September 30, 2005

Preempting people power?

The Malacañang pronouncement of a shift in policy from “maximum tolerance” to “the rule of calibrated preemptive response” or “CPR” in dealing with demonstrations and other mass protest actions is a clear case of doublespeak; that is, of saying one thing and doing the exact opposite.

The latest concoction of Mrs. Arroyo’s bright boys, the “CPR”, is really nothing new. Even under the so-called policy of “maximum tolerance” the Macapagal-Arroyo regime has blatantly curtailed civil liberties with impunity.

The Arroyo administration wants to give the impression that it has been exercising “maximum tolerance”; that is, demonstrators are allowed to rally in the streets even without a permit, they are not dispersed even when they allegedly tie up traffic, deliver speeches bordering on the seditious and utter invectives against the President.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Protesters, especially those from nationalist and progressive organizations, have continually been on the receiving end of police brutality and other evidences of state fascism under whatever legal guise. The activist organizations and even the political opposition have simply learned to defy perennial government threats and the actual use of police and military coercive force in order to assert their democratic rights.

Even when the demonstrators produce their rally permits from the respective city mayors, police may or may not honor them depending on “orders from higher ups”.

In many instances, it is the police and the military who cause the huge traffic build up when they arbitrarily set up barricades on thoroughfares that the rallyists use and do not even make any prior announcements regarding the orderly rerouting of traffic.

Worse, it is they who have unlawfully initiated the violent dispersals, evidently premeditated as shown by the absence of nameplates on most if not all of the police in the phalanx barricading the demonstrators' path.
Protesting priests, nuns, human rights workers and peace advocates have been hosed down by water cannon, tear gassed, clubbed, manhandled and illegally arrested even when the protest actions have been peaceful, orderly and not at all constituting any threat to public safety much less national security.

When government appears to be implementing a policy of “maximum tolerance” and the police and military actually exhibit greater willingness to allow a protest action to proceed unimpeded, it is because of certain circumstances that tie their hands from ordering violent dispersals. These are: the presence of personalities, large numbers of protesters, the attention of the international media, or the presence of international observers or participants, etc.

In the absence of these circumstances, the police have unleashed naked brutal force, emboldened by their superiors’ prior approval and confident of subsequent official backing should demonstrators decide to lodge complaints.

“CPR” is Malacañang euphemism for shifting to the policy of the greater use of the state’s coercive force against demonstrators to prevent them from mounting protest rallies that could suddenly grow in size and breadth given the favorable conditions -- GMA’s extreme unpopularity, the worsening economic crisis, cracks in the pillars of the ruling regime such as the military, church hierarchy, Congress and local government units -- enough to threaten the rule of GMA up to her being ousted from power.

“CPR” denies or restricts rights purportedly to avert unlawful or illegal acts from being committed; in truth, rights are denied even as no illegal or unlawful act has even been committed.

Mrs. Arroyo’s “CPR” policy mimics the policy of “preemptive strike” that the big, white brother – rather, master -- US President George W. Bush, has unleashed against sovereign countries and peoples in the name of the “war on terror” . Just as the Bush notion of “preemptive strike” clearly violates international humanitarian law and the United Nations charter, Mrs. Arroyo’s invention, the “calibrated preemptive response”, grossly violates the peoples’ civil, political and human rights.

The most recent events have shown, however, that “CPR” is more than just about how the Arroyo regime deals with street protests. It applies to all possible sources of so-called “destabilization” against the detested regime of Mrs. Arroyo.

This pronouncement is all the more ominous because it is made in the midst of relentless political killings under the Arroyo administration. In August, Karapatan-Palawan Chairperson Rev. Raul Domingo and Anakpawis-Mindoro Coordinator Boker Tagumpay were killed. On Sept. 1, 2005, human rights lawyer Norman Bocar and Bayan Muna leader in Eastern Visayas and, on Sept. 22, 2005, Nestle Union President Ding Fortuna were also treacherously murdered.

On the heels of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales’s ludicrous testimony at the Senate hearing regarding the highly questionable government contract with US lobby firm, Venable, is the explosive testimony of two high ranking military officers who defied a Malacañang order to desist from appearing in a Senate public hearing.
Philippine Military Academy (PMA) assistant superintendent Brigadier General Francisco Gudani and assistant commandant of the PMA corps of cadets Colonel Alexander Balutan testified on fraud committed during the May 2004 presidential elections.

The punishment was swift: the two officers were immediately relieved of their posts and now face court-martial. Gudani stands to lose his retirement benefits after more then 30 years of service with only a week left before he retires from the military.

Malacañang has issued Executive Order 464 that disallows people in government to testify before the Congress without the express approval of the Chief Executive. The directive was issued as the Senate Committee on Defense and National Security started its own inquiry into the wiretap tapes allegedly involving President Arroyo and former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

Now Malacañang is poised to suspend the United Opposition President, Makati Mayor Jojo Binay, in a clear case of political harassment and in order to deny the Makati business district as a venue for the big rallies calling on Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation or ouster.

The suspicious appointment by the UP Board of Regents of a new College of Law dean identified with Malacañang despite the overwhelming choice of the faculty, incumbent Dean Raul Pangalangan, and the sacking of Education Undersecretary Juan Miguel Luz, brother of Makati Business Club’s Bill Luz, the business association that called on Mrs. Arroyo to resign, augurs more preemptive moves that are also highly punitive.

The Hyatt 10 are targets of judicial slaps on the wrist, vicious character assassination in newspaper columns and the threat of criminal and civil liabilities should they agree to inform the public of what they know regarding the Arroyo government’s irregularities or worse. Mrs. Cory Aquino is suddenly being hit by known Malacañang paid hacks at her most vulnerable point, the Hacienda Luisita issue.

Emergency rule (a variant of martial law unencumbered by legal, constitutional restraints) probably constitutes the apex of “CPR”. Despite Malacañang denials, it remains an option – a bigger and more deadly weapon with which to bludgeon this administrations’ political enemies misrepresented as the enemies of the people, the enemies of the “rule of law”.

If this administration is good at anything, learning the lessons of history is not it. “CPR” and emergency rule can only stoke and inflame people power, not preempt it.

30 Sept.-1 Oct 2005


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