September 10, 2017


As a political activist, sometimes life seems to be one long meeting, or more precisely, an unending series of meetings.  Not that I am complaining. 

Last Saturday’s meeting was a good one by the standard of one who has been in countless meetings to discuss issues, analyze problems, decide on a course of action, formulate calls, distill demands and make concrete plans on arousing, organizing and mobilizing as many people as possible to take action.

This was a meeting of the movers and shakers behind the Movement Against Tyranny that aims to galvanize public sentiment against the epidemic of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the so-called war on drugs and the predilection for strong-arm, tyrannical rule by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself.

There was a good mix of people: a former senator, a bishop and several other men and women of the cloth, traditional and social media practitioners, theater and film artists, human rights defenders, student leaders, teachers, lawyers, physicians, street parliamentarians and plain concerned citizens.  Many of them veterans of the struggle against the US-backed Marcos fascist dictatorship. 

The assessment: public outrage over the recent cold-blooded killings of young people by the police marked a qualitative change from the seeming acceptance of the EJKs as par for the course in government’s heightened anti-crime drive.  Standard police cover up for the summary execution of their victims – that those killed are drug pushers, they resisted arrest or tried to escape – no longer wash. People are just not buying it anymore.  The credibility of the police has hit an all time low.

Malacañang is clearly on damage control mode after attempts by Police Chief De la Rosa, DOJ Secretary Aguirre and even Public Attorney Office (POA) Chief Acosta to discount any pattern to the killings, that these may be the result of state policy.  The official line has now evolved from attributing the Kian de los Angeles and Carl Arnaiz cases to police abuse by a “few, rotten eggs” to a grand conspiracy of anti-Duterte forces to sabotage his anti-illegal drugs campaign, much more destabilize the Duterte regime itself.

Paid hacks of the Palace are chortling with glee on the President’s public relations coup in meeting with the parents of Kian and Carl, commiserating with them and promising to render justice, then concluding with hugs and smiles all around.  The Duterte Damage Control Team must be congratulating themselves in being able to put out that fire by coopting the victims’ families through fair means and foul.  But just as they thought they had things under control, and given the unrelenting pursuit of Oplan Tokhang, new dead bodies come up to rile the public once more.

Meanwhile more crucial witnesses have come forward. The taxi driver who, according to the police, was held up by 19-year-old, former UP student, Carl Arnaiz, later killed in a shoot out with responding police, has surfaced.  He sought sanctuary with human rights groups.  Now that he is no longer under pressure from Caloocan police, he may be able to tell us what really happened and how Carl was involved.

Other witnesses to the Kian killing (there were plenty because the police did their dirty work in a densely populated, urban poor community) are being actively sought by the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in tandem with the PAO and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC).  Over the weekend, a stand off took place in the residence of Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David when the CIDG-PAO-VACC attempted to take custody of a witness being given sanctuary by the bishop. The witness and family members opted to remain under the protection of Bishop David.

The Movement is gearing up for a big rally at the Rizal Park, with a broad representation of different classes and sectors in society, on September 21, the 45thanniversary of the declaration of martial law by the Dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos.  Malacañang has taken note of this mass protest action and is trying to besmear it as part of the moves of the Opposition against Duterte in order to dissuade people from joining.

The Movement is undeterred and is counting on the coming together of different, even disparate forces and groups, to take a stand and fight a common, malevolent and dangerous enemy – rising tyranny under Duterte.

Slowly, people are waking up from the stupor of demagogic promises that Duterte will resolve the festering problem of drug trafficking in 3 to 6 months especially after his admission that he may not be able to lick the problem even in his remaining 5 years in office.

One measure is the timely staging of a compendium of plays including musicals on the theme of human rights and civil liberties this month of September. 

Taking a break from my regular round of meetings, I watched “Tao Po” a play consisting of four monologues by Mae Paner aka Juana Change, popular actress cum change agent, much sought after for her one-woman tragicomic political satire. 

