November 25, 2005

Political ennui

The wonders of technology can be a curse. With “texting”, bad news seems to fly fast and thick, now more than ever. How many times in the past 11 months have we been enraged and saddened by news of yet another political killing, another abduction, another grisly massacre by military or police forces.

It has gotten so bad that people seem to be inured to the spate of killings and other human rights violations. To some extent the propaganda line of government that the victims are so-called terrorists, criminals or rebels serve to blunt the outrage. For activists, rather than be paralyzed into fear and inaction, many try to take such terrible news in stride.

For here you are trying to oust a god-awful president, who is turning out to be much more scheming, with no moral compunction whatsoever, than any “trapo” one has had the displeasure of dealing with in the last twenty years since the Dictator Marcos was overthrown.

There you are trying to fight the latest man-made disasters afflicting the country such as the E-vat, run-away oil prices and the spiraling cost of living amid a general decline in the peso purchasing power and the wage-freeze policy of government.

Then there are the loftier issues one just can’t refuse to take up such as national sovereignty, patrimony and dignity, in light of treasonous government actions like the Venable lobby contract, the handling of the gang-rape case against six US soldiers, etc.

On top of these, one has to rush to investigate the latest atrocity; lend succor to the most recent human rights victims and their families; condemn the perpetrators and the masterminds alike and call for an impartial investigation and swift punishment, knowing fully well that is unlikely to happen.

All the while, one watches one’s back. One learns to be on the look out for motorcycle-riding assassins and suspicious-looking characters lurking outside the home and office.
We wonder who’s next in the government’s hit list but we try not to be distracted.

Upon hearing of the recent massacre of unarmed farmers in Palo, Leyte by elements of the army’s 19th IB many have been moved to ask: Why is it taking so long to oust GMA? What happened to “people power” and why are the disgruntled military forces taking such a long time to make their move?

The impatience is palpable and understandable. However it must be recalled that the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship took 13 long and arduous years of struggle, including three years of intense and massive demonstrations sparked by Ninoy Aquino’s assassination, the agitation and mobilization set off by the “snap elections” and the armed struggle ablaze in the countryside that sapped the military strength as well as the political viability of the regime.

On the other hand, the ouster of Joseph “Erap” Estrada was relatively quick, what with the extreme isolation of his administration and the formidable array of right, middle and left political forces that united, with the foremost objective of bringing about his downfall. Indeed it was a precipitous fall for a president whose initial popularity with the masses seemed to make him invincible. Too bad EDSA II merely ushered in the oppressive Arroyo presidency and not much else.

Short of a revolutionary upheaval where the existing political, economic and social system is turned upside down and the democratic classes and sectors gain control of government, it will still require the mass mobilization of hundreds of thousands of the people capped by the withdrawal of support by the military to effect the removal of the current tenant in Malacañang.

No amount of wishful thinking and press releases – such as the ineffectual ultimatums of the Black and White Movement (that brings together the “civil society” groups under the umbrella of the notorious CODE-NGO, big business such as the Ayala corporation and the Makati Business Club and personalities such as Cory Aquino, all formerly under the umbrella of KOMPIL II) and the grandstanding of the Coalition for National Salvation/Christians for National Unity that recently held a so-called “Malolos Congress” – will bring about the removal of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

On the other hand, the preoccupation with and pining for a “quick solution” via the adventurism of anti-GMA groups in the military is fraught with danger and is ultimately counterproductive. There is a tendency to yield the initiative and eventually the leadership of the anti-GMA broad alliance to military officers who, no matter how anti-GMA, still have a long way to go to shed their fascist and anti-people orientation and practice.

We can no longer merely wait for a spontaneous “people power” that relies heavily on the sheer drawing power of charismatic figures like the late Cardinal Sin, Cory Aquino and the great nationalists and democrats like Lorenzo Tanada, Jose Diokno and Chino Roces. Unfortunately there is no such overarching, uniting figure at present.

Thus there is no substitute for honest to goodness education and information campaigns among the people, both the basic sectors and the middle forces, on the reasons why Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo must step down and how the people can make this happen.

Anti-GMA groups and personalities must go deep among their respective constituencies to raise their political awareness and prepare them for the uphill struggle against the ruthless, cunning and murderous Arroyo regime.

Progressive groups that are the objects of anti-Left prejudice whipped up by the reactionaries in and out of power, must overcome these initial disadvantages and reach out to the broadest and most numerous sections of the populace through widespread organizing efforts.

