February 22, 2007

The Alston Report

The initial report of UN rapporteur Philip Alston on his investigation into extrajudicial killings in the Philippines has vindicated the position of the victims’ families and zealous advocates of justice for the victims such as the human rights organization Karapatan, activist people’s organizations and a host of local and international faith-based, academic and professional groups and institutions that took up the cudgels for the victims. In sum, according to Mr. Alston, extrajudicial killings are a fact, they are significant in number and impact, and government is responsible for a “climate of virtual impunity” that allows the killers to get away with their crimes and for the killings to continue unimpeded.

The UN report constitutes a stinging rebuke of the chorus of denials that have consistently been issued by the de facto President Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, the high Cabinet officials who compose the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security (COC-IS) as well as the heads of the armed forces and the police about the existence of the problem of extrajudicial killings and its underlying as well as proximate causes.

Mr. Alston stressed, “The impact of even a limited number of killings of the type alleged is corrosive in many ways. It intimidates vast numbers of civil society actors, it sends a message of vulnerability to all but the most well connected, and it severely undermines the political discourse which is central to a resolution of the problems confronting this country.”

Furthermore, Mr. Alston categorically rejected the explanations proffered by government that the killings are first, mere propaganda by the CPP-NPA and their “front organizations”; second, they are fabricated and thus overblown; third, they can be explained by “purges” among and within the communist movement; and fourth, the very few attributable to the AFP are undertaken by so-called “rogue elements” and thereby do not reflect on the entire military establishment.

He clearly pointed the finger in the direction of the military establishment in so far as the perpetrators of a majority of these killings. He upbraided the inability of the judicial system to render justice due to government’s failure to undertake effective police investigations that lead to actual prosecution and punishment of the guilty parties.

Apparently, Mr. Alston did not buy the line that the Arroyo government had been trying so hard to sell: that the existence of a tough and long-running communist insurgency with a sophisticated and extensive infrastructure of political support from its rural mass base to the urban centers including Congress itself necessitates a policy of constricting, if not totally eliminating, the “legitimate space for leftist political groups”.

He correctly observed that while “neither the party-list system nor the repeal of the Anti-Subversion Act has been reversed by Congress…the executive branch, openly and enthusiastically aided by the military, has worked resolutely to circumvent the spirit of these legislative decisions by trying to impede the work of the party-list groups and to put in question their right to operate freely.”

Mr. Alston concedes that while such moves may be “… non-violent in conception, there are cases in which it has, certainly at the local level, spilled over into decisions to extra judicially execute those who cannot be reached by legal process.” (Read: Because the government is hard put to file and pursue the appropriate legal cases against these unarmed, aboveground activists they are justified in resorting to extrajudicial killings to permanently eliminate the nagging problem of subversion and support for the revolutionary armed struggle.)

Surprisingly, the Alston report already took note that “the increase in extrajudicial executions in recent years is attributable, at least in part, to a shift in counterinsurgency strategy…” Specifically, “in some areas, an appeal to hearts-and-minds is combined with an attempt to vilify left-leaning organizations and to intimidate leaders of such organizations. In some instances, such intimidation escalates into extrajudicial execution.”

Having acknowledged the major positive points in the initial findings, we must however point out the glaring inconsistencies and contradictory assertions of the report. What stand out are the conclusions regarding the solitary culpability of the AFP together with the hasty and categorical absolution of the highest political authority in the Arroyo regime. According to Mr. Alston, "I do not believe that there is a clear policy at the top designed to, or which directs that these killings take place," he said. "I am clear on that."

No proof that killings were given the go signal at the top? Wherefore the Oplan Bantay Laya I, the comprehensive counter-insurgency plan that has been in place since 2002, and the new OBL II that started last year? Mrs. Arroyo claims not only that she is President but that she is also the bonafide Commander-in-Chief. Mrs. Arroyo is not being held hostage by the military but is fully in agreement with and has sanctioned what Mr. Alston has so far only described as a “shift in counter-insurgency strategy” that has spawned extrajudicial killings.

