By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
Will President Aquino issue a statement on Monday, Sept. 21, which marks the 43rd year after Ferdinand E. Marcos declared martial law and began a 14-year fascist dictatorship whose pernicious imprints remain to this day? What will he say?
Two weeks ago I wrote about the September 1 brazen killing of three lumad leaders in Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur by a paramilitary group called Magahat-Bagani. Two of them were shot dead before the entire community, the third (a school administrator) was hogtied, stabbed and his throat slit. Such brazen killings, I pointed out, trace back to similar atrocities under martial law: They have continued with impunity as no post-dictatorship government has summoned the political will to stop them.
Since then pressure has built up on P-Noy to speak out about these crimes and, more importantly, to do something about them and all the previous political/extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations attributed to state security forces.
For instance, the two leading dailies, Philippine Star and Philippine Daily Inquirer, came out with editorials, each recalling the similarity with the Marcos dictatorship’s unrestrained violence against people suspected of being members or supporters of the New People’s Army.
Citing the murder in Bukidnon of five members of a lumad family (including children aged 13 and 17) that preceded the Surigao killings, the Star editorial, titled “The new hamletting,” began by stating, “This is not supposed to be happening in a modern state.”
It noted the suspicion that “the tribal communities are being targeted and systematically driven out of their lands to make way for private business operations.” And while the government denies there’s a systematic campaign, it pointed to the thousands of displaced lumads staying in temporary shelters, “in what has been likened to the revival of anti-communist ‘hamletting’ during the Marcos dictatorship.”
“As long as Lumads keep getting murdered… state forces will continue to be suspect. If the Aquino admistration wants to dispel suspicions of sanctioning the attacks, it must intensify efforts to bring the killers to justice,” the editorial concluded.
Titled “Militarized zone,” the Inquirer editorial raised the question: How can the Magahat-Bagani, with only 30 armed men, “operate with such impunity” in an area where the Philippine Army’s 401st and 402nd Brigades has deployed “an overwhelming force of 1,500-5,000 elite soldiers”?
Answering its question, the editorial said: “Apparently because, as Governor (Johnny) Pimentel has confirmed, the military is behind Magahat-Bagani. Like the Alamara, another paramilitary group accused of crimes against indigenous peoples and activist organizations in Davao, the killers of Samarca, Diones and Sinzo (the Surigao victims) have been armed, and are actively supported, by elements in the military as part of its counterinsurgency campaign in the area.” Like the Star, it ends up at the doorway of Malacañang:
“The widespread violence, harassment and militarization going on in Mindanao is nothing less than a throwback to the playbook of the Marcos dictatorship. President Aquino must put a stop to it, lest it become his bloody legacy.”
Sharp criticism of the P-Noy government ensued from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, along with a call for an “honest, thorough, impartial and speedy investigation so that the guilty may be held to account for their wrongdoing.”
Through its president, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the CBCP says it’s “profoundly disturbed” by reports that national leaders have been quick to exonerate the militia group (Magahat-Bagani), adding, “This alarming eagerness to deny culpability does not augur well for truth and for justice.”
Moreover, the CBCP correctly observed that the paramilitary groups which the AFP uses for counterinsurgency operations “do not fall under a clear, established and accessible chain of command.” While they act with the tacit consent, if not authority, of state agents, it stressed, “they cannot be held to account for their actions by the regular channels of accountability and attribution that exist in the regular armed forces and police.”
Malacañang’s response, by presidential communications secretary Herminio Coloma, was tepid. Taking note of the CBCP request, he quoted Justice Secretary Leila de Lima as saying her office backed the call for an “interagency” probe of the Surigao killings. Nothing definite.
There’s an explanation for what the CBCP described as “alarming eagerness” to let paramilitary forces off the hook – no matter that, under every post-martial law administration, these forces have been consistently tagged as major human rights violators by the Commission on Human Rights, local human rights defenders, and international human rights organizations.
For P-Noy, the CAFGU (Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units) and kindred paramilitary groups are a legacy of his mother, the late Cory Aquino, who was catapulted to the presidency by the February 1986 popular uprising that ousted Marcos. Upon assuming power, she vowed to make her administration the dictatorship’s “exact opposite.” Sadly, she failed to fulfil that promise.
Against strong public clamor to dismantle the Marcos-created paramilitary forces, Cory chose to legitimize them: she issued Executive Order 264 placing the CAFGU under AFP supervision. But rather than discipline their notorious activities, the AFP coddled them, It even created other paramilitary groups, such as the Alamara and Magahat-Bagani, while disavowing responsibility for, or even links with them.
And such AFP coddling isn’t surprising either. Why? Because Cory adopted en masse Marcos’ AFP without ordering a top-down review to identify and prosecute or weed out the corrupt officers and those involved in human rights violations. This explains why, under her watch, documented cases of enforced disappearances, among other HRVs, totalled 821 – exceeding the 759 tallied under Marcos.
Under P-Noy’s watch, more than 280 extrajudicial/political killings have already been recorded. Alas, he will indeed leave office with blood on his legacy.
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Published in The Philippine Star
September 19, 2015