Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Issue No. 45                         December 23 - 29,  2001                   Quezon City, Philippines

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A Dismal Year for Human Rights

The killing of a human rights leader just two days before International Human Rights Day caps a year marked with massive troop deployment in Western Mindanao and Southern Luzon, an almost daily incident of killing in Southern Tagalog, warrantless arrest and torture of suspected Abu Sayyaf members in Basilan and the displacement of Mangyans from their tribal homes in Mindoro.


Last Dec. 8, Nicanor delos Santos, 49, a leader of indigenous peoples' groups in the Southern Tagalog region, was gunned down in cold blood by government soldiers between 5:30 and 6:30 pm in Antipolo City, Rizal. 

Delos Santos, a human rights leader popularly known as Tatay Kanor, was with a companion preparing to leave for Manila to bring food to delegates of a human rights caravan.

Several witnesses saw around 10 soldiers in camouflage uniforms approach Delos Santos' companion who was left alone when the latter went to a nearby store to buy more bread.

The soldiers demanded to inspect their packages and when told to wait for Delos Santos, a soldier hit him with the butt of his M14 rifle. Delos Santos, who was less than 10 meters away, saw what happened, became frightened and started to run. The soldiers then noticed him and eight of the soldiers immediately started firing.

His companion, shocked, yelled at the soldiers why they were shooting.  One of the soldiers reportedly replied, “He is running, that's why.”

All those who witnessed the incident including delos Santos’ companion are now in hiding, fearing for their own lives. Their fear was reinforced when media reporters quoted the police and military as saying that Delos Santos was a New People's Army rebel killed during a “legitimate encounter.”

Dismal record

The killing of the human rights leader on his way to a human rights activity just two days before International Human Rights Day is indeed too steeped with irony. It capped a dismal year for human rights under a government put in power by a popular uprising triggered by corruption in government, human rights abuses and other issues.

Tatay Kanor was the 56th person killed under the Arroyo government, according to the human rights group Karapatan.

According to Karapatan and the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace (EMJP), 162 persons have been arrested and detained since President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power, including some 60 mostly farmers in Basilan suspected of being Abu Sayyaf members and arrested without warrant.

The groups also reported 11 cases of involuntary disappearance and 17 cases of indiscriminate firing by government troops.  The latter included as victims a seven-month pregnant woman and a two-year old boy.

Accounts of torture suffered by detainees proved the practice continues.

Meanwhile, the large-scale troop deployment and continuous military operations are creating havoc in the countryside. Mangyan families from Mindoro have sought refuge in churches in Metro Manila to escape from military operations that have already killed several members of their tribe. Others, like the residents of Basilan, hear bombs exploding and gunfire erupting almost every night.

Of the 591 incidents of human rights violations documented, 80 percent were reportedly perpetrated by regular members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the paramilitary CAFGU; 10 percent by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP); and the rest by other government-supported armed groups.

Karapatan also reported that as of Nov. 26, there are 216 political prisoners detained in various jails nationwide. These include 14 detainees whose release was already approved by President Arroyo as early as February and 33 others recommended for release by a review team of the Department of Justice and Karapatan.

Canine fealty

Aside from the rising number of human rights violations, the so-called US' war against terror and the unequivocal support being given by the Arroyo regime to this war have added a new and perilous dimension to the Philippine human rights situation.

The US war on Afghanistan has spawned a series of US policy initiatives which have violated or threatened to violate the human rights of not only American citizens but of other countries as well.

Among them is the Bush administration’s USA Patriot Act of 2001 which provides the US government "appropriate tools required to intercept and obstruct terrorism." As expected, an anti-terrorism law has similarly been filed at the Philippine House of Representatives with the same odious objectives. The bill, authored by Rep. Imee Marcos, is titled "An act defining terrorism, providing penalties therefore and for other purposes."

Earlier, the House also adopted a resolution expressing full backing to President Arroyo's declaration of unconditional support to the US war.

Meanwhile, the Arroyo government is seeking to revive the implementation of a national identification system which militant groups and human rights watchdogs have denounced as an old public surveillance scheme.

Karapatan stated that the system is a danger to individual freedoms "especially when implemented by a government that does not only have a history of perpetrating criminal abuses against its people but also continues to commit with impunity violations of human rights and international humanitarian law."

Aside from these, the Arroyo government went on its own bombing spree in Basilan, base of the bandit ASG and where two American hostages are being held. The canine fealty of the Arroyo government to the US became even more evident with the arrival of American troops in Basilan, allegedly to "advise" the AFP on counter-terrorism operations.

In exchange for second-hand military equipment and continued political support, the Arroyo government peddled national sovereignty and made human rights in the Philippines second to US interests.

Defending her troops

In her speech during the 66th founding anniversary of the AFP last Dec. 21, Arroyo defended her troops from criticisms, saying “there are those who try to blur or diminish the grandeur of your (AFP troops’) professionalism."

Arroyo was referring to charges of AFP officers' collusion with the bandit Abu Sayyaf Group and the rampant human rights abuses committed by its troops.

This pronouncement and reports of actual incidents of military atrocities prove that Arroyo refuses to learn from the past. From the Marcos dictatorship to the Estrada regime, it has been proven that a militarist rule does not a strong government make. That military abuses only fuel greater dissent, not extinguish it

All these occur in the midst of the worst economic crisis that has engulfed the country. But ironically, right on Human Rights Day, the government launched the National Socio-Economic Pact and its accompanying agenda. Espousing policies that will further promote globalization, the Pact, human rights groups say, will most likely lead to greater violations of the people's economic, social and political rights.

Human rights embody human dignity. As 2001 ends, human dignity in this country is being shred to pieces in the interest of globalization, US' war, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's dependence on AFP for support.  (Bulatlat.com)


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