Impunity? Why does Mrs. Arroyo allow the military establishment to treat accusations of human rights violations so cavalierly? Why are there no serious investigations by the police but instead flat denials and covers-up? Why has Mrs. Arroyo given quick promotions to the likes of General Palparan, not to mention singling him out in the State-of the-Nation address, heaping him with praises and giving unqualified affirmation to his controversial counter-insurgency methods?

The Task Force Usig and the Melo Commission were not so much a show of good faith on the part of Mrs. Arryo in responding to the allegations but belated moves in reaction to the growing denunciation of her government’s blackened human rights record. These were intended to help cover-up the Arroyo regime’s culpability in the political killings by engaging in the grand deception of setting up a so-called “independent and powerful investigative commission”. The Melo Commission never gained even a modicum of trust and confidence from the survivors of attempted killings and the murdered victims’ families.

That the Melo Commission report would only be disclosed to the public after the European Union representative and the UN Rapporteur demanded it indicates that the most credible and dramatic parts of the report had been released earlier only for propaganda purposes. Recall that Mrs. Arroyo used the Palace’s press release about the Melo Commission report to repeat the canard that the extrajudicial killings were overstated and that the CPP-NPA were behind them.

Mr. Alston chides the armed forces for “being in a state of almost total denial of its need to respond effectively and authentically to the significant number of killings which have been convincingly attributed to them.” What he misses is that it is the entire Arroyo regime, starting with Mrs. Arroyo herself, that has been in complete and absolute denial of the truth.

Unfortunately, the Alston Report fails to strike at the heart of what causes the killings and thus, as one death squad survivor predicted, more killings are bound to ensue. It will be up to the Filipino people to finally put a stop to them by putting an end to the US-backed Arroyo regime that is the real brains behind the state policy of extrajudicial killings.###

February 16, 2007

Wolf in sheep's clothing

How ironic that while the rest of the world, including the people of the USA, are waking up to the Bush administration’s big fat lies about the “war on terror”, Filipinos continue to be fed with the same sort of lies by the Arroyo regime. In fact the latter is in the process of completing the railroading of a so-called Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB) that is the result of high-profile lobbying as well as arm-twisting by high officials of the Bush government. A two-day special session of the Lower House of Congress has been called by Mrs. Arroyo to ratify the bill so that she can quickly sign it into law.

The Bush administration, bent on establishing unchallenged US economic, political and military domination over the world, seized the horrific events of 9/11 to generate mass paranoia about “terrorism” (or what it labeled as “terrorism”) and blind support for what it trumpets is a “war on terror” but which is in fact an imperialist war of terror.

In the process it has funneled hundreds of billions to favored contractors in the military-industrial complex, let loose the dogs of war in the unjust invasion, occupation and destruction of Afghanistan and Iraq, enacted repressive laws such as the US PATRIOT ACT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and caused the unprecedented flouting of international human rights and humanitarian law standards by allowing the use of torture and inhumane treatment on prisoners accused of “terrorism” and denying them basic legal rights to defend themselves in a court of law.

Imposing a black or white, “either you are with us or against us” kind of politico-military alignment, the US has hoodwinked, inveigled and pretty much threatened the rest of the world to join or support its wars of aggression and intervention in the guise of fighting a borderless, indeterminate war against “terrorism”.

It is in this true context that we are witnessing the enactment in our country of the “Human Security Act of 2007” or “An Act to Secure the State and Protect the People from Terrorism” that is meant to mislead and camouflage the inhuman character and object of the bill.

While earlier versions of the bill were undisguised pieces of fascist legislation that were clearly an affront on the people’s civil, political and human rights, and thus could not stand muster in a senate that has a predominantly oppositionist make-up (not to mention a smattering of senators posturing as human rights defenders) this final bicameral bill is said to have been “defanged” to the point of being harmless.

