October 04, 2015

AFP lies won’t bring peace to the lumad

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and its most rabid apologists are trying desperately to stem the tide of public outrage here and abroad over the series of killings of unarmed lumad leaders, their supporters and ordinary community members attributed to paramilitary groups created, funded, directed and protected by the AFP.  They are resorting to squid tactics, red-baiting and victim blaming which only further entrap them in their own web of lies.  

During the Senate investigation into the Lianga, Surigao del Sur massacre last week, Senator Teofisto Guingona III underscored the fact that more than a month since the incident, the alleged perpetrators roam free.  There are even reports that they continue to terrorize other lumad communities.  As of this writing another lumad leader has been killed in Agusan del Sur.

Testimonies from the provincial governor, religious leaders and representatives of the 3000 lumad who have sought sanctuary in Tandag City, are one in pointing to a paramilitary group, the Magahat-Bagani, composed of AFP recruits from among lumad communities, as the perpetrators.  More telling, they accuse the AFP of coddling the killers and are calling for the dismantling of these groups.

At first, the AFP tried to sell the idea that the New People’s Army (NPA) was responsible for the killings.  It brought several lumad to Manila and presented them in a hastily organized AFP press conference to say that the entire incident was part of a convoluted scheme by the NPA to demonize the military as human rights violators.  The AFP insists that the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood (ALCADEV) is an “NPA school” and the lumad community it serves supports the NPA.  The AFP insinuates this is probably why the Magahat-Bagani, whose members are anti-NPA, attacked them. 

The AFP claims the military unit that was within striking distance of the rampaging paramilitary group did not intervene because they were trying to “protect” the people by avoiding civilian casualties who may be caught in the cross fire. The AFP complains that it is now being unfairly accused of being behind the killings simply because the affected lumad and their supporters are actually pro-NPA.  Nonetheless, the AFP’s proffered explanation -- that the NPA killed its own supporters to make the AFP look bad – is just too absurd to be believed by anybody with a grain of independence and an ounce of grey matter.

Consequently the AFP tried to distance itself from the Magahat-Bagani with another incredible line, that these armed groups are “independently organized” and are composed of “traditional” lumad warriors defending their territory from the intrusion of the NPA.  The AFP says these are not under its direction and control.  Accordingly, since these groups are fighting against lumad who have joined the NPA or support the NPA, the AFP posits some kind of “tribal war” going on. The recent killings are alleged to be a consequence of this internal conflict among the lumad but the AFP denies it has anything to do with this so-called tribal war.  Indeed, what the AFP tries to cover up are the origins of these paramilitary groups and how they grew and gained the capacity to terrorize entire lumad communities with impunity.

Their rise can be traced to attempts by big business concerns to exploit the untapped mining, logging and agribusiness potential of lumad areas.  The Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997, that was supposed to protect the indigenous people from being displaced from their ancestral domain by facilitating the grant of Certificates of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADTs), paved the way for some lumad leaders to treat the ancestral domain as their private property for disposition as they please.  These lumad leaders were bribed by the corporations to agree to open lumad lands for exploitation. 

However other leaders resisted, realizing that the promised “development” would destroy the forests, the rivers, the land and the lumad way of life.  The ensuing conflict turned very violent as those who favored the entry of the corporations were backed by these corporations and were armed by the military.  Those who opposed became the targets of harassment, forced agreement and outright murder.  Some of them took up arms and eventually joined the NPA operating in their areas. The people welcomed the NPA’s presence to defend them from the AFP, the security forces of the corporations and the paramilitary lumad groups that were given arms, funding and protection by the AFP.

At the root of the conflict is the lumad’s defense of their ancestral domain from wanton exploitation.  It is also entwined with their assertion of their right to determine the kind of development that will genuinely uplift their socio-economic situation even as their traditions and culture are respected and nurtured.  It is thus understandable that the ranks of the NPA in Mindanao include lumad. The mountainous areas where the lumad have been forced to retreat by the encroachment of lowlanders are also the areas where the NPA are strongest. 

The government says the NPA is already a “spent force”. So how does the NPA survive and – in some areas, according even to the AFP, expand their influence – if they are not being supported voluntarily by the people, like the lumad of Mindanao?  If the NPA has sufficient mass support to be able to sustain what has been dubbed as “the longest running communist insurgency in the world” how can the military defeat it without resorting to a bloody, brutal, no-holds-barred war against these supporters, including the lumad?