Journalist Inday Espina-Varona’s writes a capsule review: “Mae Juana Change Paner’s ‘Zumba’ segment in ‘Tao Po’ (ongoing at the Cultural Center of the Philippines) will linger in the minds and guts of audiences for a long, long time.  The comic touches only leave us wide open to the tragedy of a woman who lost husband and son to ‘Tokhang.’ Playwright Maynard Manansala did a fantastic job there. But it is Mae who carries it off, in a performance of extreme physical, cerebral and emotional challenges. It is ‘Zumba’ that highlight’s ‘Tokhang’s’ real cost to humanity. It is ‘Zumba’ that delivers what Cardinal Tagle wished for – the ‘real face’ of the greatest injustice.”

I personally was struck by the segment on the “double life of a policeman, sworn to uphold the law, and a hitman, paid to violate it.”  The irony is that this killer’s class origin is not much different from those of his dirt-poor victims.  He is inured to violence at an early age and is recruited into what closely resembles the notorious Davao Death Squad because of the good pay. Part of his indoctrination is the belief that his victims are society’s dregs and are dispensable to make society “safe”. This helps to assuage what little remains of his conscience but he knows the blood of innocents is on his hands even when they are dismissed as nothing more than “collateral damage”.

Perhaps more than the impunity that Duterte promises for those who kill “in the line of duty”, it is the demonization of impoverished drug addicts and small time pushers that impel policemen sworn to “serve and protect” to have such little regard for the sanctity of life. # 

Published in Business World
11 September 2016

Justice for Kian, justice for all

The cold-blooded murder of 17-year-old senior high school student, Kian Loyd de los Santos, by Caloocan police, in what President Rodrigo Roa Duterte loudly proclaims as his administration’s unrelenting “war on drugs”, has unleashed a firestorm of protest.

No, Justice Secretary Aguirre, people are not buying your line that Kian’s killing is an “isolated case” that has been “overblown” by the mass media.  Coming on the heels of a spate of killings (74 in just 3 days) in “one time, big time” police operations in the slum areas of Bulacan and Manila, Kian’s death is only unique in that CCTV footage and eyewitnesses point unerringly to his merciless beating and execution by policemen in plainclothes.

Neither are they buying the incredible story dished out by the police, without an iota of evidence except their say so, that Kian was a drug courier for his father and uncle.  After the fact of his killing in the hands of the police, an alleged drug pusher who claims to have had dealings with Kian is trotted out together with allegations of nonspecific incriminating evidence police investigators discovered, again incredibly, in social media.

Authorities cannot even claim Kian to be the unfortunate but inevitable “collateral damage” of their determined efforts to stamp out the illicit drug trade. Unlike scores of other minors mowed down in Oplan Tokhang and its reinvigorated version, Oplan Double Barrel, who supposedly died in the cross fire, Kian was fatally shot twice in the head, at close range, while prostrate or kneeling, according to official forensic findings.

Yes, oh yes, President Duterte, this one is on you.  You egged your police (actually, even your military, but they are too busy with counter-terrorism cum counter-insurgency operations) to “kill, kill, kill” as your administration kept missing your self-imposed deadline for eradicating the drug problem in three months, then six months, and now you admit, maybe not even till the end of your six-year term of office. (Was it just another foot-in-mouth gaffe or were you dead serious when you lauded the Bulacan police for killing 32 drug suspects in 24 hours and called for such a “fine” example to be emulated by the rest of your police forces.)

The more the police killed those who they claim to be in some “drug watch list”, Duterte could unabashedly claim progress, if not success, in his brutal “war on drugs”.

But in light of international criticism of the mounting body count, the police have whittled the official number of police kills down to around 2500, with a similar number being “deaths under investigation” (police speak for killings attributed to vigilantes and/or drug gang rivalry). Nonetheless, mass media and other independent tallies have the running total anywhere between 7000 to more than 10,000.

A system of quotas and rewards for eliminating small-time drug addicts and pushers apparently is in place thus the propensity for periodic raids on urban poor communities to flush them out or to out rightly kill suspects without affording them any kind of due process.