We vehemently disagree. The Anti-Terrorism Bill that House Speaker de Venecia is itching to pass under his leadership and Mrs. Arroyo is aching to sign (as she herself announced) is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Simply put, the proposed bill lays the legal basis for an undeclared martial rule or the return to a fascist dictatorship disguised as merely being part and parcel of the US-led “war on terror”. The claimed “safety nets” against abuse that erstwhile opponents have introduced are ineffectual and a sham.

The US-backed Arroyo regime and its military and police minions can still use the ATB to outlaw and suppress all legal dissent and opposition by unilaterally declaring these as “terrorist” on the basis of manufactured intelligence reports and the claims of false witnesses. They also have the law to back them up when they interchangeably label “rebels” as “terrorists”. In one fell stroke they will have demonized the former and reduced a revolutionary armed movement with the undisputed history of fighting the Marcos fascist dictatorship and struggling for fundamental reforms into nothing but a bunch of heartless, despicable criminals.

The bill pays lip service to "uphold(ing) the basic and fundamental rights of the people..." then proceeds to enumerate the ways in which those rights are to be undermined and attacked.

Concretely, “terrorism” suspects will be denied due process and the presumption of innocence. A person can be deprived of his liberty, the right to travel and the right to communicate (even by means of a telephone) on the mere suspicion of terrorism and even where “evidence of guilt is not strong”.

For example, Sec. 26 states: “In cases where evidence of guilt is not strong, and the person charged is …granted... bail, the court shall …limit the right of travel of the accused to within the municipality or city where he resides. He or she may also be placed under house arrest by order of the court… While under house arrest, he or she may not use telephones, cell phones, emails, computers, the internet or other means of communications with people outside his residence until otherwise ordered by the court.”

Under Sec. 19, in the event of alleged “actual or imminent terrorist attack”, suspects may be detained for 48 hours without warrant. Municipal, city, provincial or regional human rights commission officials are authorized to order the detention of suspected terrorists beyond 48 hours. This is a clear violation of the Sec. 18, Article VII of the Constitution which provides that “During the suspension of the privilege of the writ, any person thus arrested or detained shall be judicially charged within three days, otherwise he shall be released.”

With the evidence for an “imminent” terrorist attack easily concocted by the military or police, who have the nasty habit of giving false warnings about New People’s Army and/or Muslim rebels infiltrating rallies and demonstrations to sow terror, any person suspected of rebellion or insurrection, which are, by the way, considered terrorist acts under Sec. 3 of the Bill, may now be detained indefinitely upon orders of a municipal officer.

Thus will the ATB be used additionally to the current jurisprudence on warrantless arrests of suspected rebels that has been abused for the longest time as in the celebrated case of Anakpawis representative Crispin Beltran.

Human rights lawyers and civil libertarians have all pointed to many more reprehensible provisions of the anti-terror law including the dangerously vague and broad definition of “terrorism” virtually wiping out legitimate protest and demolishing the peace processes with the communist and Muslim separatist revolutionary movements; the illegalization of organizations declared as “terrorist” by an Anti-Terrorism Council headed by Mrs. Arroyo and packed by the most hard-line militarist and fascists in her Cabinet; an intensified and indiscriminate wiretapping that will do away with constitutional guarantees to privacy and will render government critics and opponents vulnerable to unfair prosecution and political persecution.

Why all the rush to pass the bill before the elections? Apart from being a feather in the cap for the Arroyo-de Venecia clique, both eager to please their US backers as they face a problematic mid-term elections, we believe this fascist legislation is being readied for the expected backlash against the anticipated systematic and wholesale cheating by the Arroyo administration in the coming May polls.#

*Published in Business World
16-17 February 2007

February 08, 2007

Elections: a critical view

Not a few friends and even fellow activists have asked whether the right thing to do in the coming May polls is simply to boycott the darned thing what with the numerous signs that bode ill for an honest, fair and clean elections that would give a fighting chance for the electoral Opposition to win a significant number of congressional and local government seats.

The discredited head of the Commission on Elections refuses to relinquish the job while failing to undertake any major reforms such as the dismantling of the entrenched cheating mafia that has taken hold of the supposedly independent body. This “dagdag-bawas” machinery was allegedly run by the infamous Commissioner Garcellano who is said to have manufactured Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s spurious win in the 2004 presidential contest.