Not surprisingly, it is the Arroyo regime and its paid hacks and opportunist political allies that are resorting to the most cynical and most immoral arguments to justify the continued existence of the illegitimate Arroyo presidency.

The quest for truth, a just society and a morally upright, pro-Filipino and pro-people government must be the unswerving raison d’etre of the broad alliance that seeks
to do away with the rotten Arroyo regime and put in its stead a transition government that can initiate the meaningful political and socioeconomic reforms our people demand.

25-26 Nov. 2005

November 18, 2005

A policy of extrajudicial killings

The pattern of summary executions, official cover-up, impunity for perpetrators of gross and systematic human rights violations and even reward for top military and police officials responsible for such travesty leads to the inescapable conclusion that extrajudicial killings has become national policy under the administration of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

DILG Secretary Angelo Reyes insults our intelligence when he smugly stands by his men, police operatives of the Traffic Management Group (TNG) Task Force Limbas, accused of executing three suspect carnappers as they lay wounded and dying, after a purported shoot-out with the police last November 7.

Mr. Reyes immediately lauded the TMG team that had conducted the “successful” operation when video footages of the crime scene surfaced raising serious doubts about the police report of a shoot-out and instead pointing to a likely rub-out of the alleged car thieves.

Ten officers were relieved from their posts pending inquiry into whether they followed the rules of engagement during the clash. A day after, PNP Chief Arturo Lomibao reinstated them, saying that he did not want to demoralize the police force by appearing to punish those who were merely doing their jobs.

Subsequently, a TMG investigating team cleared their own men citing police crime lab reports that at least two of the suspects were positive for powder burns and that a slug recovered from one of the injured officers during the shootout came from one of the slain suspects' gun.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales also publicly exonerated the involved policemen stating that since the three suspects were already dead anyway when they were shot at close range by the policemen, the latter had done nothing wrong. (Is there a law against making sure that a criminal suspect is deader than dead and can’t shoot back?).

Contrary to Mr. Gonzales’ baseless speculation that the three men were already lifeless when more bullets were pumped into them, forensic expert Dr. Rachel Fortun and other medical experts opine that at least two could have survived their initial wounds had they been given emergency medical attention after the alleged clash.

Too bad for the 10 cops and their defenders, more video footages show the policemen apparently planting a gun and other incriminating evidence in the scene of the crime.

The cover-up of the extrajudicial execution of the three suspects now clearly goes all the way up to a least two cabinet officials and the chief of the PNP, yet Malacañang continues to defend the accused policemen stressing that they are entitled to be presumed innocent and may have been acting based on “self-preservation”.

Mrs. Arroyo herself is tightlipped about the latest black mark on the PNP. She has not even barked her usual orders to the PNP to carry out a “thorough investigation” and “bring the perpetrators to justice”.

A year has passed since the Hacienda Luisita Massacre and apparently the government considers the matter closed. But what has it got to show in terms of investigating the facts and circumstances surrounding the bloody carnage that involved hundreds of police and military men and private guards of the Cojuangco-owned hacienda?

A 422-page compilation of affidavits, reference materials and other documentary evidence dated January 2005 which the PNP described as the “Final Report of the PNP Investigation Committee on the November 16, 2004 incident at Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac” concluded that the PNP was blameless.

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) undertook the task of poring over the PNP report to find out the police version of what happened at the Hacienda Luisita (HL) massacre and who were responsible.

It found the report replete with outright lies and other spurious claims. One is the claim that police forces had exercised “maximum tolerance” and had attempted to negotiate with strikers before they commenced on the use of water cannon, teargas, an armored personnel carrier and gunfire with state forces charging into the strikers’ fleeing ranks with truncheons flailing.

According to Bayan, “Contrary to these claims and exceeding the bounds of their authority, the PNP had in fact already decided on the legality of the strike in Hacienda Luisita long before the DOLE issued the return-to-work order on the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) on 10 November 2004. The PNP … did this by launching unprovoked and unjustified dispersal operations on the first and second days of the strike, that is, on Nov. 6 and 7, 2004.”

The PNP report also claims that the initial gunfire had come from the ranks of the strikers despite the fact that not a single policeman or soldier sustained any gunshot wounds.

According to Bayan, “The victims’ accounts, their medical certificates, autopsy reports of the dead strikers and other documents show that many of them sustained frontal wounds. They were shot in the chest, arms, and other parts of the body while facing Gate 1 (where the police and military forces were positioned) during the first volley of gunfire.”

