October 28, 2005

Murder in cold blood

The cold blooded murder of Ricardo “Ka Ric” Ramos, president of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) at the strife-ridden Hacienda Luisita and baranggay captain of Bo. Mapalacsiao, was an act of treachery and desperation.

Rather than douse cold water on the raging labor and land disputes at the Cojuangco-owned feudal estate, the killing can only steel the commitment and the collective will of the people in the hacienda to fight for their rights.

Ka Ric was killed by sniper shot as he feted several baranggay tanod and other supporters in a nipa hut adjoining his residence in Baranggay Mapalacsiao, Tarlac City. It was Ka Ric’s way of thanking them for the successful distribution of P8.8million worth of wages and benefits to striking sugar mill workers by CATLU and DOLE-Region III the previous day.

The amount constituted payment for 21 days of work of the mill workers that management had refused to release since the strike at the sugar central on November 6, 2004. The CATLU sued and on September this year, the Labor Department issued a writ of execution ordering management to pay what they owed the workers.

Management stubbornly refused but eventually promised payment by 21 October 2005. Before the deadline, Mr. Ernesto Teopaco, vice president for operations, spoke to Ka Ric asking him to sign a document stating that CATLU was already in the process of settling its issues with management and therefore DOLE need not push through with the confiscation of CAT property in order to pay the workers’ just claims. Ka Ric steadfastly declined to sign the spurious document.

On October 22, 8,000 sacks of sugar worth P8.8 million were taken from CAT’s warehouse through the cooperation of CATLU with DOLE-Region III. A day before Ka Ric’s assassination, the workers received the wages and benefits that management had illegally and heartlessly deprived them of for almost a year. It was a bitter sweet victory for CATLU; for Ka Ric, it was a testament to his honest, courageous and unwavering leadership in the face of tremendous odds.

CBA negotiations between CATLU and management had resumed in the wake of intense pressure for the sugar mill to resume its operations still crippled by the strike. CATLU agreed to accept management’s piddling offer with regard to wage increases but insisted on the reinstatement of 33 out of 35 dismissed workers including some union officials.

However, in solidarity with the striking farm workers of the hacienda led by the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU), CATLU also insisted that the two strikes be resolved at the same time in order to keep up the pressure on management to settle all outstanding labor issues.

It was thus a surprise to CATLU and ULWU officials and others who knew of the state of the negotiations why management spread the word around that a settlement was in the offing and that the sugar mill would soon resume operations.

Ka Ric knew better. Based on the workers’ concrete experience in the struggle to protect and advance their rights and welfare, they knew they would have to fight tooth and nail every inch of the way.

They had already lost 10 of their co-workers and supporters in the 16 November 2004 massacre at the picket line and in subsequent targeted political killings. One of those who had been cut down by the assassin’s bullet was Ka Ric’s classmate and friend, Tarlac City Councilor Abel Ladera, another people’s leader and staunch supporter of the Hacienda Luisita struggle.

Ric Ramos not only constituted an obstacle to the immediate plans of the owners of the sugar mill and the sprawling, close to 6,000-hectare hacienda. They knew he would continue to be a thorn on their side especially with regard to the festering issue of land reform; that is, the long-standing demand of the hacienda’s farm workers for the abrogation of the “stock distribution option” or SDO.

On the day that Ka Ric was murdered, two military men went to his house twice, allegedly to seek his help in convincing his neighbors and others on a list of suspected members of the New People’s Army to go to the military headquarters and “clear” their names. He never met with them as he was sleeping at the time but his wife promised to tell him that they were looking for him.

Ka Ric ignored the military’s “summons” and proceeded instead to his hut to meet village officials, co-workers and friends. Ka Ric was heard to have remarked, Pinagbibintangan ang mga welgista at simpatisador sa welga bilang New People’s Army (NPA). Hindi ako papayag na kasangkapanin ako sa pagpapahamak sa aking mga kasama at kapitbahay!” (They are accusing the striking workers and their sympathizers of being members of the NPA. I will not allow myself to be used to put my co-workers and neighbors in harm’s way.)

Earlier, Ka Ric had been warned that there was a new spate of killings in Tarlac and adjoining provinces and that these were suspected to be extrajudicial executions involving military personnel and hired assassins.

There were also reports that he and ULWU President, Boyet Galang were constantly under surveillance by the military. In fact last year, at the height of the conflict in the hacienda, he had already been top-listed by the Northern Luzon Command of the AFP (NOLCOM) as a member of the NPA or working with the NPA.

