November 16, 2006

Or else

The headline of a widely-read national broadsheet blared: “Foreign businesses to GMA: Stop killings.” The prominence given to this development is deserved because it is unprecedented. We do not recall any instance any time in the past -- not even during the martial law years -- that the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce (JFC) or any similar grouping of foreign investors in the Philippines expressed its deep concern, or made any public statement, much more a strongly worded one, on the dire human rights situation besetting the country.

The message is very clear. It is not only an appeal; it is a warning, if not a threat: stop the killings or we pull our investments out. The threat is aimed at the jugular. It unequivocally and categorically states that failure of the government to stop the killings will affect investments and economic aid, the very things the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration hopes to attract by showing the creditors and investors -- through unabated, increased, and relentless state repression -- that she can defeat the opposition and crush the insurgency.

It is unanimous, representing all the economic powers: US, Europe, Japan and more. The unanimity -- speaking critically and with one voice -- is likewise unprecedented. Big business has been wont to turn a blind eye to values such as justice, human rights and democratic freedoms, etc. for so long as it could be assured of a stable business environment and its return on investment. The foreign chambers of commerce have certainly trumped their Filipino counterparts.

The JFC position constitutes a double whammy. The concern of foreign big business is grounded on moral-ethical values as well as the financial/business viewpoint. According to the JFC, “Such violence has no place in a modern democratic state. For the sake of justice and to deter continued killings, these murders should be investigated thoroughly and those found responsible punished under the law." It underscored “government responsibility to protect its citizens....” At the same time it urged the government “to bring an end to a serious blemish to the country’s international image, which could impact negatively on future foreign investment and foreign economic assistance.”

The presidential spokesman, Mr. Bunye, had nothing much to say. He condemned the killings anew and once more vowed action; he mumbled something about Mrs. Arroyo meeting a representative of the human rights group Amnesty International and seeking the help of the European Community in investigating the killings during her trip to Europe last month. Malacanang appealed for patience, passed the buck to the victims and their families for failing to cooperate with authorities and reminded those who cared to listen that all talk about political killings is part of an “insidious campaign to discredit the national government.”

General Razon, the police general who heads the special task force created by Mrs. Arroyo purportedly to undertake a no-nonsense investigation of the killings, did Mr. Bunye better. He questioned the credibility and motives of the human rights alliance, Karapatan, and the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP), groups that keep tabs on the number of those killed and the progress, or lack of it, in the solution of the murders. Mr. Razon attempted to belittle the magnitude and urgency of the problem of extrajudicial killings of activists, other progressives and journalists as a case of such watchdog groups’ “overstating the figures” and “manipulating the facts”.

On the other hand, he tried to parry the criticism of party list Bayan Muna, one of the hardest hit with over a hundred officials and members killed, that the police have a “zero conviction rate against all suspected perpetrators and masterminds.” Mr. Razon said that the problem was in the “proper definition” of a solved case. For the police, so long as suspects have been identified and cases filed against them, it did not really matter whether a suspect was arrested or not. The case is considered “solved.” Prosecution and a court conviction are not the concern of the police. This explains their widespread practice of conducting illegal arrests and forcing confessions though torture, the police version of “standard operating procedure”, that often result in the dismissal of the cases filed against suspects. Clearly, Mr. Razon’s preferred definition has nothing to do with the rule of law much less the pursuit of justice.

The killer explanation though is the one that the Arroyo government has been trying to bamboozle the media and the general public with: that the killing spree is the handiwork of the communists themselves. The motives range from organizational punishment for alleged wrongdoing by the victims, to infighting, to a sophisticated CPP/NPA plot to kill its own members in order to pin the blame on the government.

Unfortunately for Mrs. Arroyo’s spin doctors, groups such as the Joint Foreign Chambers, specific multinational corporations such as Wal-Mart, Gap and and Polo Ralph Lauren, the International Parliamentarians Union as well as foreign churches and faith-based institutions – all unlikely partners in an alleged “communist conspiracy” to topple the government – are not buying the official line. They are demanding both action to stop the killings and state accountability in truly solving the murders.

What is the real message that we can glean from the terse statement of concern from the institutional representatives of foreign capital? Aren’t they really saying that the unabated and unchecked killings are already bad for business and that the Arroyo government better do something to stop the killings, or else.

Or else, what, remains to be seen. It could be that some investors pull out or stay out, while the rest, the really big ones, intervene to protect their capital.

Either way it looks bad for GMA. The illegitimate occupant of Malacanang can expect to have more restless days and sleepless nights. ###


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