The alliance added, “Gunfire also came from the back of the strikers when they turned their back to Gate 1 and scampered away. Several witnesses pointed to snipers --armed plainclothesmen -- pre-positioned …sugar mill compound even before the violent dispersal operation started.”

The report predictably utilized the communist bogey when it insisted that the PNP had gathered evidence that “confirms the presence and participation (of the NPA) in the strike…” without stating what that evidence was and even admitting that such “evidence gathered against alleged members of the NPA will not suffice for their criminal prosecution.”

Moreover, the report reveals the deliberate incompetence of police investigators in the way they allowed unauthorized and unidentified persons to enter the crime scene and tamper with material evidence such as spent bullet shells. Thereafter, such tampered evidence were accepted as basis for their deliberately sloppy investigation.

The PNP report is completely silent about the police barricade and military takeover of San Martin de Porres Hospital before, during and after the dispersal. Bayan investigation turned up this fact and raises questions about whether the PNP and AFP planned the violent dispersal and subsequent mopping up operations way ahead of any so-called provocation by the strikers.
Bayan concludes, “The PNP report is a documented attempt by government authorities to cover up what really happened, exculpate government responsibility as well as support and strengthen the unfounded claims by the Cojuangcos that the strike is illegal and that the concerted actions by the CATLU and ULWU members were instigated and infiltrated by the NPA.”

Yet the PNP remains inutile in addressing the series of crimes perpetrated against the striking workers of and their supporters even after the massacre. We reiterate that no substantial investigation has been made on the assassinations of peasant leader Marcelino Beltran, Tarlac City Councilor Abel Ladera, religious leader Fr. William Tadena and most recently, Ric Ramos, CATLU president. In the latter’s case, several witnesses have implicated military men, members of a Special Operations Team assigned to HL, under the command of Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan but no arrests of suspects have been made.

And the killings continue.

Political killings by government-directed death squads of leaders of progressive party lists and people’s organizations, activists and ordinary folk who government claims are NPA-in-disguise or in-the-making.

Gangland-type killings of supposed armed and dangerous members of criminal syndicates by “overzealous” police task forces.

The extermination of leaders and members of “terrorist” bands long pronounced by government authorities as neutralized and moribund, during military and police operations in Moro communities. And so on.

Meanwhile Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, her cabal of militarists and fascists, her retinue of bootlickers and apologists, all vigorously invoke the “rule of law” as they arrogantly kill as well -- the truth, accountability of leadership, and any shred of moral uprightness and decency in government -- as this illegitimate president desperately clings to power, plunging the nation deeper and deeper in irresolvable crisis.

18-19 Nov. 2005

November 11, 2005

Injustice amidst subservience

The chances that justice will come for the 22-year-old Filipina who has accused 6 US servicemen of raping her last November 1 inside the former US base in Subic, Olongapo City is no better than previous cases of rape and even homicide that were lodged against members of the US military during the heyday of the US bases in the country.

During that time, poor Filipinos scavenging for scrap material inside the fenced-off base area were shot at like wild pigs, apparently not so much for security reasons but as target practice for bored soldiers manning security outposts. No cases of rape or manslaughter have ever been successfully pursued till the perpetrators get their just desserts because of the sheer lopsided status of the Filipino victims versus their American tormentors.

Thus the Philippines has the dubious distinction of having a long history of US servicemen guilty of grievous, if not heinous, crimes getting away scot-free, completely beyond the reach of Philippine judicial processes.

Were the laws of the land paramount, the six suspects would be in jail by now or at least preliminary investigation could be accelerated to ensure that they do not go into hiding or skip town.

The Filipino public is especially quick to be roused to sympathize with a rape victim, despite the still pervasive macho culture, because of the feudal and Roman Catholic value given to a woman’s chastity, especially that of a young woman.

Sometimes, when the victim is clearly dejado or disadvantaged by socio-economic status, there can even be a backlash against the perpetrators if they happen to be scions of rich families who are perceived to be abusing their privileged positions in society to get away with their crimes and misdemeanors.

But this is not an ordinary criminal case involving another Filipino whereby Philippine jurisdiction over the case would be undisputed. What has immediately been invoked both by US and Philippine authorities is the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that, despite merely being considered an “executive agreement” by the US government, appears to supervene the national laws of this land, including the Revised Penal Code that covers heinous crimes such as gang rape.
As opponents of the VFA had argued all the way to the Supreme Court, the VFA institutionalized a set-up that no self-respecting independent nation would have accepted.