The 13 baranggays inside Hacienda Luisita have been militarized for the longest time and Bo. Mapalacsiao is no exception. In fact several detachments are found inside the baranggay, one of them within shouting distance from the hut where Ka Ric was killed.

Yet the military men assigned to Ka Ric’s baranggay who were interviewed a day after the incident swore that they heard, saw and felt nothing unusual. Not even gun shots from the murder weapon, an M14 rifle, based on empty shells found in the vicinity of the hut.

Who had the motive, the means and the opportunity to carry out this dastardly act?

Is it a mere coincidence that Congressman “Noynoy” Cojuangco-Aquino, heir to the Hacienda Luisita fortune and the spokesperson of the NOLCOM, in a short span of time and one after the other, had the same thing to say about Ka Ric’s murder?

That the labor dispute involving the CATLU was reaching resolution and that management and the sugar mill workers were no longer at each other’s throats and therefore there was no reason for the Cojuangcos to want Ka Ric out of the way. That the motive for the murder of the labor leader could be “political” or intended to further exacerbate conflicts for some unspecified, sinister motives.

The duet of the landowner’s son and the military spokesperson is suspiciously too much in tune. The whitewash has begun even when hardly any investigation into the murder has gotten any head way.

The good people of poverty-stricken Bo. Mapalacsiao, the struggling farm and mill workers of Hacienda Luisita and the rest of the Filipino people who seek social justice in our land will not rest content until the real killers and the masterminds are brought to justice.

28-29 October 2005

October 21, 2005

Turmoil and repression

With each passing day we wake up to find the Arroyo regime resorting to more repressive measures as its attempts to deceive and intimidate fail to stifle the public’s demand for truth and justice.

Malacañang’s invention, the so-called “calibrated preemptive response” or CPR, has been met with resistance and even defiance by demonstrations of all political hues, sizes and shapes. Attempts by Mrs. Arroyo’s men and her paid hacks in media to stereotype protesters as “destabilizers”, power grabbers or just plain troublemakers have not been successful given the broad array of people from all walks of life marching on the streets leading to historic Mendiola Bridge. On the other hand, government handling of such demonstrations have proven itself anything but “calibrated”. Bungled, is more like it.

Deliberately, the authorities have misrepresented BP 880, a martial law edict issued by then Dictator Marcos, as a law that says “no permit, no rally” when the 1987 Philippine Constitution says categorically: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech and expression or the people’s right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” (Section 4, Article III)

Without a doubt, it is government’s sacred duty to uphold and protect such freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights and universally recognized in democratic societies. On the contrary, the Arroyo regime routinely resorts to violent dispersals as a means to prevent citizens from exercising their rights and freedoms and calls this repressive policy as “the rule of law”. Government cites the need to manage traffic, prevent the disruption of the everyday humdrum of city life and even invokes the rights of an amorphous “silent majority” as basis for its illegal, abusive and tyrannical use of its police powers.

Manila City Mayor Lito Atienza has taken the CPR a step further. He has announced that henceforth no permits to demonstrate will be granted for rallies at Mendiola even as he declared that protesters are free to go instead to several “freedom parks” such as Plaza Miranda, Liwasang Bonifacio and Rizal Park. Mr. Atienza claims that government merely wants to prevent another Mendiola massacre similar to what happened during President Corazon Aquino’s administration when peasant demonstrators and their supporters were gunned down by government forces at the foot of Mendiola Bridge.

Mr. Atienza speaks with forked tongue; in plain language, what he is saying is a blatant lie. I should know because I, together with other victims of the violent dispersal of a protest rally at Plaza Miranda in July 2004, filed a criminal case against the Western Police District (WPD) for precisely violating our rights to freely assemble and speak. The rally had been called to demand the withdrawal of Philippine troops from Iraq in order to obtain the freedom of overseas Filipino worker, Angelo de la Cruz, and to distance ourselves from the completely unjustified US invasion of and war against Iraq.

The rallyists had repeatedly called the attention of the police ground commander, Col. Sapitula, that Plaza Miranda is a freedom park and therefore no permit is required, even under BP 880. But Col. Sapitula ignored our pleas and ordered his men to attack us resulting in serious injuries inflicted by the “law enforcers” on the rallyists. I, myself, obtained a six-inch head wound from a policeman’s truncheon while trying to negotiate for a peaceful solution to the impasse.

