Yearender 2017: ‘Reminiscent of Arroyo’ | Duterte’s counterinsurgency program


MANILA – More than a thousand (1,188) victims of extrajudicial killings, 205 forcible disappearances, 1,963 illegal arrests, 538,017 victims of indiscriminate firing, 873,482 victims of forcible evacuation and displacement, 84,626 victims of food and other economic blockade, 55,388 victims of the use of schools, religious, and other public places for military purposes, 57 killed in the Arroyo-sponsored Ampatuan massacre, the passage of the Human Security Act — this is the legacy of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is the incumbent Pampanga representative to the Lower House.

For a post-Marcos administration, these human rights and international humanitarian law violations under the Arroyo administration were unparalleled, further fanning the flame of impunity.

That was, until President Rodrigo Duterte came.

In only about one and half years into his term, the Duterte administration has already committed an alarming number of violations: 13,000 victims of the war on drugs — more killings unreported, 113 politically-related extrajudicial killings — majority of which are farmers, 256 illegally arrested and detained, 426,170 forced to evacuate, 364,617 victims of indiscriminate firing and bombing, 39,623 victims of the use of public places for military purpose, and 22 victims of politically-motivated frustrated extrajudicial killings. If this trend continues, with still four and a half years left in his term, the Duterte administration would likely surpass the record of its predecessor, especially since President Duterte has made no secret of his disdain for human rights.

Surprisingly, during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit last November 2017, President Duterte gave incumbent Pampanga Representative Arroyo the task of hosting a dinner while he was not around.

Shortly before ASEAN, in a classic turn of events in traditional politics, Arroyo abandoned her long-term political party, Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (LAKAS-CMD) and joined the legislative supermajority of Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-LABAN).

It was no longer surprising for AFP Spokesperson Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, Jr. to prod Duterte to release the ‘butcher’ retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan to boost the morale of the troops.

According to Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, Duterte’s counterinsurgency programs are undoubtedly reminiscent of Arroyo’s.

“However, there are also differences that show that the human rights situation in the country would likely take a turn for the worse,” she warned.

FILE PHOTO: Youth groups at the March 8 International Working Women’s Day rally (Photo courtesy of the Philippine Collegian)

A central part of the Arroyo’s administration’s counterinsurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya, was the extrajudicial killings and legal harassment of political activists. Recently, after declaring that the government is no longer interested in the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), President Duterte ordered the mass arrest of NDFP consultants and announced that he would run after “front organizations,” in an obvious reference to the legal Left.

Oplan Bantay Laya vs. Oplan Double Barrel/ Oplan Kapayapaan

Oplan Bantay Laya of the Arroyo administration, has been described as the bloodiest and most brutal counterinsurgency program. Created by the Arroyo administration in January 2002, it lasted until the first year of President Benigno Aquino III’s administration, when the latter replaced it with with Oplan Bayanihan.

The main goal of counterinsurgency programs and internal security plans is to suppress and defeat armed groups challenging the government. However, under Oplan Bantay Laya, political activists and legal democratic organizations were clearly targeted.

The arrest of 43 health workers in Morong, Rizal, the abduction of medical volunteer Melissa Roxas, the surge in paramilitary groups, the murder of Eden Marcellana and Eddie Gumanoy – all happened during under Oplan Bantay Laya.

Thereafter, Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan only served to augment the existing counterinsurgency measures even after the termination of Oplan Bantay Laya.

Early in Duterte’s term, when he still supported the peace talks, he called for the AFP to terminate Oplan Bayanihan. In January 2017, Duterte announced the implementation of Oplan Kapayapaan — at that time, the peace talks were still ongoing. With the recent turn of events, and with President Duterte’s disdain for human rights and rights activists, as well as his recent pronouncements, Oplan Kapayapaan might follow the path of previous counterinsurgency programs, especially Oplan Bantay Laya. Worse, President Duterte’s war on illegal drugs under Oplan Double Barrel, most popularly known as oplan tokhang, had received a lot of flak for its brutality and the spike in extrajudicial killings – indiscriminately targeting suspected drug users from the poor – as well as the worsening impunity in engenders.