For her part, Mrs. Arroyo has not heeded calls from the Catholic hierarchy, concerned citizens and its many critics that she, as a gesture of good will, appoint new commissioners to vacant positions who are above reproach and can restore the requisite modicum of impartiality and credibility to the Comelec.

Mrs. Arroyo’s new Defense Secretary is widely perceived to have been involved in the “Hello Garci” high-level and wholesale cheating including its cover-up, with his latest appointment to a coveted post both a reward and political insurance for Mrs. Arroyo. He has, contrary to pronouncements by his predecessor, announced that the armed forces will continue to play its controversial role in “securing peace and order” during the electoral exercise. This is interpreted by many quarters as a flimsy cover for the rampant use of the military once more in favor of Mrs. Arroyo’s candidates.

Some people have been turned off, to the point of giving up any hope in the electoral process, due to the facile switching of sides by supposed anti-GMA opposition figures, who have opportunistically hopped onto the administration’s senatorial wagon. Furthermore, they exclaim in exasperation, don’t Filipinos deserve a better choice than candidates of the pretender-president Gloria versus those anointed by the ousted president Erap?

Many quarters are correct in asserting that the call for Mrs. Arroyo to resign or face ouster still rings true given the illegitimacy of its lying, cheating, stealing and, may we add, murderous and puppet presidency. But the fact that GMA is still in power shows that conditions are not ripe for her extra-constitutional removal given the remaining, formidable forces propping her up vis a vis the current strengths and weaknesses of the broad anti-GMA united front.

A reckoning of GMA’s support would start with continued US backing for its pliant, eager-to-please puppet regime that is deathly afraid of being found wanting in serving the Superpower’s interests in the country and the region. On the other hand, the Bush administration is a lame duck government facing heightening resistance to its policies at home and abroad.

The AFP/PNP, while wracked by dissension among its rank and file and young officer corps, remains loyal to Mrs. Arroyo who has found the right mix of higher budgets to feed the hungry maws of the extremely corrupt and wasteful military and police institutions, abetting illegal gambling and other criminal activities of the generals and senior officers and whipping up their appetite for a bloody counter-insurgency war disguised as part and parcel of the US-led “war against terrorism”.

Big business is still torn between judging whether Mrs. Arroyo is good or bad for business with the former apparently having the upper hand. The Catholic Church hierarchy is still in the process of developing the moral courage and the political maturity to take on its appropriate role in leading its increasingly restive flock mired in poverty and an unrelenting political crisis.

The traditional Opposition in the form of anti-GMA senators, congressmen and local government officials are shackled by their actual and perceived narrow and self-serving interests to be able to present an alternative center of leadership acceptable to the majority of our people and the broad spectrum of organized anti-GMA forces.

The Left for its part has still not been able to muster the muscle of gigantic and paralyzing mass actions to compel the government to heed its calls for pro-people measures much more making Mrs. Arroyo step down from power. In a real sense this situation of the anti-GMA alliance of political forces serves as a passive prop despite an extremely weakened Arroyo regime.

It is only right that those who are working hard for the genuine overhaul of oppressive and exploitative conditions in Philippine society should not contribute to the spread of illusions that electoral exercises bring the renewed promise of resolving the political crisis in this country nor ushering in genuine reforms. Thus any participation in the May polls must be attended by a critical viewpoint, always mindful of exposing the basically reactionary character of said electoral contests, even as the openings for using the exercise as a means of raising awareness, steeling the fighting will of the people, preparing them for the coming political battles with the US backed Arroyo regime and, wherever possible, scoring some electoral victories, is seriously attended to.

For indeed, despite the odds stacked in favor of the incumbent’s candidates, what weighs in favor of the progressives and the anti-GMA candidates is that the regime is so isolated and deeply immersed in the muck of corruption, fraud and anomaly that it tends to commit blunders while desperately staving off criticism and scheming to maintain itself in power, e.g. the debacle in its bid to railroad Charter change.