Subsequently, in the reply affidavits of WPD head, General Bulaong and other police officials charged, they stated under oath that their inquiries at the Manila City Hall revealed that Plaza Miranda had not been declared a “freedom park”. In fact, city officials had never issued an ordinance declaring any place in the city as a “freedom park” in a clear abdication of their duty to do so under BP 880.

Mayor Atienza is caught in an arbitrary and ill-motivated exercise of his ministerial authority to issue rally permits. He would conjure “freedom parks” in order to suit the Arroyo regime’s need to appear willing to accommodate protest demonstrations when in truth it is hell bent on making the area around the Presidential Palace off limits to protest actions and thus preempt any massing of huge numbers of anti-government demonstrators there.

Now the government’s entire propaganda machinery including its tentacles in the commercial mass media are engaged in nothing less than a vicious and dangerous psywar campaign. A major component is state terror. The CPR and the violent dispersals, the threat of “emergency rule” and media hype about terrorist bomb attacks, the fast-tracking of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, the various legal moves and squid tactics against avowed opponents of the Arroyo administration and the unabated political killings of progressives and militant leaders are all geared to instill fear within the broad anti-Arroyo front and the people as a whole.

Another sustained tack is to paint legitimate protest as “terrorist”, red bait progressive and militant organizations as “communist fronts” and release dubious intelligence reports that the ranks of demonstrators are infiltrated by the New People’s Army and thus lay the ground for an undisguised, frontal attack against the growing movement calling for Mrs. Arroyo’s removal from the presidency.

Will the orchestrated cover-up, lying and use of force by the Arroyo regime work? We think not. The economic, political and moral grounds for the national crisis we are facing and upon which the Arroyo regime faces being booted out of power exist for real and are not creations of the political opposition nor the forces of the Left. The more the Arroyo regime resorts to deception and naked force to cover up its sins and cling to power, the more it betrays its guilt and lack of legitimacy to govern.

The point is this: who is the culprit behind all the turmoil in the streets? Is it the demonstrators and the various forces and personalities calling for the resignation or ouster of Mrs. Arroyo from power? Or is it Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo herself and her discredited and reviled anti-people regime that has been caught red-handed in top-level poll fraud, various corruption scandals and the treasonous sell-out of national interest as exemplified by the questioned Venable lobby contract.

The people’s movement calling for truth, justice and accountability on the part of a regime totally bereft of credibility and legitimacy has not been cowed and continues to advance. Mrs. Arroyo and her ilk completely and fatally underestimate the capacity of the people to discern truth from lies and to act according to what is right and just.

21-22 Oct. 2005

October 14, 2005


When we stepped into the pedestrian lane to cross over to Mendiola Bridge, none of us thought the police would be so dumb as to block a dozen protesters, in the process threatening a violent confrontation and creating a traffic gridlock, the very things they claimed to be preventing with such zealousness.

In fact, when I agreed to go to Mendiola with RC Constantino, a senior citizen who is also a civil libertarian and staunch nationalist, his wife and whoever else would be willing to assert their inalienable rights to free expression and assembly, I worried about simply being ignored by the police.

After all, Mr. Constantino announced his intentions on national television the night before in the presence of PNP General Querol. Presumably not only the police top guns but Malacañang crisis managers had more than enough lead time to study the situation. They knew their options in dealing with this motley band of protesters and what would obviously be a peaceful and largely symbolic protest action.

Almost all those I asked had some other commitment and couldn’t join the protest that day. Someone observed that anything less than 50 people couldn’t be interpreted, even by the police, as a “rally” and would therefore just be tolerated.

“At least bring some placards,” said a veteran street parliamentarian, “so you don’t look like ordinary pedestrians.” My group consisted of six individuals including former Labor Undersecretary Amado “Gat” Inciong, Alliance of Concerned Teachers Chairman Antonio Tinio and three others who had been arrested and roughed up in previous demonstrations. We had four placards in a plastic grocery bag to share among us.

We were met by the spectacle of more than a hundred police, about one fourth women, their shields in front of them and lined up in a phalanx several rows deep, at the foot of Mendiola Bridge. Mr. and Mrs. Constantino were waiting for us with Princess Nemenzo, fellow Business World columnist Atty. Argee Guevarra and three others in tow.

Thus did we start our “march” on the pedestrian lanes of Legarda and Claro M. Recto. Immediately the police moved to stop us. Colonel Quirante, the PNP ground commander, barked into a small bullhorn and demanded that we produce our permit.

