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Vol. VI, No. 17      June 4-10, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines











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Terror in Anti-Terror
Will Gloria’s ‘end-game strategy’ vs the Left work?

The present campaign against the Left has practically closed all avenues to the peaceful resolution of the armed conflict, including the peace talks, which belies the claim of Macapagal-Arroyo to root out the endemic problems of poverty and social injustice by socio-economic means. It also closes the option of using Congress as an arena where the poor classes, through their party-list representatives, can seek social, economic and political reforms. Furthermore, it closes the parliament of the streets as an open cafeteria of ideas and public advocacy.

By Edmundo Santuario III

The Philippine military may definitely be gaining the upper hand vis-à-vis the civilian administration as its counter-insurgency or “anti-terrorist” campaign escalates by the day. But Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo cannot evade any responsibility for the mounting cases of politically-motivated killings victimizing hundreds of activists and political personalities.

In recent weeks, the Arroyo government has been in the hot seat following confirmations by the state’s own Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the London-based Amnesty International and other rights watchdogs about reports of unprovoked armed attacks against civilians identified with the militant left that, reports add, have been committed with impunity by military, paramilitary and police forces.

At the latest count, 605 persons have been executed extra-judicially since Macapagal-Arroyo became president in January 2001 following a people’s uprising. Several others have been reported missing and are presumed dead. What is alarming is that all of the victims were unarmed civilians who included rights volunteers, peasant and labor leaders, church leaders, lawyers, local executives, party-list progressives, as well as women and children.

Many of the killings are said to have been perpetrated by motorcycle-riding, hooded gunmen in the style of death squads. Fact-finding missions, eyewitness accounts, circumstantial evidence, pattern analysis and other investigations made by international groups point to military, paramilitary and police units as the culprits. The killings have been synchronous with declarations by both executive officials, military top brass and notorious communist-hunters like Gen. Jovito Palparan naming progressive party-list groups and cause-oriented organizations as “terrorists” with links to the communist-led underground revolutionary movement and its armed component, the New People’s Army (NPA).

A complaint about these political killings has been filed by rights groups with the United Nations Human Rights Council and a session on this has been set in Geneva later this year. Preceding the UN case are several other complaints filed with the CHR, Justice Department and Congress itself. Calls have been made here and abroad asking Macapagal-Arroyo to rein in her armed forces as well to condemn and stop the killings. In the works is a proposed wide-ranging in-depth investigation into the cases leading to the prosecution of those found guilty.

Yet despite all these, why do the killings continue?

First of all, the killings have spread in many regions tagged by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as NPA strongholds. The sound of assassins’ gunfire has gotten louder with every military threat against so-called communist “front organizations” becoming unrelenting. Given the impunity of the killings and with no investigations done by the government which has instead incredibly linked the incidents to a “leftist purge,” it is no wonder more and more people believe the terror campaign against the alleged “enemies of the state” could not be unleashed without orders from higher authorities.

“War against terrorism”

The probability of this scenario ensues from the fact that since 2001, Macapagal-Arroyo has renewed a counter-insurgency campaign that has been integrated into – or been the thrust of – her so-called “war against terrorism.” As early as that year, the military’s counter-insurgency campaign adopted a new tactic aimed at “neutralizing” the progressive party-list groups, with one top official warning publicly that the Bayan Muna (BM or people first) won’t be allowed to take a seat in Congress.

To win the support of U.S. President George W. Bush and, hence, the AFP’s loyalty, Macapagal-Arroyo backed Bush’s global war on terror by allowing the Philippines to be used as the war’s “second front.” In turn, Macapagal-Arroyo received pledges of bigger U.S. military aid and more military training through regular war exercises, special operations and logistical, sometimes even combat, support for her government’s anti-terrorist campaign. More military aid and training were guaranteed with a mutual agreement to use such resources not only against so-called Muslim extremists but eventually, on a larger scale, against the leftist armed guerrillas.

The integration of Macapagal-Arroyo’s counter-insurgency into her “war on terror” was anticipated following a secret deal between top U.S. and Philippine authorities to name NDFP senior political consultant Jose Maria Sison and the CPP-NPA in the U.S.’ and European Union Council’s “foreign terrorist organization” lists. This sent a signal to Philippine defense and military officials to intensify a demonization campaign tagging alleged front organizations and progressive party-list groups and their leaders as “terrorist.” Newsletters, primers and PowerPoint presentations of the AFP circulated, triggering speculations – not without basis – that these paraphernalia were actually hit lists or OBs (orders of battle) with the intent to “neutralize” the so-called “enemies of the state.” As understood by many activists, rights watchdogs and church people, “neutralize” smacks of physical elimination.

Operation Plan Bantay Laya (Oplan Freedom Watch), alleged to be an AFP strategic paper that was implemented beginning 2002, sheds some light on this. A recent report by the alternative newspaper, Pinoy Weekly, which obtained a copy of the document, says that OBL is originally an internal security blueprint designed against Moro secessionist groups in southern Philippines including the armed bandit group Abu Sayyaf, and the “CPP-NPA-NDF.” The last group has been seen by the defense department as the “top national security threat.” A briefing paper on the OBL reads: “We have been in this game for decades. Perhaps it is high time to put into play an end-game strategy that will terminate this lingering problem.”

6 to 10 years

Indeed, underscoring this goal, Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz would reiterate sometime in 2005 that the government is bent on eliminating the leftist threat in six to 10 years. Cruz’s warning was reminiscent of previous agenda that date back to the Marcos years more than three decades ago.

As far as the Left is concerned, OBL is to be carried out in priority regions combining combat, intelligence and civil-military operations. But the oplan also stresses that to be effective the military strategy should also neutralize the communists’ legal organizations.