Duterte provided the perfect alibi: the police have the right to employ lethal force in self-defense should a suspect resist arrest or is armed and dangerous.  The police picked up the cue from their Commander-in-Chief and so invariably, suspects are reportedly killed in a gun battle with the police, the former initiating the encounter by firing a gun. The police in turn are such sharpshooters no matter the lighting or spatial conditions that suspects always get fatally shot. Or if they are brought into custody alive, they invariably try to grab a police escort’s gun and end up getting killed.

Duterte then promised that with this role play of the police “merely doing their job”, he would protect them from legal prosecution and if convicted, he would pardon them.  Such presidential cloak of impunity was proven in the case of Superintendent Marvin Marcos, head of the raiding team that killed alleged drug lord Mayor Rolando Espinosa while in jail. Marcos was reinstated upon Duterte’s direct order to PNP Chief de la Rosa.

This impunity apparently is also operative in the case of the slaughter by police of the notorious Mayor Parojinog and 14 others, in a shadowy operation to serve a search warrant on a “narcopolitician”.  There has been no serious investigation on this case and Chief Inspector Jovie Espenido who led the assault team will likely get a promotion in short order. (He already enjoyed being lionized in the media as someone who got some big fish in the anti-drug war.)

Duterte has been encouraged by the seeming general public approval, if not praise, for his actions.  He hit on a nerve -- society’s fear of heinous crimes being committed by shabu-crazed addicts or even just neighborhood addicts cum toughies lording it over their unpoliced communities.  He had promised to end it swiftly, if brutally.

But only the bad guys were supposed to bear the full brunt of the Duterte regime’s “war on drugs” and maybe an acceptable number of “collateral damage”.  And even if disturbing evidence of the extra judicial killings were splashed on television screens, the front page of newspapers and the internet, the public was lulled into thinking that the victims were society’s dregs and were thus dispensable.

Until the killing of Kian Loyd de los Santos.  A teen-ager who had dreams of being a policeman someday. The eldest child of an OFW mother slaving away in Saudi Arabia to support her children and a father tending a small sari-sari store to make ends meet.  A grade 11 student who begged the plainclothes policemen who were beating him up to please stop as he had an examination the following day.  An ordinary fellow with no record and no reputation in the neighborhood of being involved with illegal drugs in any way. A right-handed person who supposedly shot at the police with his left hand.

Whose ordeal was caught on CCTV and seen by several witnesses.
Thus he became Everyman – any poor but struggling parents’ son – minding his own business yet finding himself in the crosshairs of the Duterte regime’s “war on drugs”. This is exemplified in the social media post #IAmKian.

All of a sudden there is widespread outrage and dismay.  Kian’s murder has unlocked the Pandora’s box of official deception about the effectiveness of the “war on drugs” and of the official cover-up of the horrible crimes being committed in its name.

The public outcry is simple and straightforward: Stop the killings! Justice for Kian, justice for all! To achieve these demands there is the urgent need to expose the mastermind and make him ultimately accountable. #

Published in Business World
28 August 2017

August 15, 2017

No love lost between Duterte and the Left

One need not be such a keen observer of Philippine politics to note the quite dramatic deterioration in the relationship between the Left and President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, self-styled “Leftist” and “socialist” president of the Philippines.

At the beginning, a de facto tactical alliance existed between the two.  It was premised on Duterte’s promise that he would bring about a real change in government.  For the Left, foremost was the release of all political prisoners, peace talks to arrive at fundamental socio-economic and political reforms and an independent foreign policy to reverse decades of US neocolonial domination.

A year later, Duterte has reneged on his promise to amnesty all political prisoners and has practically, if not formally, scuttled the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations. He is brandishing what he thinks is a more formidable “all-out war” against the CPP-NPA-NDFP topped by a martial law declaration in Mindanao, targeting what the AFP claims to be the movement’s strongest base of operations.

For the Left, Duterte has emerged as a full-blown reactionary president, a fascist defender of the exploitative and oppressive status quo, while still trying to deceive the people with token, populist measures and an image of being tough against corruption and criminality.

