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

Vol. VI, No. 46      Dec. 24 - 30, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines








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International Reactions Fail to Stop Killings and Disappearances
(First of three parts)

A couple in Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija took their own lives in October 2006 because they could not bear anymore days of torture by government soldiers. The couple’s suicide shows the level by which alleged military atrocities have reached and the sheer helplessness of reported targets of political persecution.


CAMP-IN Scout Rangers camp in at Brgy. Balaong, San Miguel, Bulaca  BULATLAT FILE PHOTO

Early morning of Oct. 11, 2006, Librado and Martina Gallardo gathered five of their children, who were in the house at that time in Barangay Conversion, Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija. Their farewell words were portentous: “Alagaan n’yo ang mga kapatid n’yo” (Take care of your younger siblings). All were in tears. 

Two hours later, the couple was found sprawled on the ground, barely breathing. The children frantically called their brother Rico, who was on his way to the forest to haul charcoal, and told him their parents were dying after taking pesticide. Theirs being a remote village, it took them two hours to find a tricycle that would bring them to the hospital – more than an hour away. Librado and Martina died before reaching the hospital.

Two days before, the couple had been held and accused by soldiers of being supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA). Martina and Librado – a lay leader of the United Methodist Church in Conversion – were tortured for the succeeding couple of days.

On Oct. 10, the soldiers told Librado, already bruised and beaten, that he would be killed the following day if he did not surrender an M-16 rifle and P40,000 – which his relatives say he knew nothing about. His whole family would be killed as well, he was further told.

Choice between two ways

For Librado and Martina, it was a choice between two ways to die. If they showed nothing to what the soldiers were asking, they would be shot. They took their own lives.

The suicide of the Gallardo couple shows the extent by which the human rights situation in the Philippines has deteriorated. Mounting cases of extra-judicial killings and forced abductions have established a reign of fear particularly among villages suspected by the military of coddling communist guerrillas. Fear is what counter-insurgency doctrines are supposed to instill in order to deprive suspected “enemies of the state” of their mass support.

The politically-motivated killings in the Philippines have become internationalized somewhat, drawing expressions of concern and denunciations from reputable rights watchdogs, major church organizations, lawyers’ groups and even a few foreign governments and multinational business groups. At least two governments, those of Finland and Japan, have warned that economic aid to the Philippine government would henceforth be contingent on its human rights record.

Despite the international reactions, the Arroyo administration and its military could not be expected to admit to the killings if indeed they are found to be the perpetrators. Instead, they have blamed the armed Left for the incidents who, government spokespersons claim, would then attribute these to the government to discredit its leadership. Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo has promised to investigate the cases but so far, none of the families of the victims or organizations that have taken up their cause is cooperating, preferring instead to bring the issue to international justice – such as the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva and the prestigious Permanent Peoples Tribunal (PPT) in The Hague.

A similar complaint has also been filed by the labor center, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) with the International Labor Organization (ILO), also in Geneva, on behalf of trade union activists and leaders who have also been summarily executed.

Human rights report

Releasing its 2006 Human Rights Report last Dec. 1 in a news conference in Quezon City, Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) stated that 2006 is “the worst year for human rights” since the Marcos dictatorship was toppled in 1986.

The human rights group showed statistics to back up this assertion: From January to November 2006 alone, there were 185 extra-judicial killings and 93 forced disappearances. Of the 185 extra-judicial killings, 53 took place in Central Luzon, 30 in the Bicol Region and 20 in Southern Tagalog. Of the 93 forced disappearances, 50 occurred in Central Luzon, 20 in Southern Tagalog and four each in the Bicol Region, Eastern Visayas, and SOCSARGEN.

These statistics, however, are but part of a larger picture that has been taking shape since 2001. The data from Karapatan further show that from January 2001 – when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was catapulted to power through a popular uprising – to Dec. 12, the number of extra-judicial killings has risen to 801 and 208 cases of forced disappearances. At least 345 of the victims were affiliated with cause-oriented groups.

The number of extra-judicial killings recorded in the less than six years of the Arroyo administration is already dangerously close to the 1,500 that were documented by church-based human rights groups in the 14 years of the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986). As regards the forced disappearances, the number of those documented under the Arroyo administration has surpassed the combined records of the Ramos and Estrada administrations.

Most prominent

From its own monitoring and coverage of these killings and disappearances since 2001, Bulatlat has gathered that the most prominent among the victims were active advocates of social change, “new politics” organizers, peace and justice crusaders, and critics of the Arroyo government who had called for the President’s ouster. Many of the celebrated victims of extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances – previous to their deaths or disappearances – also received messages, mostly from anonymous senders, warning them to stop their political activities or face dire consequences. In fact, many of them were reportedly in the military’s Order of Battle (OB) or hit list.

Such is the political involvement of the most prominent victims that the term “extra-judicial killings” has been frequently used interchangeably with “political killings.”

Many of the victims are peasants, workers, and indigenous people but there were also party-list organizers, priests and pastors, human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, teachers, and students.

