April 26, 2006

Prolonging her illegitimate rule

Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s announcement of a blanket
commutation of the sentences of death row convicts has triggered
another controversy of late. An assortment of critical voices,
including those of otherwise pro-government groups, accuses her of
rank political opportunism.

The common perception is that Mrs. Arroyo is merely currying favor
with the Lagdameo-led Catholic Bishops Conference of the
Philippines, after its strongly-worded pastoral letter opposing the
administration’s highly questionable moves to push Charter change.

The Catholic Church is known to be uncompromisingly opposed to the
death penalty for theological reasons and that the good bishops
would be pleased with an apparent policy shift upholding the right
to life over the state’s mandate to stamp out criminality and
enforce law and order.

On the other hand, Malacañang attributes the brouhaha to the
alleged penchant of Mrs. Arroyo’s political enemies to shoot down
every decision or action she takes in the sinister pursuit of
“destabilization” efforts that aim to remove Mrs. Arroyo from

Arroyo apologists say there is nothing new, inconsistent nor
irregular about Mrs. Arroyo’s Easter pronouncement of the wholesale
commutation of death sentences of over 1000 prisoners convicted of
heinous crimes.

But the fact is, thirteen years ago, Mrs. Arroyo while still a
senator, was the only one who abstained during the vote for the
death penalty. She said she was torn between her conscience and
her “significant constituencies” who she owed her office.

Even then the traditional politician (a euphemism for political
opportunist) in Mrs. Arroyo could not distinguish between standing
up for what is right and principled, after careful study of the
pros and cons of the issue, versus pandering to demands of interest
groups no matter how moneyed or influential. So she resorted to a
cop-out that she hoped would steer her away from controversy.

Thereafter, consistency in her stand on the death penalty can only
be found in the way the political winds blow for a specific period.
Whenever there was a need to demonstrate her determination to run
after criminal elements, e.g. during a rash of Binondo kidnappings
that challenge her administration’s claim to maintenance of law and
order, Mrs. Arroyo would invoke her regime’s unwavering adherence
to the death penalty. When the Catholic Church hierarchy however
would intercede in behalf of some prisoners already scheduled for
lethal injection, she would soften her stand.

It appears that Mrs. Arroyo, sensing a probable collision course
with the less pliant Lagdameo-led CBCP, has lined up a series of
policy-decisions and programs that would entice the bishops to
either keep quiet or be more sympathetic to her administration.

What’s more, most people still remember the regime’s Strong
Republic rhetoric extolling strong-arm methods versus those labeled
as “enemies of the state”; the photo opportunities of the
Commander-in-chief with dead bodies of criminal suspects lying on
the pavement, fresh from an alleged shoot-out with the police; the
violent dispersals of mass protest actions; and the brutal
suppression of the rights of free speech and a free press by the
warrant less arrests of progressives and police raids on newspaper

How can we reconcile Mrs. Arroyo’s new-found respect for the
sacredness of life with her eerie silence on the unabated
extrajudicial killings of political and social activists,
journalists, party-list leaders and members, human rights advocates
and even ordinary people suspected of being actual or potential
sympathizers of the New People’s Army.

To top it all, how does government explain the speedy promotion and
official accolades for a notorious human rights violator, General
Jovito Palparan, who brazenly justifies the killings by declaring
that some amount of “collateral damage” is necessary to win the
counter-insurgency war against the communists?

The human rights group Karapatan (that has been tagged by the
military as a rebel front organization in its documentary “Know thy
Enemy”) reports that 556 civilians were killed by military and
paramilitary death squads in the five-year period of the
Macapagal-Arroyo presidency while 199 other civilians survived the
attempt on their lives. All these cases involved critics and
opponents of the Arroyo regime or those believed to be so by the
military and police.

If Mrs. Arroyo’s touted faith in her god and fealty to her church
is to be taken seriously, much more if she has the political will
to uphold human rights and protect the citizenry from the tyranny
and abuse of military and police forces, why can’t she issue a
categorical statement calling for an end to these extrajudicial

Why can’t she send a clear message to all and sundry, most
especially to her generals all the way down the chain of command,
that she will not tolerate any more of these brazen murders and the
accompanying mayhem that government’s counter-insurgency campaigns
have been creating in the countryside.

Civil libertarians, progressives and even liberal democrats are
convinced that the Philippines’ death squads are given license to
operate freely and with impunity in tandem with the regular forces
of the military that are utilized in turn to trample on the lives
and liberties of entire communities in the guise of

As such, extrajudicial killings are a part and parcel of
state-sponsored terrorism, as the Arroyo regime practices it, for
the purpose of contributing to the US-led “war on terror” and to
put a lid on the boiling social unrest, the rebelliousness among
the officers and men of the AFP and PNP and the growing people’s
movement calling for Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation or ouster.

It now becomes exceedingly clear that her pronouncement regarding
the death penalty has nothing to do with sparing human life
because it is sacred, but has everything to do with sparing her own
illegitimate presidency from being condemned and terminated, an
eventuality which has her utterly scared.#


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