February 11, 2005

The "War on Terror" and us

Just as US President George W. Bush and his cabal of warmongering neoconservatives have used the "war on terror" as a convenient pretext for invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, overthrowing sovereign governments, murdering at least a hundred thousand innocent civilians, and trampling on the civil rights even of US citizens, so too has Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) and the rightwingers in her unabashedly pro-US regime used the "war on terror" to justify continuous and increasing US military presence and activities in the country, the intensification of militarization and pacification campaigns in suspected civilian strongholds of the communist and Moro armed revolutionary movements, and violently suppressing legitimate dissent such as the Hacienda Luisita strike and earlier protests against electoral fraud, Philippine support for the US war in Iraq and rising prices of all vital commodities like fuel, electricity and water.

Recently, the AFP and US Pacific Command jointly announced the holding of 28 RP-US war games for 2005. Not that the US troops have ever really left Philippine territory since the controversial Balikatan 02-1 "training exercises" three years ago that progressives and nationalists denounced as a violation of the constitutional provision prohibiting the stationing of foreign troops on Philippine territory as well as their participation in AFP combat operations against local armed opposition groups, much less a local bandit group like the Abu Sayyaf.

American military presence especially in Mindanao has now become de rigueur. Unidentified US military officers flying into Jolo at the height of current military operations against alleged followers of jailed MNLF leader Nur Misuari are now merely referred to by the Southern Command as "our consultants." How many they are and what exactly are they doing there are apparently the kind of questions that are no longer being asked after the Senate ratification of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and MalacaƱang's midnight approval of the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA).

Moreover, a US facility is reportedly being built inside the AFP General Headquarters compound in Camp Aguinaldo, ostensibly to serve as a JUSMAG-type coordinating center for joint US-RP military actions. It will evidently serve as a major command post for US military activities (i.e. intervention) not only in the Philippines, but in the Southeast Asian region.

These developments only validate the persistent objections to the VFA and MLSA by a significant section of Philippine society; to wit, the VFA opens up the entire Philippine territory to US troops and activities without a treaty, contrary to Article XVIII, Section 25 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. The VFA does not set a time limit to the presence and activities of "visiting" US troops and is vague about the kinds of activities that are allowed. The MLSA, on the other hand, allows the US to use Philippine facilities and set up its own facilities anywhere, anytime in Philippine territory.

The peace negotiations between the government and the NDFP are another one of the early casualties of the so-called "war on terror."

US ambassador Francis Ricciardone last week announced that the Bush administration has decided to maintain the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People's Army (CPP/NPA) in its list of "foreign terrorist organizations." According to news reports, Mr. Ricciardone justified the US government's action by asserting that the CPP and NPA are "still engaged in terrorist activities and are known around the world as terrorists."

Interestingly, Mr. Ricciardone's loose and catch-all working definition of "terrorist" as revealed in his statement that the CPP/NPA must be a "terrorist" organization since it "...kills and boasts about killing and threatens to kill, and burns capital investments and livelihood for the people" is applicable, not least of which to governments engaged in state terrorism such as the US itself and its client regimes like the newly "elected" Iraq government and our very own government whose police and military stand accused of grievous human rights violations committed in the course of counter-insurgency campaigns.

It will be recalled that a year ago, government and the NDFP had inked an agreement "(to) resolve the outstanding issue of the 'terrorist' listing of the CPP/NPA and the NDFP chief political consultant" by way of undertaking "effective measures" in consonance with the Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), and other bilateral agreements.

Further, the two sides agreed to "jointly and separately, call upon the Government of the United States, the Council of the European Union and other concerned foreign states and governments, to support the efforts of the parties in resolving the outstanding issue of the 'terrorist' listing of the CPP/NPA and the NDFP chief political consultant in order to advance and promote the peace negotiations and address the root causes of the armed conflict."

Since then, the Arroyo government has done nothing to implement its side of the bargain, giving the lame excuse that the US and European Council "terrorist" listings are sovereign acts to which the Philippine government is not a party to and which it cannot in any way influence.

Of course, the facts belie the Arroyo government's claims. The US listing in August 2002 was made in the wake of President GMA's all-out support for the US "war on terror" and was promptly "welcomed" by Mrs. Arroyo.

Then Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople had crowed about the government's success in having the NPA and Jose Ma. Sison, the NDFP chief political consultant, also listed as "terrorists" by the European Council of Ministers soon after.

As point in fact, the NDFP has not even demanded that the government specifically ask the US to delist the CPP/NPA and Mr. Sison. The Arroyo government has a range of legal and political options for it to distance itself from the "terrorist" listings and assert Philippine sovereignty by pushing for progress in the peace negotiations with an entity it cannot even officially categorize as "terrorist" given that it has a publicly stated policy of not negotiating with terrorists.

The actions of the US and Philippine governments, by their own pronouncements, are intended to "stigmatize and isolate" the CPP, NPA and Mr. Sison and pressure them into "laying down their arms" and "rejoining the mainstream of society." The NDF has condemned these moves as attempts to force them into capitulation.

In this light, renewed threats by the Arroyo administration to scuttle the peace talks should the NDFP refuse to agree to a ceasefire are mere grandstanding. It is clear that the US "war on terror" has shifted the balance heavily in favor of the hawks in government and pacification, not a just and lasting peace, is its real agenda.

Feb. 11-12, 2005


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