Battling the “insurgency”

The very statements of the Arroyo administration’s most trusted national security and military point men appear to show that these killings and disappearances are taking place within the government’s counter-“insurgency” campaign.

In a press briefing covered by Bulatlat last August 21 in Quezon City, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales categorically said that legal progressive groups – alleged “front organizations” of the underground Left - are among the targets of the counter-“insurgency” drive.

“There are two frames of their (the communists’) struggle: armed and legal,” Gonzales said. “Those in the legal frame say they should not be included among those pursued by General Palparan because they are in the legal arena. Let’s get into the moral plane: you are the ones advocating armed struggle, you are the ones strengthening armed struggle, you are the ones who give resources to strengthen armed struggle – and you say you should not be included.”

“That’s what Satur Ocampo and the others say,” Gonzales continued. “What do you mean you should not be included? You are the ones recruiting for the NPA (New People’s Army), you are the ones giving money to the NPA, you are the ones making the rebellion grow – and you say you are innocent?”

The General Palparan Gonzales was referring to is retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr., who has earned notoriety as “butcher” for the countless shocking cases of human rights violations in the areas under his command during the period, from Mindoro Oriental where he served as colonel then as brigadier general, to Eastern Visayas, where he commanded the 8th ID, and Central Luzon, 7th ID.

Street marchers

In a chance interview with Bulatlat also last August in Sulu Hotel in Quezon City, Palparan referred to legal activists, “those who march in the streets” as he described them, as “supporters” of the clandestine and communist-led NPA.

“Supporters are also targets but not necessarily to kill them,” Palparan said. “We organize information drives in communities, convince them to deny support. If we can’t convince them it’s up to them. They are keeping something, maybe dangerous, they have gone deep.”

Yet in his stint as commander of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division in Eastern Visayas last year, Palparan threatened to “stop anti-government rallies in Samar island within six months.” In a radio program, “Express It at the Park,” cited in a Bulatlat report, he told listeners, “They (cause-oriented groups) should be removed completely from here at the fastest means available, in the shortest possible time… They should be targeted first, the leaders, because they are the initiators.” Referring to peasants who were reported missing, he said “Pasensya na kayo sa paisa-isang kinukuha at ninunyutralisa natin sa mga baryo...yung masasamang tao na nawawala, mabuti naman na mawala sila. These are bad eggs. Gumagawa sila ng kagaguhan (Please excuse us if we have to take and neutralize those in the barrios one by one. It is good for the bad elements to disappear. These are the bad eggs. They promote chaos).”


The killings and disappearances have generated outrage even from local quarters previously silent on issues of national significance, as well as the international community. Such is the outrage spawned by these killings and disappearances – for which the blame has been laid on as far as Malacañang’s doorstep, inasmuch as these mainly targeted vocal critics of the Arroyo administration – that the President had been forced to form probe bodies to look into these, and to issue a categorical statement “condemning” political killings.

The Philippine mainstream media, most notably the major dailies, began publishing frequent editorials and special reports on the killings and disappearances in mid-2006, in contrast to their previous silence on this issue. Statements of concern about human rights violations were issued by groups like the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the Philippine Political Science Association (PPSA), and the UP University Council – as well as mainstream opposition politicians like Rep. Francis Escudero and Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., and even a few administration politicians like Sen. Joker Arroyo, as well as the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), a quasi-governmental body.

On May 12, 2006, the Arroyo administration formed Task Force Usig, a Philippine National Police (PNP) body led by Police Deputy Director General Avelino Razon to probe into the killings of activists and journalists. The task force was given 10 weeks within which to yield results from its probe. To date it has yet to come up with a full report, more than two months after its deadline.

“In the harshest possible terms I condemn political killings,” Arroyo said in her 2006 State of the Nation Address (SoNA) before Congress last July 24, 2006. “We together stopped judicial executions with the abolition of the death penalty. We urge witnesses to come forward. Together we will stop extra-judicial executions.”

This statement, however, failed to reassure quarters that had raised their voices to condemn human rights violations under the Arroyo administration. For immediately before uttering these lines, she heaped praises on Palparan.

“And we will end the long oppression of barangays (villages) by rebel terrorists who kill without qualms, even their own,” she said. “Sa mga lalawigang sakop ng 7th Division, nakikibaka sa kalaban si Jovito Palparan (In those regions under the supervision of the 7th [Infantry] Division, Jovito Palparan is battling the enemy).” “Hindi siya aatras hanggang makawala sa gabi ng kilabot ang mga pamayanan at makaahon sa bukang-liwayway ng hustisya at kalayaan (He will not back down until the communities emerge from the night and rise towards the dawn of justice and freedom).”

By the term “rebel terrorists,” Arroyo was apparently referring to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), which is on the U.S. Department of State’s list of “foreign terrorist organizations” or FTOs. Similarly, the “killings” she was referring to are apparently those allegedly carried out by the CPP-NPA.

Matter of policy

In an interview with Bulatlat, a retired Army officer, who withheld his identity for security reasons, confirmed that the killings and other rights violations are the military’s handiwork. “It’s a matter of policy,” he said..

