Method to the madness

Nowadays President Rodrigo Duterte is wont to take every opportunity to accuse the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) of the vilest atrocities he can think of (or invent) as his regime goes into high gear in its counterinsurgency war, perversely codenamed Oplan Kapayapaan. The latest is at a speech he gave to the annual gathering of LGBT in Davao City where he accused the NPA of going around “molesting or sexually abusing” women in the countryside and even “stealing” the women from their husbands.

But how can a home-grown revolutionary movement comprised mainly of peasants, waging guerrilla warfare in the rural areas, survive for close to five decades if there is any truth to this outrageous accusation? One might conclude that Mr. Duterte has lost it. (Some say too much Fentanyl). Then again, there seems to be method to the madness: the terror tagging of the CPP-NPA is a glaring example.

Mr. Duterte has flip-flopped more than once but this is major. From an avowed fellow socialist and Leftist who understood the social roots of rebellion; who considered a renowned NPA commander murdered by the military as his close friend; who gave support and succor to beleaguered NPA fighters; and who promised to end the longest running armed conflict in Asia through peace negotiations — Mr. Duterte now has nothing good to say about the CPP-NPA.

It is as if all he has to do is change his mind, or his rhetoric, to change the highly political, in fact revolutionary, character of the CPP-NPA overnight.

Thus upon his declaration that he was scuttling peace talks with the revolutionary umbrella formation, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), Mr. Duterte announced he would deny the CPP-NPA any political legitimacy by following the US lead in labelling the movement as “terrorist.” He issued Proclamation 374 declaring the CPP-NPA a “designated, identified terrorist organization under Republic Act (RA) No. 10168.”

Since the “terrorist” label has been attached of late to the likes of the dreaded ISIS, successor to the infamous al Qaeda that presumably had been degraded by the US commando killing of Osama Bin Laden, and with supposed ISIS-inspired counterparts most recently defeated in the Marawi siege, Proclamation 374 effectively demonizes the CPP-NPA to the politically uninitiated and conservative sectors of the public, not least of which are Mr. Duterte’s rabid followers.

It serves to terrify them and bids them follow blindly Mr. Duterte’s admonitions about crushing alleged “terrorists.” The “terrorist” tag is once more used as a convenient, if worn out, justification for pursuing the failed policy of using armed might exclusively or primarily in dealing with rebellion.

It didn’t take long for Mr. Duterte to issue a shoot-to-kill order to the AFP against suspected NPA “so long as they are armed.” This is eerily similar to his order to the PNP to kill drug suspects “so long as they fight it out” or “manlaban.” The order amounts to instructing the military to plant guns and explosives against anyone they kill in the counterinsurgency war to take away accountability for extrajudicial killings carried out in the name of counterterrorism. This Duterte order gives license to inflict mass murder on indigenous people and peasants fighting against land grabbing and other forms of exploitation and oppression rampant in the countryside.

From hereon Duterte is poised to have the CPP-NPA proscribed by a Regional Trial Court as a “terrorist” organization so that he can go about using a dormant 10-year-old anti-terrorism law, the Human Security Act of 2007, as well as the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 (RA 10168) to undertake a massive crackdown on legal progressive organizations specially those who espouse a similar program of socioeconomic and political reforms as the CPP-NPA-NDFP. (It would not be a surprise for the regime to also use these draconian laws to terrorize ordinary citizens pining for his promised “pagbabago” and shake down businesses in the guise of going after “terrorism financiers”).

What this portends is mass arrests and the wholesale filing of trumped-up terrorism and other criminal charges against social activists, critics in the academe, mass media or the arts, human rights advocates, grassroots organizers and any and all who the Duterte regime labels as “enemies of the state” and/or “destabilizers.”

Duterte didn’t skip a beat when he asked Congress for approval of another extension of martial law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao by a year. Even as the magnified threat from remnants of the Maute, Dawlah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf Group as well as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters was cited as reason enough to extend martial law, this time it is clear that the target is the CPP-NPA and its mass base of support among the landless peasants and indigenous people of Mindanao called Lumad.

Malacañang and the AFP want the public to believe that martial law under Duterte is benign in so far as non-rebels are concerned.

But numerous incidents involving civilians tagged by the military as NPA have resulted in grave human rights violations among the most vulnerable sectors of society.

Take the case of the massacre of eight Lumad in Barangay Ned, Lake Sebu. Aldina Ambag, sister of slain Lumad leader Datu Victor Dayan, says a sniper killed her brother and that seven other slain men were farmers harvesting and planting corps when soldiers entered the village. They are filing complaints with the Commission of Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, as well as the Joint Monitoring Committee for the implementation of the human rights agreement in the derailed GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.

The AFP knows that the NPA draws support from rural folk thus their solution is to deny the NPA this support by militarizing communities.

In the process the thousands of civilians are displaced and rendered victims of grievous human rights violations such as EJKs, enforced disappearances, illegal arrests and detention and torture. These civilian communities’ legitimate struggles are branded as NPA-instigated and their leaders themselves branded as NPA, ergo “terrorist” and deserving of “neutralization,” military-speak for physical elimination.

Those who come to their rescue — human rights defenders, church workers, land reform advocates, or even plain humanitarian organizations — are also immediately branded as NPA supporters deserving of the harshest measures available under martial law. When they invoke their civil and political rights such as the right to due process or their right to avail of the services of legal counsel, the military simply answers, “It is martial law and therefore what we say goes.”

Those who think that curtailing the rights of suspected NPA and their alleged supporters is justified in the fight against rebellion better think again. Marcos became the number one NPA recruiter when he declared martial law to keep himself and his clique in power indefinitely. The closure of all legal and peaceful avenues for the people to seek redress of grievances from government and to pursue much-needed reforms became the clarion call for the youth of the land to join the NPA or establish it where it did not yet exist.

Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.

Published in Business World
Dec. 19, 2017

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