Pinoy Weekly does not say whether the OBL explicitly suggests the actual physical elimination of leaders and members of these “legal organizations.”

However, government’s record of counter-insurgency in the Philippines tells some truth about how such campaign operates.

Since the Marcos dictatorship, the doctrine of counter-insurgency has been waged through unrelenting military suppression campaigns, psychological warfare and assaults on civil liberties. The doctrine was refined further during the Aquino government’s “total war policy” through the CIA-inspired low-intensity conflict that mobilized local government units, paramilitary units and about 50 vigilante bands or death squads. Counter-insurgency campaigns have been launched not only against the Marxist guerrillas but also Moro fighters. The impact of such brutal campaigns in terms of human lives lost and communities displaced would be too numerous and lengthy to mention in this paper.

Both previous campaigns and the current OBL have the makings of the counter-insurgency or “counter-terror” doctrine devised by the U.S. military since the 1950s and which, according to former CIA operatives, had been used extensively in at least 43 countries particularly in the Philippines, Indochina and Korea. Similar doctrines have also been crafted in central and Latin America and, today, in Colombia, Iraq and other countries.

Unconventional warfare

Based on U.S. military field manuals, the heart of this counter-insurgency doctrine is the deliberate use of terror “as a legitimate and highly effective tactical tool of unconventional warfare.” This unconventional warfare is designated as a national policy with the military assigned the primary responsibility in “the conduct of punitive operations” backed by police, paramilitary and civilian agencies. Operations used for this terror campaign include assassinations, disappearances and mass executions. Although terror is supposed to be part of the counter-insurgency program, experience shows that it may in fact gain primacy thus making the program primarily an unconventional war.

The doctrine further suggests that the use of terror as a legitimate weapon for counter-insurgency aims to sow fear among the population and thus deny suspected cadres and members of target political organizations of their mass support. Mass executions or massacres often take place alongside selective political assassinations for greater effect. The psy-war message these operations try to send is that advocacy – especially the radical type – is risky and is not worth fighting for. Being highly-secretive and known only to top military officials, terror invests both the hitmen and architects with the license to kill as well as immunity from prosecution.

It is precisely when terror is used systematically to fight dissenters and critics known for advocating genuine social and political reform, that the Macapagal-Arroyo regime has been accused of resorting to state terrorism. State terrorism it could be given the fact that the president has lost any legitimacy to govern owing to alleged electoral fraud and flagrant violations of the constitution and that the only reason for her staying in power is the use of iron fist and the support that she’s getting from the U.S.-backed armed forces.

For too long, the Philippines has been maintained by the U.S., its former colonial master, for the latter’s strategic economic and military objectives in Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East. This special relationship has been guaranteed by making the AFP dependent on U.S. military aid and training in order to make it useful for its proxy war in the Philippines as well as for ensuring that whoever sits as president remains friendly to the U.S.

For decades, the U.S. military has maintained strong influence on the AFP not only in the field of counter-insurgency but also in the current global war on “terrorism.” At present, the U.S. military and intelligence operatives provide training for special covert operations as well as logistical, sometimes combat, support. U.S. armed intervention in the country has been boosted by a new agreement signed with the Macapagal-Arroyo government allowing U.S. forces to operate not only for “training” or “war exercises” but also to conduct “humanitarian” and “anti-terrorism” missions. Actually such missions have been ongoing in recent years particularly in suspected NPA lairs.

As in previous campaigns, U.S. economic aid funneled through the USAID has also been geared to anti-terrorism. Based on the 2003 Conflict Vulnerability Assessment, the new aid strategy covering 2004-2009 is designed to “address conflict more comprehensively and with a broader geographical focus, particularly on areas outside Mindanao where poverty and social injustice can help to create fertile ground for organized violence and terrorism.”

Meanwhile, Macapagal-Arroyo’s hand in the counter-insurgency a.k.a. “anti-terror” program is evident not only because she is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces but also through the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security (COC-IS) that evaluates counter-insurgency operations and other national security issues. Presided by a former Marcos general, Eduardo Ermita, the committee includes National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales, Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz, AFP chief Gen. Generoso Senga and National Police Director General Arturo Lomibao.

This powerful committee sits atop a civilian bureaucracy whose agencies have been packed with retired AFP and national police chiefs and other generals including Angelo Reyes, Leandro Mendoza, Hermogenes Ebdane, Edgar Aglipay, Efren Abu, Narciso Abaya, Honesto Isleta, Roy Cimatu, Dionisio Santiago, Thelmo Cunanan, Roberto Lastimoso, Florencia Fianza, Reynaldo Berroya and many others. Not since Marcos has the civilian government been highly militarized making it a fertile ground for a no-holds barred anti-terror campaign.

The implications – if true - of hitting unarmed leftist activists and veiled threats to destroy the revolutionary movement’s alleged legal political infrastructure are broad-ranging. The present campaign has practically closed all avenues to the peaceful resolution of the armed conflict, including the peace talks, which belies the claim of Macapagal-Arroyo to root out the endemic problems of poverty and social injustice by socio-economic means. It also closes the option of using Congress as an arena where the poor classes, through their party-list representatives, can seek social, economic and political reforms. Furthermore, it closes the parliament of the streets as an open cafeteria of ideas and public advocacy.

That is why, in the long run, the persecution campaign attributed to the present regime is essentially an assault on the people themselves; an attack on their advocates is an attack on the masses. What is morally incomprehensible is that despite documentations that trace the trail of blood to the doors of Malacañang, Macapagal-Arroyo remains silent or feigns innocence.

The question is, will Macapagal-Arroyo’s “end-game strategy” really work? Bulatlat



© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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