Concretely, under the VFA , US servicemen who are suspects in the commission, even of heinous crimes, are not automatically under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Philippine government.
Art. V, paragraphs 3 (a) and 3 (b) state that U.S. military authorities have exclusive jurisdiction over offenses punishable under Philippine law as long as these are also punishable under the “criminal and disciplinary jurisdiction” conferred upon U.S. authorities by military law, (underscoring ours) and of offenses arising out of performance of official duty.

We aver that indeed, this is the provision that is used to assert US jurisdiction in this case since by no stretch of the imagination can rape be considered an offense “arising out of performance of official duty”.

Of course, the US government could accede to an assertion by the Philippine government of jurisdiction over the rape case because if its “particular importance to the Philippines” but as of press time, we have not heard of any such position taken by the Arroyo administration. Malacañang has so far been meekly accepting US custody and jurisdiction.

Furthermore, contrary to the pronouncements of the Department of Justice that the Philippines will get custody of the six accused US servicemen when arrests warrants have been issued, the VFA stipulates otherwise. Thus it is the US government’s position that “until proven guilty” the accused will remain in US custody and will only “be made available” to local judicial proceedings.
The latest admission by the Presidential Commission on the RP-US VFA is that the Philippine government is helpless should the US government choose to bring the six accused out of the Philippines since the VFA has “no qualification” as to where exactly an accused can be held.
Nonetheless, the VFA is not the ultimate culprit. Even without invoking the VFA, US and Philippine authorities have collaborated to whisk away beyond the reach of Philippine law no less than a suspected terrorist bomber who left a trail of circumstantial evidence that he was or had been a CIA agent.

This was in 2002, in Evergreen Hotel in Davao City, when a certain Michael Meiring, a South African-born American citizen and self-proclaimed treasure hunter, caused injury to himself and damage to hotel property when he accidentally detonated a bomb he had been assembling.
Despite severe injury to his two legs and arrest warrants for illegal possession of firearm and ammunition issued by local authorities Meiring was able to elude arrest.

From the Davao hospital, Meiring vanished and eventually managed to leave the Philippines apparently with the help of officials from the United States Embassy which, of course, issued a denial of any involvement in Meiring's departure. It stands to reason that other government officials at the national level also facilitated the escape of the suspected terrorist.

Now the Arroyo government has the gall to argue that the absence of an Anti-terrorism Bill (ATB) is the reason terrorists, local and foreign, get away with impunity. Meanwhile people are being killed, maimed and harassed in the name of “upholding the rule of law” and counterterrorism.

Indeed Malacañang and its supporters have argued ad nauseum that the “calibrated preemptive response” or CPR, the ATB, and all the armamentarium of a so-called “strong republic” are needed to safeguard ordinary citizens’ rights and lives from destabilizers and terrorists.
Our tart response: Tell that to the marines. This government must first prove itself capable of protecting its own citizens against the depredations of foreign criminal elements not to mention asserting the country’s sovereignty and dignity against the almighty United States of America.

Nov. 11-12, 2005

November 04, 2005

Getting away with murder

One never gets used to these things. Political killings of activists, trade union and peasant leaders, human rights lawyers and advocates, the plain masa whose only crime is that their oppressors suspect they are growing wise to their oppression and may soon learn the ways of rebellion.

One never gets used to the anguish or even the quiet grieving of the widows and orphans: it is they, more then anyone else, who will have to bear with the sudden void in their lives left by a slain spouse, parent, son or daughter, often the sole breadwinner and guiding light of the family.

No matter that political experience has taught you that the struggle against exploitation and oppression invariably exacts its price; that the exploiters and oppressors will fight back with all the ruthlessness, cunning and brutality at their disposal to keep their pelf and privilege and eliminate those who would dare challenge the status quo.

Many more will pay that price before the dawn of freedom, justice, peace and prosperity can reign in this seemingly god-forsaken country.

In fact there is nothing new in the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of progressive leaders, activists and even their hapless sympathizers. The long list includes labor lawyer Hermon Lagman, Redemptorist priest Rudy Romano, medical doctor Bobby de la Paz, Igorot leader Macliing Dulag, student leaders Edgar Jopson and Lorena Barros, and opposition leader Ninoy Aquino -- along with tens of thousands of nameless and faceless farmers, striking workers, urban poor slum dwellers, church people, students and even professionals killed during the martial law years.

