Government by Repression
While crushing the
insurgency is the immediate aim of a policy decision to use all means
including torture, assassination, and the suppression of free expression,
the opportunities for bureaucratic plunder the entry of foreign mining
companies into the country would make available are likely to be the basic
reason behind the government determination to stifle all forms of
By Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
The Arroyo government is in one sense transparent: it is transparently
committed to preventing the dissemination of the recording of the alleged
conversation between President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and COMELEC
Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano. It has threatened whistle-blower former
NBI Deputy Director Samuel Ong with arrest, and warned media organizations
not to air or print the tape, or else. This is by no means new or unusual
for the Arroyo administration, however. Repression has been its response
to free expression, and suppression of the facts and secrecy its answer to
a citizenry that simply wants to know, among others, whether Mrs. Arroyo
indeed cheated in the last elections as 55 percent of it believes.
As if to confirm that the Philippines is entering a period of Marcos-era
repression, Amnesty International reported a few weeks ago the widespread
use by the police and military of torture and ill-treatment to extract
information from crime suspects, and noted the growing number of summary
killings, arbitrary arrests, abductions and torture of suspected guerillas
and members of legal leftwing organizations.
The Secretary of Justice admitted that "there are plenty of human rights
problems" in the Philippines—but argued that they persist because of lack
of resources. This is the same Secretary of Justice who has been loudly
threatening everyone in possession of copies of the alleged Arroyo-Garcillano
tapes—which government agencies themselves made in the course of tapping
Garcillano's phone, in the first place--with arrest or some other form of
said Secretary Raul Gonzales, "wants to do its best to observe (sic)
human rights," but just cannot meet its "obligations," by which Gonzales
probably meant its commitments to international law as well as to its own
The Philippines is a signatory to, among other international covenants,
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to
free expression and due process. Its own Bill of Rights echoes the same
rights, and Philippine jurisprudence is choked with assertions about the
rule of law and the rights of suspects.
As Amnesty noted, there is "an extensive array of institutions and
procedural safeguards" meant to protect human rights in the Philippines.
But "suspected perpetrators of serious human rights violations" are
"rarely brought to justice."
Not only has the Arroyo government looked the other way as far as police
and military violators of human rights are concerned. It has also
rewarded such suspects —and at one point even reversed policy in behalf of
a known Marcos-era torturer.
The most recent case in which it rewarded a suspected violator of human
rights involves Army Maj.Gen. Jovito Palparan, who has been accused of
masterminding the assassination of legal left-wing personalities in
Mindoro while still a colonel.
Despite the seriousness of this charge, Palparan was promoted to brigadier
general and assigned to the coveted, dollar-earning post of commander of
the Philippine "humanitarian mission" to
Iraq. When the mission was recalled in
June, 2004, Palparan was again promoted and given his own command, this
time as commanding general of the Philippine Army's Eighth Infantry
Division in Samar—where, in utter disregard or ignorance of Section 4 of
Article III of the Bill of Rights, Palparan has vowed to eliminate all
anti-government protests within six months.
But not only has the Arroyo government rewarded the likes of Palparan. In
2003 it used the assassination, allegedly by NPA guerillas, of a
notorious torturer of the Marcos period as an excuse to abort then ongoing
peace talks with the National Democratic Front.
These and other instances contradict Gonzales' claim that the Arroyo
government wants to "observe" human rights but is hampered by lack of
resources. What is instead evident is, at best, its indifference to human
rights—or, at worst, its adoption and implementation of an anti-insurgency
policy that permits and even encourages human rights violations.
Every bit of evidence leads to this conclusion. More than 50 leaders and
members of legal leftwing groups have been killed since 2001, when the
Arroyo government came to power. The killings intensified in 2004, when
National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales labeled left-wing party list
groups as fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
During the 2004 elections the Armed Forces actively intervened not only in
favor of administration candidates but also against left-wing party list
groups. At about the same time the AFP accelerated its campaign to
demonize various groups as "enemies of the state" through a high-intensity
propaganda campaign that included the now infamous "Knowing The Enemy"
lecture and presentation which named journalists' and Church organizations
and party list groups as part of the "legal machinery" of the CPP.
The same presentation did not conceal that the AFP was "neutralizing"
party list and other personalities as part of its campaign against the
so-called "insurgency"—which it absurdly claims is the cause rather than a
result of the poverty of the country. The advent of 2005 witnessed more
killings, including those of priests and lawyers.
Meanwhile, a host of initiatives from the Executive Department as well as
Congress have targeted the media. Five bills supposedly against
pornography now pending in Congress would subject broadcast and print to
censorship and prior restraint as well as subsequent punishment.
The anti-terrorism bills in the same Congress uniformly allow the police
to raid the residences of suspected "terrorists" and to monitor private
communications. Public affairs programs have been told to submit their
scripts to the Movie and Television Ratings and Classification Board
before they are aired, even as the government condones the killing of
journalists by ignoring them. The police habitually refuses to issue
rally permits in violation of Article III Section 4 of the Constitution,
and also habitually uses unrestrained violence to disperse rallies.
While crushing the insurgency is the immediate aim of a policy decision to
use all means including torture, assassination, and the suppression of
free expression, the opportunities for bureaucratic plunder the entry of
foreign mining companies into the country would make available are likely
to be the basic reason behind the government determination to stifle all
forms of protests. The areas where human rights violations by the military
have intensified are not only areas where leftwing party list groups have
substantial mass followings. They are also potential mining sites in
addition to being NPA strongholds.
What amounts to a human rights crisis reminiscent of the martial law
period is driven by a material motive premised on ridding those areas
mining companies are likely to exploit of protests and other
"inconveniences". Basic to the current policy is the refusal to heed
popular demands for reform on a broad range of issues, among them an end
to government corruption and the institution of social and economic
policies that will address galloping poverty and social inequity.
Despite its pretensions, it has been evident for some time that the Arroyo
government was never committed to reform, its interests being solidly
based on the perpetuation of the status quo of subservience to foreign
interests, and the mass poverty, mass injustice, and mass misery the
semi-feudal and semi-colonial state it now presides over has perpetuated.
Under these circumstances, only repression and suppression of the truth
can be its response to a restive society and people. It is in the
furtherance of its own narrow interests as well as those of its foreign
patrons that the Arroyo government is borrowing heavily from the Marcos
era book of repression.
The Arroyo government must heed the lessons of history. Posted by
June 13, 2005
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