Some peace advocates suggest that the solution to the violence is to withdraw the AFP, paramilitary and NPA from the lumad areas and declare these as zones of peace.  At first glance, this sounds logical and fair. But a closer look will show it won't work because it does not address the real issues and consequently draws away from the real solution. One only has to ask in the first instance -- will the mining corporations then be free to operate in these areas and do as they wish or will?  Will they be allowed to have their own security guards? If so, would these be non-lumad but armed? Or lumad but unarmed? Will the lumad benefit from this more than the corporations? And finally, what mechanism, action or process could make the AFP and NPA both agree to withdraw from any area, or even to stop firing their weapons at each other? Certainly, not mere calls, appeals or exhortations. 

In the final analysis, the peaceful resolution of armed conflict in lumad and non-lumad areas in Mindanao and the rest of the country can only be brought about by the resumption of peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (the umbrella formation for the CPP-NPA and other revolutionary forces waging an armed struggle). 

Such peace talks must address the root causes of armed conflict and must proceed on the basis of the previous bilateral agreements, without preconditions.  Meanwhile, mitigation of the most grievous effects of the armed conflict can already be addressed by implementing the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International humanitarian law (CARHRIHL) through the operationalization of the Joint GPH-NDFP Monitoring Committee.  The latter receives and investigates complaints lodged by victims and either Party to the agreement.

Peace advocates of whatever ideological and political persuasion should seize the issue of lumad killings as an opening to even more determinedly push for peace talks to resume and go forward to negotiations over socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and finally, the end of hostilities and disposition of forces. 

True peace must be based on justice and not be the peace of the graveyard. #

Published in Business World
5 October 2015

September 19, 2015

Lumad killings and counterinsurgency

Today, September 21, we commemorate the anniversary of the Dictator Marcos’ declaration of martial law and say “Never again!”  This constitutes our collective denunciation of the evils spawned by 14 years of the brutally repressive, thieving and lying US-backed Marcos dictatorship. It is also a call to action to resist any attempts to re-impose martial rule under whatever guise and for whatever manufactured justification. 

Unfortunately, the underlying problems of Philippine society that have given rise to social unrest, armed conflicts and, eventually, to authoritarian rule, have not at all been decisively addressed.  One clear-cut sign is the blackened human rights record of all the supposedly democratic post-Marcos regimes that correlates with the series of counterinsurgency (COIN) programs that have failed to quell the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA).

Oplan Bantay Laya I and II, the Arroyo regime’s COIN programs, ran for nine years. Arroyo declared “total war” against the revolutionary forces; touted it as her regime’s contribution to the US-led “war against terror” after 9-11; sanctioned the Palparan model of unbridled state terror against those the regime painted as its “enemies”; and in the process racked up a bloody record of human rights violations that rivaled that of the open, fascist rule of Marcos. 

Bantay Laya’s hallmark was the policy and practice of targeting and “neutralizing” militarily unarmed civilians who are suspected to be key personalities in what the AFP calls the “political infrastructure” that needs to be dismantled in order to defeat the NPA.  At the barangay, town and provincial levels, the AFP “order of battle” was a veritable hit list against peasant and indigenous peoples’ leaders, trade unionists, student activists and human rights advocates including church people, health workers, lawyers and even local government officials deemed sympathetic to the NPA. 

The BS Aquino regime unveiled its own COIN program, Oplan Bayanihan, and dubbed it an “internal peace and security plan” (IPSP).  Patterned after the 2009 US Counter-Insurgency (COIN) Guide, Bayanihan boasted of a “paradigm shift”. Its objective -- “winning the peace” instead of just “defeating the enemy” -- implied that government would give primacy to socioeconomic development rather than military means to bring about peace in areas of armed conflict. 

But Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan is just the new signboard of Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya.

Politically, it is more insidious in that the Aquino regime paints itself as the complete opposite of its discredited predecessor, the purported champion of government reform, economic development and peace and reconciliation.  Bayanihan is more deceptive in that it pretends to give importance to upholding human rights; highlights livelihood projects and rehabilitation of poverty-stricken, conflict-ridden areas; and drumbeats the objective of achieving a just and lasting peace. 

Bayanihan attempts to overcome the weaknesses of previous COIN programs that led to their failure but it cannot change the elitist, anti-people, militarist and rabidly anti-communist orientation of all COIN programs. Despite its peace and development rhetoric, Bayanihan reverts back to the basic COIN tandem of force and deception, implementing the Triad Operations concept of simultaneous conduct of combat, intelligence and civil-military operations. 