Mr. Constantino bristled us the women police prevented us from proceeding to the Chino Roces monument. He retorted, “Do we need a permit to cross the pedestrian lane?” Col. Quirante relented and told his people to hold their line but they occupied more than one half of the lane so that Mr. Constantino stepped forward and forced those in front of him to move back.

At this point a policewoman complained that Mr. Constantino had touched her breast to which he responded by pointing to his chest and saying that they had been pushing him all along with their shields. The sight was ludicrous as scores of them rushed to block his path as he moved from side to side, forwards and backwards.

It wasn’t long before Mr. Constantino was separated from the rest of us surrounded by anti-riot police. Meanwhile Ms. Nemenzo and her daughter-in-law had somehow slipped unnoticed to reach the Chino Roces monument. We could see her behind the rows of police struggling with an improvised cartolina placard that a policeman was trying to grab from her. It said, “Freedom is as freedom does!” The placard ended up in tatters.

Col. Quirante must have been so mortified by the thought that the rest of us might decide to rush Malacañang Palace that he ordered his troops to disperse us by pushing and shoving us away, back across Legarda street. About twenty policewomen and some policemen handily did just that. There were only about six of us left with only one reinforcement from the party list Bayan Muna.

Another ludicrous photo opportunity presented itself as Mr. Tinio landed on the front page of a broadsheet the following day resisting a formation of helmeted, shield-wielding female members of Manila’s Finest.

We stopped to catch our breath as did the police. We took the opportunity to try to reason with the so-called defenders of the “rule of law”. We appealed to them to stop pushing and hurting us since we could not by any stretch of the imagination be a threat to peace and order and could not even constitute an obstruction to traffic.

Seeing as how we had been separated from each other, we decided to try to go back towards the bridge and reach our companions. Accompanied by a swarm of photo journalists and TV crews, we slowly made our way back to Mendiola.

Some of the police by this time appeared to relent or hesitate so that we were able to reach the monument after some more jostling and scuffling. Unknown to us, individual protesters who had belatedly arrived were being harassed and overpowered by police on the sidelines.

Col. Quirante apparently imagined some kind of extreme danger being posed by a handful of protesters who had gotten several feet closer to the hallowed grounds of the Presidential Palace. He again ordered that we be pushed away until we ended up on the sidewalk at the other side of the bridge.

We staged a sit-in on the sidewalk and dared the police to carry us bodily away.

By then we were joined by about a dozen more people from the human rights group Karapatan, martial law era ex-political prisoners from the group SELDA as well as Wilson Fortaleza of Sanlakas. A streamer that said, “Ipaglaban ang demokrasya!” (Fight for democracy!) was unfurled.

The group sang the patriotic song “Bayan Ko”, a staple of anti-dictatorship rallies during martial law. Mr. Constantino read the statement of protest of the group.

When things had quieted down, I took the opportunity to talk to a group of policewomen. I asked them if they realized they were following illegal orders by employing physical violence and disproportionate force on a handful of protesters. Would they shoot unarmed people if given the orders?

And where did the orders come from? It is reasonable to conclude that Malacañang itself was "hands on" and can be held directly accountable for the brutality and intolerance executed by the police.

This brief incident on historic Mendiola Bridge, lasting no more than an hour, clearly exposes the Arroyo government’s policy towards peaceful assemblies of citizens as nothing short of fascist. It has no place in a so-called democratic society and is clearly a harbinger of de facto martial rule.

All freedom-loving Filipinos must condemn and resist the Arroyo regime’s authoritarian mind set and strong-arm tactics or risk another dark period in our nation’s benighted existence.

October 07, 2005

Paranoia and desperation

Why is it that the more the government of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo bares its fangs and lets out its claws in a parody of the “strong republic”, the more that it looks like its days are numbered?

The Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties (MCCCL) sponsored a symbolic protest march last Tuesday dubbed “Walk for Democracy” that saw respected civil libertarians back on the streets after the September 21 “Never again to martial law” rally in Makati.

It was called to denounce the “calibrated preemptive response” or CPR, the “no permit, no rally” policy and the E.O. 464 as blatant attempts “to suppress and quell dissent, cover up the truth, and obstruct justice in order to maintain the status quo.”

The protest started out with a 30-minute prayer inside the United Church of Manila. But what was planned by MCCCL to be a solemn, quiet walk to the foot of Mendiola Bridge ended in another illegal and brutal dispersal by the police.

About 200 demonstrators, many of them youth, women, church people and professionals as well as some workers, peasants and urban poor, seemed to be playing a game of “patintero” (cat-and-mouse) with the police as they marched, were blocked several times, and were pushed and shoved with shields by burly police. Midway, they managed to maneuver and break away, then run free to Mendiola Bridge.