Since the families of the victims insist that members of the military are the culprits, “the obvious conclusion is that it is not a result of a purging within the NPA,” he added, “because the victims’ families should know the sentiments of their kin.”

The fact that the president praised Palparan in the 2006 SONA would only mean “she agrees with what Palparan is known for,” the source said.


The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the PNP have attributed the killings to an alleged “purge” within the ranks of the “communist movement,” of which they tagged many of the victims as leaders. This was shown in Bulatlat interviews with provincial and regional police officers, as well as investigation reports obtained from local police units, for its two-part series on political violence and forced disappearances titled “Who are Behind the Violence and Disappearances?” and “A Reign of Silence by GMA,” published in mid-2005. This was the same line pursued by Task Force Usig early on.

Arroyo’s statement referring to “rebel terrorists who kill without qualms, even their own” fits neatly within the AFP and PNP line on the killings, and glosses over the analysis that lawyer Remigio Saladero, Jr. put forward in Bulatlat’s interview with him for the two-part investigative series published in 2005. In the interview, Saladero observed that from historical experience, the NPA has not killed anyone without admitting the act.

“Why so?” Saladero said, “because they consider that a political victory on their part. They would explain why the person was killed or ‘punished.’ But in these cases there is no admission by the NPA.”

In the cases of extra-judicial killings reported by various human rights and people’s organizations under the Arroyo regime, including those in Central Luzon which is under the jurisdiction of the 7th Infantry Division, there has been no admission by the NPA of having any hand in the acts.

In its report released Aug. 15, 2006, Philippines: Political Killings, Human Rights and the Peace Process, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning group Amnesty International (AI) lambasted the Arroyo administration for failing to undertake credible investigations into the extra-judicial killings. Referring to investigations conducted by Task Force Usig, AI expressed its concern “at persistent reports that the majority of investigations do not meet international standards as set forth in the UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, as supplemented by UN Manual Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions” and that the investigations “have reportedly not led to the conviction of any of the perpetrators of the hundreds of killings of leftist activists since 2001.”

In the cases of 15 lawyers and 10 judges killed since 2001, AI said none of the perpetrators have been convicted. Then, out of the 114 party-list members killed since 2001 recorded by the task force, 27 cases had been filed in court and the remaining 86 are still under investigation. However, “Out of the 27 cases filed in court, the PNP has arrested suspects in only three cases. No convictions have been reported.”

The failure to conduct believable probes into these cases and punish the perpetrators had been denounced in 2005 by an International Solidarity Mission (ISM), jointly conducted by several foreign church groups and non-government organizations, which culminated in the International People’s Tribunal (IPT) in November 2005 in Quezon City. The IPT found Arroyo accountable for human rights violations.

The human rights violations were also condemned by the Citizens’ Congress for Truth and Accountability (CCTA), which recommended among others that Arroyo vacate Malacañang.

Melo Commission

On Aug. 21, 2006, President Arroyo formed the Melo Commission also to investigate the killings of activists and journalists. The Commission – headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose A. R. Melo who is reported to be close to the Macapagal-Arroyos – has relied mainly on reports from Task Force Usig and testimonies from military officials. Without having been able to interview survivors of and witnesses to the more celebrated cases of human rights violations, it has cleared the military – including Palparan – in several areas.

Understandably, the formation of Task Force Usig and the Melo Commission, and Arroyo’s statements supposedly condemning the “political killings,” have failed to douse cold water on the anger spawned by the killings and disappearances. Statements condemning human rights violations and pressuring Arroyo to act on these have continually poured in from various international quarters – among them the Council of the European Union; the governments of Finland, Spain, France, Canada and, most recently, Japan; the World Council of Churches (WCC); the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC); the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC); the Uniting Church in Australia; the United Church of Christ in Canada; the United Methodist Church in the U.S.; and the Washington-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In an unprecedented move, the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce, comprising big business groups from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe, Japan and Korea, and the Philippine Association of Multinational Companies Regional Headquarters, called on the Arroyo government to put a stop to the killings or risk losing foreign investments.

A similar plea was made in a letter sent to Mrs. Arroyo later that was signed by officials of Wal-Mart and U.S.-based apparel companies Gap, Polo Ralph Lauren, Liz Claiborne, American Eagle Outfitters, Jones Apparel Group and Phillips Van Heusen.

In the Philippines, the frustrations of victims and their relatives over official investigation and judicial processes have driven them to turn to available international machineries, like the UNHRC and the PPT.

In an interview with Bulatlat, lawyer Romeo Capulong, who will be the lead prosecutor in Mrs. Arroyo’s trial before the PPT in March 2007, said he does not believe that justice will be served within the country’s legal framework.

“Our national forum, especially under Arroyo, is very inadequate,” the former UN Judge as Litem, said. “We have no more way, no more forum to establish these human rights violations comprehensively, completely and fully here with competent, sufficient, credible evidence. That is why we have resorted to the PPT. Many of the Jury Members there are Nobel Peace Laureates and persons internationally known in their respective fields, so you can’t question their integrity.” Bulatlat

Probing the Military’s Hand
(Second of three parts)

Cries for Justice, Prayers of Hope



© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Media Center

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