While there has been a relative decline in extrajudicial killings (EJKs) under Bayanihan compared to the peak years (2005-2006) under Bantay Laya, the number of EJKs, torture, illegal arrests and detention and mass civilian displacement is not insignificant.  To illustrate, according to human rights group, Karapatan, as of end year 2014, there were 229 EJKs, 225 attempted EJKs and 26 enforced disappearances.  For the first seven months of the current year, 58 have been killed.

What is noteworthy and at the same time alarming is that 73 of those killed under Aquino's watch are from indigenous peoples' (IP) communities, with 57 of them Lumad from Mindanao. Simply put, 1 out of 4 EJK victims is an IP, and 1 out of 5 is Lumad.

Clearly, this cannot be easily dismissed as a case of Lumad-vs-Lumad, or tribal wars, which the AFP would want us to believe. Organizing and arming home-grown mercenaries -- "civilian volunteer organizations" or CVOs in current COIN parlance -- as surrogate force multipliers is a counter-insurgency tactic as old as war itself, its whys-and-how-tos described in detail and constantly updated in US and AFP field manuals. Similarly selective assassination of unarmed local leaders to instill terror continues to be the favorite, if most effective, COIN psywar tool. As a US Army general infamously quipped during the Vietnam war, "Grab them by the balls, and the hearts and minds will follow."

Why the IPs and the Lumad in particular? The real reasons are not lost on the loved ones of the most recent Lumad EJK victims: "The people in power do not want the Lumad to prosper, to become educated so that they will further their capacity to protect their ancestral land. They do not want this to happen, because if this happens, their mining conglomerates will never be allowed," says Michelle Campos, daughter of Dionel Campos.

"He was a leader in our community... Is it a crime to serve our fellow people and to fight for our ancestral land? Is that really why they took his life so easily?” added Jocelyn Campos, wife of Dionel Campos.

According to Josie Samarca, wife of ALCADEV executive director Emerito "Emok" Samarca, "The school is strong, his leadership is strong, and it was strong against mining. He was defending the ancestral domain and the environment there because the land there is rich and fertile. They have interest in that land and that is why I think they really want to wipe out all those who oppose the foreign, the big mining companies..."

It all boils down to the US-backed Aquino regime continuing the policy of opening up Philippine patrimony to foreign capital, including environmentally destructive mining companies, and escalating the use of state forces -- the AFP, PNP, CAFGUs and other paramilitary forces -- to clear the area and  suppress all opposition to these foreign incursions.

Ironically to some, the Lumad who are still erroneously and chauvinistically perceived by many to be less educated, unsophisticated, and passively compliant, have long been awakened to this reality and are collectively rising to uphold and protect their rights.

Moreover, the Lumad, more than many still living relatively more comfortable lives in the cities, have realized that they can only be assured of preserving their individual and collective rights, their ancestral lands and indigenous culture, by joining the rest of the Filipino people's struggle for genuine freedom,  democracy, progress and peace.  #

Published in Business World
21 September 2015

Lumad in Mindanao under attack

James Cameron’s 2009 box office hit film “Avatar”, about an alien world where primitive but highly evolved inhabitants defend their habitat, moved audiences across the globe, including the Filipino urbanite audience.  We were enthralled by the lush and luminescent world of beings who end up waging a kind of asymmetrical warfare against ruthless interlopers out to plunder rare and costly minerals from their planet.  We cheered on these beings’ defense of their territory, and more importantly, of the life force that appears to be the embodiment of “Mother Nature”, as the triumph of good versus evil, of Nature over corporate greed, and of a united people over high-tech weaponry.

It is said that the film is a thinly-veiled tribute by the film maker to indigenous peoples of the Amazon who are resisting inroads by multinational corporations into their lands to exploit natural resources at the expense of the environment, the habitat of endangered flora and fauna, and the homes of vanishing native tribes.

Here in the Philippines, there are several Lumad  groups of Mindanao locked in similar life-and-death struggle against huge corporate mining interests (and other multinational corporations or MNCs bringing in so-called “development” programs to the Lumad’s ancestral lands).  The military and police in the name of counterinsurgency dubbed Oplan Bayanihan under the BS Aquino regime, provide armed security for these invading multinational corporations. Paramilitary groups under the control of the military act as “force multipliers”, or cheap, local reinforcements for the counterinsurgency campaigns.  In practice, these paramilitary groups are utilized for “dirty war” tactics such as extrajudicial killings and even massacres that the government can wash its hands off while it coddles the perpetrators.