MCCCL leaders tried to negotiate with the police ground commander, Superintendent Quirante, in vain. He quickly ordered the violent dispersal that resulted in scores hurt, several illegally arrested. There were even attempts by policemen without identifying nameplates to treacherously arrest UN Ad Litem Judge Romeo Capulong, Rep. Satur Ocampo and other rally leaders. One of the demonstrators emerged from a Western Police District car with a bloodied face after he was viciously punched in the face with metal knuckles while in the WPD car.

After Mrs. Arroyo’s successes in thwarting the Opposition’s move to impeach her and shoring up her tottering regime with critical support from the Bush administration, the military top brass and the church hierarchy, she is now escalating police violence versus rallyists to coerce and intimidate them into silence.

But all these successes are turning out to be short-lived and largely illusory.

For one, a heap of damaging issues continues to pile up. Even when the Arroyo camp is able to wiggle free from the controversies and scandals by means of some legal maneuver, a cover-up, intimidation or buying off witnesses and manipulation of mass media coverage, the issues do not die down completely. No amount of plugging the holes
can keep the stench of corruption and anomaly from leaking out of the Malacañang walls.

Every new issue that raises questions about the Arroyo government’s legitimacy threatens to re-open the can of worms of the Arroyo administration’s wrongdoing and abuse of power for self-serving ends.

The Gudani and Balutan testimonies are examples of how, when everyone thought the Opposition had run out of issues to raise against the Arroyo regime, seemingly divine providence (or is it retribution?) delivered the two military officials’ testimonies to the Senate.

Earlier, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales’ disastrous attempt to cover-up the truth about the Venable contract in a Senate-led investigation led to his being placed under technical arrest. Speculation was rife whether Gonzales was covering up for his boss.

Another clear indicator that the Arroyo camp is growing paranoid and desperate is the clumsy and panicky manner by which it has reacted to charges raised against it.

A short listing will suffice to prove the point.

Presidential Spokesperson Ignacio Bunye’s hurried press conference where he reveals the existence of a plot to fake wiretapped conversations of the President talking to Comelec Commissioner Garcillano aka “Garci” and claims to have the untampered version where Mrs. Arroyo is supposedly speaking only to a staffer in her campaign group.

The extraordinary disappearing act of Commissioner Garcillano who alone can verify the information and bring to light the truth in the GMA-Garci wiretapped conversations.

The crude attempts of DENR Secretary Mike Defensor to muddle up the issue of the Garci tapes further by faking the opinion of an alleged expert he paid top money to study whether the Garci tapes were tampered.

The manner in which the impeachment complaint was bludgeoned at the House of Representatives with the railroading of the dismissal by the pro-Administration majority.

The illegal raid on the rented room of Opposition witness, handwriting expert Tabayoyong, that was patently unjustified, meant to tamper if not do away with vital evidence of electoral fraud by the Arroyo camp and involved the highly irregular use of the intelligence units of the police and military.

The gag order, E.O. 464, that aims to shield Mrs. Arroyo and her cohorts, first and foremost from any accountability but in the process challenges a co-equal branch of government, the Senate, from exercising its authority and prerogatives thus creating a Constitutional impasse that forebodes more political instability.

The concoction of more unbelievable “destabilization plots” such as the Cory-Drilon coup cum assassination plot, the so-called “de facto impeachment trial” by the Senate and more plots to come from the fertile imagination of Mrs. Arroyo’s canine subalterns and allies.

The unabated political killings of known critics and dissenters such as human rights lawyers, progressive church people and party-list leaders, militant peasant leaders, trade unionists and youth activists in an attempt to neutralize if not silence the most vocal, the most resolute and the most effective opponents of the Arroyo regime.

No matter the cynical view and the tall tale of Arroyo apologists that GMA’s sins are mere lapses in judgment, common practices engaged in by all politicians and the result of a bad political system that will be cured by charter change and not a change in leadership, most people are just not buying it.

The majority of Filipinos are still desirous of rectitude in government; that right be upheld and wrong be discarded; that good deeds be rewarded and crime punished. Cheats, liars and thieves -- especially when they occupy high positions of public office that require and presumably enjoy public trust -- must be called to account.
What the mass movement seeking regime change must do is to tap onto this lode of uprightness and decency in the Filipino psyche as well as utilize the gut issues springing from the worsening economic crisis to spur our people onto decisive action.

7-8 October 2005