operation. The US had put a $5 million bounty on Marwan’s head. US drones pinpointed Marwan’s hiding place, guided the commandos to it, and provided the capability for a real-time management by the Philippine commanders away from the battlefield. At least six US military personnel were at the Philippine command post and fed Philippine commandos intelligence collected by US aircraft. After the operation, Marwan’s finger disappeared. It then appeared at an FBI lab in the US a few days later,” Cohn said.
Lidasan said that while public attention was focused on the deaths of the 44 Saf men, it was only the Suara Bangsamoro that looked into the civilian casualties in the Mamasapano fiasco.
She said Aquino as commander-in-chief must be held accountable as he was aware of the operations and its implication to the peace negotiation with the MILF.
Rights of liberation movement violated
In a video deposition, Luis Jalandoni, chief peace negotiator of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), said the US continues to list his group, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and its armed wing the NPA, as terrorist groups.
The US first declared the CPP, the NPA and the NDFP as “foreign terrorist organizations” in 2002, under then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. It consequently declared Prof. Jose Maria Sison as a “terrorist” and ordered for the freezing of his bank account, Jalandoni said.
“It violates the right of the CPP, the NPA and the NDFP as a national liberation movement fighting for the rights of the Filipino people to national self-determination and liberation. In word and consistent practice, the CPP, the NPA and the NDFP have adhered to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Protocol I of 1977 as formally declared by the national leaders of the CPP, the NPA, and the NDFP on July 5, 1996,” he said.
He added that the Permanent People’s Tribunal Session on the Philippines back in 1980 has declared these organizations as “the legitimate representative of the Filipino people and its liberation against the Marcos dictatorship.”
Jalandoni said the terror listing by the US has “seriously prejudiced the peace negotiations between the GRP/GPH and the NDFP.”
He added that the Aquino administration has sabotaged the peace negotiations with the NDFP when it attacked previously signed agreements between the two.
The Aquino administration declared the The Hague Joint Declaration as a “document of perpetual division,” the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) as “no longer operative” and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (Carhrihl) as an “NDFP propaganda document,” Jalandoni said.
A number of NDFP peace consultants have been arrested under Aquino and past administrations, which the NDFP said are violations of the Jasig.
As of this writing, Karapatan documented at least 500 political prisoners, at least 17 of whom are NDFP peace consultants.
Jalandoni, himself, in his visit in Manila early this year, was served a subpoena and was threatened arrest for trumped-up cases.
USAID and privatization
The IPT hearing on the second ground of charges on the violations of the social, economic and cultural rights, also revealed how the US intervenes in Philippine affairs by directly lobbying and crafting laws through US Aid.
In a testimony, Ibon Foundation executive director Jose Enrique Africa said the US government, through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), directly lobbies and crafts laws, has critical linkages with the big corporations, and funds civil society groups.
While these are more low-key, unlike the high-profile US role in relief operations during disasters, Africa said these are the most critical, because these intervene in government decisions and policy-making.
Colmenares said such could be seen in the privatization of basic social services, mass transportation and the energy sector. Although the World Bank-imposed privatization schemes began long before Aquino became president, Colmenares said, the government is one continuing body, and “the Aquino administration is just as guilty as the past administrations.”
For one, the USAID pushed for the privatization of the energy sector and drafted the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA). Such privatization and deregulation has resulted to a spike in electricity rates in the country, the highest in Asia, said Colmenares.
‘Packed like corned beef’
The mass transportation system, from the airport down to the metro rail systems, is problematic, he said. MRT commuters continue to suffer from the repeated breakdowns, in spite of the fare hikes.
Colmenares jested that Filipinos are no longer “packed like sardines in MRT.” He said, “No, it is not true. We are packed like corned beef.”
Neo-liberal policies have also led to demolition of homes in Quezon City. Urban poor leader Estrelita Bagasbas, who testified via Skype, said the government is demolishing their homes to give way to a multi-billion Quezon City Central Business District project.
The same goes to the health sector. Sean Velchez, head nurse of the spinal unit of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC), said their hospital is also being privatized in the pretext of “modernization.” He said this would deprive their patients, who are mostly indigents, to their right to health services.
Velchez, who gave his testimony via Skype, said the fight against the POC privatization is crucial as it would serve as a “template” on how the Department of Health would carry out the privatization of 72 other government hospitals.
Once privatized, the POC bed allocation for indigent patients would be reduced from 600 to a mere 70. It would also lead to increased hospital fees for services that are currently offered free or at a small cost. The privatization also threatens the job security of the hospital employees, Velchez said.
“In a country where seven out of 10 patients die without medical attention, it is not only immoral, but also criminal for the Philippine government to implement privatization,” he said.
Colmenares, however, remains hopeful that the people’s resistance will continue against privatization and US intervention.