All sides are drawing road maps and war plans to get what they want in the coming electoral circus.

The ruling GMA faction wants to win more seats in congress to remain in power and kill any new attempts to impeach it. The electoral Opposition wants to win enough seats to be able to impeach GMA and eventually take over the reins of government. Progressive party lists and their base of support among the masses and middle class are participating without illusions of becoming dominant and wielding power but to have a broader forum for reaching out to the people, exposing the real situation, and calling for participation in a democratic movement for genuine reforms. Other influential voices are calling for a boycott.

In politics, while material resources and positions of power are important, they are not always the decisive factor in the outcome of particular engagements. The accuracy of the roadmap – that is, the correct reading of the situation in relation to one’s goals, whether one’s plan corresponds to reality or not -- will ultimately determine success or failure in achieving those avowed goals.

Mrs. Arroyo and other reactionaries are bound to fail because they overestimate their own strength and underestimate the people's intelligence, determination and capacity to take destiny in their own hands. ###

February 01, 2007

Melo Commission: still no surprises

The Melo Commission created by the Arroyo administration to address extrajudicial killings of activists and journalists has submitted its 89-page report to Mrs. Arroyo but she has so far refused to make it public. All we know about it are the initial, off-the-cuff comments by the commission’s chairman and a bishop-member to the media, subsequent Malacanang press releases and Mrs. Arroyo’s pretentious, if rather smug, statements to the diplomatic corps during the traditional vin d’honneur at the Presidential Palace.

The refusal of Malacanang to release the report for the scrutiny of all interested parties, not least of all the aggrieved kin of victims of summary executions, attempted killings and enforced disappearances, is a telling indicator of Mrs. Arroyo’s sincerity and seriousness in her avowal to put an end to these human rights violations and punish those responsible. It is important to point out that while the Melo Commission report is kept under wraps, with only alleged parts of it revealed piecemeal as suits the purposes of Malacanang, there can not be any meaningful nor even worthwhile response to it except that of continuing caution, if not skepticism.

What the human rights organizations, progressive and militant groups whose ranks are being decimated by the killings and abductions, as well as the general public have to go by, are what is already known about the Melo Commission‘s composition, powers, predilections and biases, and methods of investigation. On this basis, an informed opinion can be made about what the commission is capable of concluding and recommending in its final report to Mrs. Arroyo. The overwhelming perception, then and now, is that the commission has lacked the independence, credibility, powers and funding to come up with any significant report but that its findings would likely be used to further whitewash any government culpability.

For example, much has been made of Mr. Melo’s revelation that a “majority of the victims were leftist-activist-militants” and that the suspected assailants belonged to the military. At the risk of sounding facetious, apart from journalists killed, wasn’t the Commission supposed to look precisely into the killings of this particular category of people? And how could it have concluded otherwise about the involvement of military men as assailants without appearing to be deaf, blind and dumb to the glaring facts and the clear pattern of said killings that can be gleaned even from newspaper reports.

But Mr. Melo is quick to say, “We don’t want to tag the entire military establishment, only elements of the military who were allowed to do their thing without supervision from higher authorities.” So there it is, the built-in limitation of the so-called independent commission of inquiry that was implicit upon its creation: the premise that the extrajudicial killings cannot be part of state policy, that these have nothing to do with the Arroyo regime’s vow of “all-out war against the Left” and its latest counter-insurgency programs, Oplan Bantay Laya I and II, which speaks of “neutralizing” and “dismantling” the communist movement’s legal, political infrastructure with a clear plan to “target” specific key individuals, leaders and organizers of legal, militant mass organizations.

Furthermore, without seeing the complete report, it is reasonable to conclude from Mr. Melo’s statements to the media, that the indictment of Gen. Jovito Palparan for “command responsibility” is the farthest the commission has gone in determining guilt for the killings. Why did the Melo Commission go this far in its findings and what are its implications?