Right from the very start of Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign, he was already being criticized for allegedly forming his very own death squad in Davao City to suppress illegal drug use and trade.

In October 2017, Duterte withdrew Oplan Double Barrel, in the height of public clamor after news of how two minors were mercilessly murdered by policemen hit the headlines. The extrajudicial killing of one of the minors, Kian de los Santos was even recorded by the CCTV of the local barangay unit.

Recently, December 5, Malacañang released Memorandum Order No. 17 directing the PNP to resume in its tokhang operations. The memorandum cited the supposed resurgence in illegal drug activities and public clamor for the PNP and other law enforcement agencies to resume its operations — all in the middle of campaigns launched against killings of activists and drug-related extrajudicial killings.


One of the Arroyo regime’s tools in implementing its counterinsurgency programs is the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG). It was abolished in 2009, after receiving international pressure, especially from Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions then, who recommended its abolition. The main responsibility of the agency, composed of elements from Department of Justice, the PNP and AFP, is to gather “evidence” and file cases against its targets.

The IALAG was responsible for the filing of trumped-up charges against activists, especially the case of the Batasan 6 or partylist representatives Bayan Muna Representatives Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño and Joel Virador, Anakpawis Representatives Crispin Beltran (now deceased) and Rafael Mariano, and Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza. The case against the Batasan 6 was struck down by the Supreme Court. Other similar cases, such as that in Southern Tagalog where 72 activists were charged with murder were likewise dismissed for lack of substantial evidence.

In October 2017, the Duterte administration created the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA). Similarly, this agency is given the power to handle major backlogs of the IALAG, to pursue unresolved cases against the NPA and other “enemies of the state”.

Immediately, Karapatan, National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), and other critics warned against the revival of the Arroyo-era witch-hunting agency as a method to intensify the vilification, harassment, and extrajudicial killings of activists.

The left as “terrorists”

In 2007, the Human Security Act was passed, paving the way for a broader definition of ‘terrorism’. Patterned on the US Patriot Act, it defined terrorism in such a way that even government critics could be classified as one.

The Human Security Act was also criticized for allowing authorities to look into someone’s bank accounts based on mere suspicion of the account holder being a terrorist or being involved in a terrorist act. For all its questionable provisions, the Supreme Court declared it was constitutional.

Ironically, one of the lawyers who contended the constitutionality of the Human Security Act is incumbent presidential spokesperson and self-proclaimed human rights lawyer Harry Roque, Jr.

In that same year, Arroyo requested the United States to include the CPP-NPA-NDF in the list of internationally recognized terrorist organizations.

When Duterte was campaigning, he aligned himself with the CPP-NPA-NDF and even made remarks supporting the communist insurgency. It was only in December this year that he finally decided to make a 180-degree turn and completely malign the whole movement, even to the point of implicating its so-called “legal fronts”.

In issuing Proclamation No. 374, Duterte did not just tag the CPP-NPA-NDF as terrorists but also vowed to ensure that those who allegedly support it would also be persecuted.

Worse times ahead

“What makes us think that Duterte can be worse are his open pronouncements that distort human rights principles. The same was done by the Aquino administration, albeit in a different way. Under the Duterte administration, there is total disregard for human and people’s rights principles as per the country’s obligations under the Constitution, domestic laws, and international obligations,” Palabay warned.

Psywar, threats, and intimidation have also intensified with the prevalent use of social media. Death threats from anonymous senders, a wanted poster of the eight involved in the Haran 15 incident, intense militarization and attacks on civilians and members of legal organizations — these are remnants of the Arroyo strategy in suppressing dissent and activism.

“We have been pronouncing this again and again that Duterte’s methods are similar to that of the Macapagal-Arroyo’s regime, particularly the ‘all-out’ war policy and continuing extra-judicial killings, the formation of the IACLA and crackdown on activists, and the termination of the peace talks and ‘terrorist’ tag on the CPP,” Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao said in a statement.

“We will not be surprised if something similar to the Batasan 6 and the calibrated pre-emptive response (CPR) would be done by the Duterte government,” he added.

Worse times ahead?

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