Most of them were suspected or held by government to be rebels/communists/dissident terrorists; the perpetrators were known or widely believed to be military/police/para-military, in other words, armed agents of the state.

The killings did not stop after the overthrow of the US-backed Marcos dictatorship and the formal trappings of so-called democracy were restored. Again the list grows longer: Bayan and Kilusang Mayo Uno Chairperson Rolando Olalia, Bayan Secretary-General Lean Alejandro and a host of human rights lawyers, who stood up to the almighty power of the state and sought justice for their clients, only to be cut down themselves by the assassins’ bullet.

There is nothing new either in the wave of extrajudicial killings under the GMA regime. There is nothing new with the fact that perpetrators are getting away with cold-blooded murder. Impunity is the name of the game in this country where government likes to pretend the rule of law prevails.

What is most alarming and appalling, however, is the intensity and frequency of such brazen murders, five of them in 24 hours in the most recent cases in Central Luzon, as well as the pattern of deliberate targeting of unarmed activists and people’s leaders after a campaign of demonification by the military and other right-wing forces has set them up for the kill.

The silence and inaction of the regime of Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo -- unlike previous regimes including that of the Marcos fascist dictatorship that at least feigned concern as much as professed innocence -- is not just a sign of callousness but a signal of approval.

The state continues to give the unmistakable green light to its forces that they can continue hitting government critics, especially those who have been branded as “communist terrorists” under the pretext of “counterterrorism”, “counter-destabilization” and that oft-repeated phrase now bereft of any meaning – “rule of law”.

Indeed the state is laying the ground for increasing repression, specifically pushing for the immediate enactment of an anti-terrorism law. This is the law that the Arroyo regime claims will provide the state with the means to go after purported terrorists but is raising the hackles of some of its erstwhile authors in Congress for being vague, overbroad and draconian in its measures that it can easily be used against legitimate opposition and dissent.

Especially with the sullied track record of the police and military institutions, the abuse of authority and trampling of the people’s democratic rights is bound to follow the enactment of the GMA anti-terrorism bill.

How is it possible that despite the legacy of the people’s struggle against fascist tyranny, despite the blood of so many heroes and martyrs spilled in the fight against unspeakable oppression, the GMA regime is emboldened and expects to get away with its policy of state terrorism?

We venture to say that the anti-terrorist hysteria stirred up by the 9-11 bombings and the subsequent US “war on terror” coupled with the anti-terrorist hype stirred in turn by the GMA regime and aided immeasurably by bombings in Mindanao and Metro-Manila (allegedly the handiwork of shadowy groups remarkable for their amoeba-like ability to multiply despite all-out campaigns of suppression by government) have a lot to do with it.

Another key factor is the intensity of current red-baiting. This includes everything from publications to power-point presentations to anti-communist slogans sprayed in red paint on any available blank space in the streets; where progressive groups and specific individuals have been vilified and listed as “enemies of the state”.

Soldiers, police, paramilitary units are especially brainwashed with this anti-communist propaganda that has the added twist of deliberately obscuring the distinction of combatants from non-combatants, legal from illegal and armed from unarmed targets of punitive operations by state forces.

As explained by the notorious anti-communist headhunter, Gen. Jovito Palparan, activists inevitably transform into guerillas of the New People’s Army, so may as well “neutralize” and “eliminate” them before that happens. Just like the Marcos years, the Arroyo regime is not lacking in heartless butchers ready and willing to carry out even criminal acts in its anti-insurgency, aka anti-terrorism, campaigns.

It is Mrs. Arroyo’s well-grounded fear of suffering the same fate as her predecessor, Joseph Estrada -- of being overthrown, jailed and haled to court -- that is driving her and her equally spooked toadies and henchmen to resort to murder and mayhem in a systematic fashion.

The GMA regime is also shamelessly aping the Bush regime, its mentor and chief backer in utilizing “counter-terrorism” as pretext for fascist measures. The Bush regime has used the “war on terror” to instill fear in the hearts of American people. It has succeeded in papering over the issue of legitimacy raised against it in the aftermath of proven electoral fraud, especially in Florida, and of shoring up and securing bipartisan support.

The GMA regime is attempting to do the same trick with little success.

US President Bush himself is fast losing his political support with the US public quickly realizing how his regime screwed them on Iraq, was next to useless in the aftermath of the Katrina disaster and is leading them to economic ruin in the wake of its disastrous domestic and foreign policies.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should pay heed.

Business World
4-5 Nov 2005