It would appear that 1) Mr. Palparan’s involvement is too glaring that the Melo Commission had no choice but to indict him to gain some credibility; 2) the Arroyo regime needs a credible and dramatic scapegoat; and 3) the crime of “command responsibility” is in fact a much lesser offense than directly ordering the perpetration of such fascist crimes. In fact, Mr. Palparan had already admitted to “inspiring” his men and some civilians to go after the communist rebels and their supporters. Reading between the lines, Mr. Palparan seems to be saying that those he “inspired” may have killed some people in their understandable overzealousness.

But until concrete steps are taken by the Arroyo government to charge, prosecute and punish Mr. Palparan even for the lesser crime of command responsibility, this most sensational recommendation of the Melo Commission is merely grist for the Malacanang propaganda mill, eager to give the impression to the European Union and the international human rights community that Mrs. Arroyo is taking decisive measures to put an end to the killings and to curb the impunity of their perpetrators.

Already, Mrs. Arroyo is using the Melo Commission report to repeat before the diplomatic corps the barefaced lie that her regime does not tolerate the killings, has the will to stop them and punish those responsible. She can also assert that that “99.99% of the military are good, hardworking and patriotic” and thus cannot be a party to such barbarity. The AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Esperon, while finally admitting that some military men are involved, is quick to point out to other, more likely, perpetrators, “the CPP/NPA and goons of politicians” and that, so far, only six soldiers had been charged with the majority of cases already dismissed. In other words, Mr. Esperon reminds us not to overblow this finding of the Melo Commission.

The six orders issued by Mrs. Arroyo ring hollow. She instructs the Melo Commission to continue its work without informing the public about what exactly her hand-picked commission has achieved. She directs the Defense Department and the AFP to submit an “updated document on command responsibility” when the generals, as exemplified by Mr. Palparan all the way up to Mr. Esperon and even the Commander-in-Chief, Mrs. Arroyo herself, are the ones on the line and have every reason to find a way to escape or limit their accountabilities.

Mrs. Arroyo’s directive to the Justice and Defense Departments to coordinate with the constitutionally independent but practically toothless Commission on Human Rights in forming a fact-finding body to “delve deeper into the matter of involvement of military personnel in unexplained killings…” makes a mockery of the pursuit of truth and justice. These government agencies put at the helm of further investigations have been proven to have a major interest and involvement in frustrating any honest-to-goodness investigation.

One of the critical powers that should have been immediately given to the Melo Commission was that of giving protection to witnesses. Thus the belated order to the DOJ to expand its witness protection program to include those in extrajudicial killings is not just a case of “too little, too late” it has already been proven useless. In the murder cases filed by the families of human rights worker Eden Marcellana and Eddie Gumanoy versus Gen. Palparan, Sergeant Donald Caigas and several civilian assets, the witnesses received not an iota of protection from the DOJ and were exposed to tremendous pressure and continuing harassment from suspected military agents until the cases were dismissed.

Lastly, the invitation to the EU to send investigators to assist in the Melo Commission’s work is nothing new. Mrs. Arroyo had issued a similar call after her shameful sojourn to Europe last year but nothing came of it since it appeared the government merely wanted the foreign investigators to grace the commission’s hearings and lend it credibility.

Mrs. Arroyo, the Cabinet Oversight Committee for Internal Security and military and police generals think themselves clever in being able to evade, once more, responsibility for the killings, whether direct or indirect, given the Melo Commission’s damage control. Nonetheless, wittingly or unwittingly, the commission implicates Mrs. Arroyo herself in its indictment of Gen. Palparan, due to the generous rewards (i.e. rapid promotion to plum posts) and lavish praise heaped on him by Mrs. Arroyo.

Meantime, despite flak about their refusal to cooperate with the Melo Commission, the victims, their families and advocates, have been proven correct in refusing to be a tool in the Arroyo regime’s deadly game of deception. They must seek justice elsewhere as well as work for the ouster of a regime that has its hands bloodied by repeated and unabated acts of murder and their most foul cover-up.###

*Published in Business World
2-3 February 2007