The history of this struggle is soaked in blood yet is repeatedly whitewashed by government propaganda (most assiduously generated by the AFP and parroted automatically by Malacanang); ignored if not one-sidedly reported on by dominant mass media that relies heavily on government press releases; and blithely disregarded by the general public.

The most recent atrocity took place last September 1. Emerito Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Development, Inc. (ALCADEV) was killed by the military and government-backed indigenous paramilitary forces. His body was found lying in a pool of blood, with stab wounds on his neck, and his throat slit. Dionel Campos, chairperson of MAPASU (Persevering Struggle for Future Manobo Generations), and his cousin Aurelio “Bello” Sinzo were killed before the terrified community of Han-ayan, in Lianga town, Surigao del Sur. 

According to the human rights group, Karapatan, facts and circumstances so far gathered point to elements of the 36th IB-PA, elements of the 75th IB-PA and Special Forces of the Philippine Army; and elements of the paramilitary Magahat/Bagani Forces/Marcos Bocales Group as the perpetrators. 

Two days before the grisly murders, Magahat members were reported by witnesses to have burned down the school cooperative building.  They also threatened to massacre the entire community if they would not leave the area.  Military and paramilitary forces occupied the school and adjoining areas of the community.

The killings of Campos and Sinzo were carried out in broad daylight. ALCADEV’S executive director Samarca was found dead after being taken into custody by military and paramilitary men.  More than 300 families or 2000 individuals coming from the municipalities of San Miguel and Lianga have evacuated to Tandag City while scores more have sought sanctuary elsewhere.

Karapatan points out, “Since 2005, members of Mapasu and ALCADEV, who are active in the defense of Lumad ancestral lands against incursion by big business, have been victims of red tagging, trumped-up criminal charges, illegal arrests and detention, torture, and forced evacuation.  ALCADEV was established in July 19, 2004 as an alternative learning system especially designed to provide

secondary education to indigent indigenous youth -- the Manobo, Higaonon, Banwaon, Talaandig and Mamanwa – who live in the mountains of Surigao del Norte and Sur, Agusan del Norte and Sur. ALCADEV is born out of the joint effort of indigenous people’s organizations in the CARAGA region. MAPASU is a regional organization of indigenous peoples in Caraga and is well known for its strong stance against intrusion of mining companies into their communities.”

The recent killings are not isolated incidents.  Heightened attacks on Lumad communities especially on Lumad schools have been noted since last year.  The government has caused the disruption and even total closure of these schools by the military’s encampment on school grounds; orders from the Education Department for the schools to cease operation due to various pretexts; threats to and actual bodily harm inflicted on school officials, teachers, leaders of Lumad organizations as well as members of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines who provide invaluable support to the schools.

One must ask why the concentrated attack on Lumad schools and communities? The military is forthright.  They suspect these Lumad communities to be “infested” by the communist-led New People’s Army and the Lumad schools to be nothing but NPA “indoctrination” camps.  In truth, these Lumad communities have demonstrated their determination and capacity to fight for their ancestral domain and their distinctive way of life in defiance of government-backed corporations trying to grab their lands, plunder their resources, and exploit their people then leave them worse off than before.

Even assuming for the sake of argument that the Lumad communities concerned are sympathetic to the NPA who abound in the mountainous terrain that is their home and who may have taught them how to stand up for their rights, does this make them open season for human rights violations perpetrated with impunity?  Does this justify brazen acts of state terrorism by the Aquino regime to what amounts in practice as state-sponsored ethnic cleansing of these Lumad communities?

According to Anakbayan-USA,  “The spate of human rights violations, military operations on communities, and killings of community leaders are products of Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan, wherein the Philippine military is serving as an ‘investment defense force’, or as a private military for large corporations.”  The group also pointed out the role of the U.S. government in aggravating the human rights situation in the Philippines.  “Oplan Bayanihan is patterned directly from the U.S. Counterinsurgency (COIN) Guide released in 2009. The U.S. has been complicit and has continued to condone these atrocities through its $50 million annual military aid to the Philippine military,”

The blood of these martyrs of the Lumad people’s struggle for self-determination cries out for justice.  Those of us who could sympathize with the heroic but fictitious alien defenders of “Mother Nature” and their sacred territory in the film “Avatar” need to open our eyes to the reality in our midst. Then let us ask ourselves,  “Whose side are we on this time?” #

Published in Business World
7 September 2015