September 25, 2006

Philippine military: unreformed and anti-people

September 21 is the thirty fourth anniversary of the imposition of martial rule and the Marcos fascist dictatorship on the Filipino people. The call, “Never again!” will reverberate among the tens of thousands who will mark this day with protest rallies in several cities of the country as well as in smaller actions around the world. It will be whispered as a silent prayer by many more ordinary folk who lived through its horrors and continue to this day to suffer its destructive legacy.

It is worthwhile to focus on one pernicious aspect of those dark years that is so obviously alive today; that is, the overweening, abusive and anti-people criminal character of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Let us not forget how the despot Marcos used the military and constabulary forces as his private army to prop up his illegal, malevolent and bloody rule. For fourteen long years, they were utilized in a “dirty war” that included extrajudicial killings, involuntary disappearances, torture, prolonged illegal detention and other human rights abuses.

Part of the national euphoria that swept the country after the military revolt cum “people power” uprising toppled the Marcos dictatorship was the illusion that a truly reformed armed forces was part of the “miracle of EDSA”. On the contrary, that transmogrified institution had been allowed to emerge unscathed with its anti-people and fascist orientation and its numerous human rights violators and corrupt generals in tow.

For the record, there has not been a single conviction for human rights violations in this country. (It is only in a landmark human rights case pursued by victims in the US judicial system has Mr. Marcos been found liable.)

There has not even been a proper accounting in the manner of the Truth Commissions set up in South Africa and Latin America countries after their respective repressive regimes were overthrown. Without a doubt, the culture of impunity reigns supreme.

Thirty four years and four regimes later, the AFP continues to be used to suppress political dissent and implement a series of brutal counter-insurgency programs that have fanned rather than squelched the flames of rebellion nationwide. Consequently over the years, human right violations persist, have grown alarmingly and have worsened in their severity.

Nowhere is this most blatantly and cruelly felt than in the rural areas where the Vietnam-vintage, US counter-insurgency formula of Clear-Hold-Consolidate-Develop has been the preferred strategy implemented by the AFP.

According to Amnesty International, “From the late 1980s, the AFP pursued a ‘Total Approach’ counter-insurgency strategy, including the increased use of official militias and a toleration of unofficial ‘vigilante’ groups to ‘hold and consolidate’ CPP- NPA-influenced areas following military clearance operations by regular AFP troops. Implicit in the strategy was the aim of eroding the insurgency’s popular mass base by moving against members of legal organizations suspected of being ‘front-groups’ for the CPP-NPA.”

“Accordingly, the practice of ‘red-labeling’, by which perceived communist or leftist opponents of the government were tagged as ‘subversives’ became more pronounced. Once publicly labeled, such people were at sharply increased risk of grave human rights violation such as extrajudicial executions, ‘disappearances’, arbitrary arrest and torture.”

The counter-insurgency campaign being waged by the Arroyo regime since 2002 is called Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL). It also involves “dismantling the political infrastructure” of the revolutionary movement, which has ended up in the targeting of civilians suspected of being supportive, if not part of, the CPP-NPA. The AFP generals, aping their US counterparts, euphemistically term the consequent injuries to civilian lives and property as necessary “collateral damage”.

According to the Philippine Peace Center, OBL differs from its predecessors in its “unprecedented viciousness and brutality.”

“Whereas previous counter-insurgency campaigns involved the wanton assassination of civilians suspected of being CPP-NPA sympathizers, most of these were in NPA-controlled or influenced barrios. It is only under OBL that we see, in addition to the continuing human rights violations in the countryside, the systematic and relentless identification, demonization, harassment and finally, cold-blooded murder of leaders and activists of legal and aboveground progressive organizations and institutions, including churchpeople, lawyers and journalists, all in urban centers.”

An 2005 AFP briefing presentation “Knowing the Enemy: Are we missing the point?” made a wholesale condemnation of a wide range of activist, church and media organizations as “communist front organizations” including the Social Action Centers of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and the National Union of Journalists.

The consequences of such red-baiting are not benign and has invariably preceded summary executions by suspected agents of the state or shadowy “death squads” under their direction and supervision.

And because Mrs. Arroyo, the de facto Commander-in-chief, has called on the entire AFP to wage an “all-out war against the Left”; has appropriated billions to the renewed effort; has upheld Oplan Bantay Laya; has coddled her blood-thirsty generals and has sanctioned impunity by tolerating ineffective police investigations, she cannot be expected to be serious about putting a stop to the extrajudicial killings.

In fact, there is widespread perception that she is the one who most benefits by the summary executions of those who oppose her illegitimate rule. For one, she maintains her tenuous hold on power by eliminating her purported “enemies”. Two, she rallies the fractious AFP and PNP officers and men to focus on such “enemies” and not on her corrupt regime by lavishing them with more firepower and increased opportunities for graft and corruption. Three, she proves to the US, that she is still the most reliable flunky to run after the CPP-NPA, that resurgent revolutionary movement that the US has labeled as the most terrible of “terrorists” that it wants eliminated under the aegis of the so-called “war on terror.”

September 21 is also the day that Filipinos must reaffirm the lesson that the Arroyo regime seems bent on forgetting: dictators and would-be dictators invariably generate the resistance from the people that lead to their ignominious overthrow.


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