The signal fire, in retrospect, was when Duterte collapsed the 5th round of GRP-NDFP peace talks saying that he would not pursue negotiations unless the CPP-NPA-NDFP entered into an indefinite bilateral ceasefire. Echoing the hawkish line of his security officials, Duterte said talks can not go anywhere if the NPA continues to launch attacks against the AFP and engages in “criminal extortion” or what the CPP-NPA calls “revolutionary taxation”.

But what supposedly got Duterte’s ire was the directive of the CPP leadership to the NPA to intensify its tactical offensives against the military and police upon the declaration of martial law in Mindanao. Glossed over is the fact that no ceasefire was in effect at that time because the Duterte government failed to declare a unilateral ceasefire before the 4th round of talks even though the two sides had earlier agreed upon a simultaneous declaration of unilateral ceasefires.

The preconditioning of the peace talks to an open-ended ceasefire before any bilateral agreement on socio-economic reforms had been reached not only violates previous agreements that the Duterte government affirmed when it revived talks with the NDFP, bottom line is that the GRP wants the revolutionary movement to agree to its voluntary pacification in exchange for nothing. In effect, to surrender on the negotiating table as a prelude to surrendering in the battle field without achieving any meaningful reforms through a supposedly negotiated political settlement.

It appears that the NDFP Negotiating Panel tried its best to salvage the situation by proposing ways of easing pressure on the Duterte government with the onset of the Marawi crisis.

Unfortunately, Duterte quickly swung Rightward. He allowed the militarist troika of Lorenzana-Año-Esperon to lead the way, not only in dealing with the ISIS-inspired Maute rebellion in Lanao province by aerial and artillery bombardment leading to the destruction of Marawi City, but in pursuing the government’s counterinsurgency program against the CPP-NPA-NDFP, this time utilizing the vast powers of martial law in all of Mindanao to tamp down any opposition.

Flush with the imprimatur given by the Supreme Court to the imposition of martial law in Mindanao, Duterte railroaded its extension until yearend via a pliant Congress.  Independent reporting on the continuing devastation of Marawi City and its after effects is virtually impossible with the military controlling all sources of information. Heightened human rights violations in other parts of Mindanao have been swept under the rug.

The direct involvement of the US Armed Forces in the military campaign against the Maute Group has been welcomed and justified by Duterte despite his posture that he is against US intervention in the country’s internal affairs. (Apparently he was only referring to US criticism of his bloody anti-illegal drugs campaign).

His anti-US tirades have softened of late and been replaced with friendly meetings with the US ambassador and US Secretary of State; echoing the US line against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; and reports of an agreement to allow armed US drones to strike at ISIS and other “terrorist” targets.

Clearly the ISIS “threat” is being overblown as an excuse to prolong martial law and possibly even expand it outside Mindanao. It is also providing the rational for expanding US military presence in the country and steadily growing US military involvement in armed conflicts labelled as “terrorist”.

Duterte’s attempt to appear conciliatory when he addressed the Left-led SONA protest failed to mollify the protesters who persistently chanted their calls for genuine reforms, an end to martial law and the continuation of peace talks.  Duterte was forced to end his pretense at openness and departed in a huff.

Duterte’s speeches have become consistently virulent against not just the revolutionary Left but also political and social activists who are leading the fight for reforms. He threatened to bomb lumad schools that he said were NPA schools.  He said he would not hesitate to use violence against militant urban poor if they again tried to occupy abandoned public housing. He rained invectives on activists and said he would not heed their demands even if they resorted to non-stop protest in the streets.

In response, activists are stepping up their opposition to what they now call the “US-Duterte fascist regime”.

What is interesting is that Duterte has not fired 3 Leftist Cabinet members despite the downward spiral of relations with the Left. For one he has no basis to kick them out except that they are identified with the Left. For another, they are no threat to him; in fact, one might say they are objectively helping to deodorize his regime by just doing their jobs competently and consistent with their pro-people stand.

Neither have the 3 tendered their resignations to the wonderment of those who tend to think the Left one-track minded and monolithic.  Perhaps this is all that remains of what once was a promising alliance between Duterte and the Left. A tenuous bridge for communications before all hell breaks loose.

# Published in Business World
15 August 2017