March 29, 2007

Killings as state policy

The truth has a sure, if painfully slow, way of coming out in the open. In the past couple of weeks, two highly significant events in the international arena, taking place one after the other, have put the de facto government of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on the spot, with regard to the continuing problem of extrajudicial killings.

The earlier one is the verdict of the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT), Second Session on the Philippines, held in the world’s capital on international law, The Hague, The Netherlands, last 25 March. The second is the interim report of the UN Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings in the Philippines delivered to the UN Human Rights Council, on 27 March, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The PPT describes itself as “an international opinion tribunal, independent from any State authority (that)…examines cases regarding violations of human rights and rights of peoples.” Founded in June 1979, in Bologna, Italy by a broad spectrum of law experts, writers and other cultural and community leaders (including five Nobel Prize laureates) coming from 31 countries, the PPT is rooted in the historical experience of the Russell Tribunals on Vietnam (1966-67) and the dictatorships in Latin America (1974-76).

From its founding to the present, the PPT has held 32 sessions, one of the earliest being the first session on the Philippines in 1980 that “found the Marcos regime guilty of political suppression and abuse of power in violation of the rights of the Filipino people.” It also “condemned the political, economic and military complicity with the US and other foreign powers.”

The PPT is not conferred with any state or inter-state authority to enforce its judgments or verdicts against the accused. “The importance and strength of (its) decisions… rest on the moral weight of the causes and arguments to which they give credibility and their recognition in the UN Commission on Human Rights.”

The PPT was presented with three charges principally against the defendants Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the Philippine government as well as George Walker Bush and the US government: to wit, gross and systematic violations of the civil and political rights; of the economic, social and cultural rights; and of the right to national self-determination and liberation of the Filipino people.

Contrary to wild accusations, primarily by the Arroyo regime and its apologists, the PPT is no “kangaroo court”. The request on a second session on the Philippines submitted by organizations of human rights victims, especially Hustisya! (Victims of the Arroyo Regime United for Justice), and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan or BAYAN, a well-known leftist alliance of national and democratic people’s organizations, was thoroughly studied by the PPT Secretariat and President; specifically, the matter of the competence of the PPT on the contents of the accusation and the representativeness of the plaintiffs were ascertained.

Once it was decided to hold the PPT second session of the Philippines, the two main accused parties – the Arroyo and Bush governments – were notified formally through their embassies in Rome and in The Hague and were invited to participate to exercise their right to defense.

The public hearings were conducted for three full days while the jurors’ closed-door deliberations were held from the evening of the third day to the morning of the fifth and last day when the session was concluded with the reading of the verdict.

The presentation of the testimonial and documentary evidence was conducted under rigorous and high legal standards such that the first part of the PPT verdict said: “The wealth and consistency of the oral and written documentation made available through witnesses and expert reports, has convinced the PPT that each and all three of the charges … are substantiated.”

Moreover, the PPT concluded that the extent and systematic nature of the violations of the rights of the Filipino people constituted “crimes against humanity, with all the consequences for the persons responsible for them.”

According to the 13-page verdict, “We need to see the worsening human rights crisis in the Philippines in the context of the United States’ strategies for global economic and military hegemony and the ensuing US-led so-called ‘war on terror’” which the Arroyo and Bush administration have “knowingly and willingly colluded with each other in implementing.”

The tribunal identified Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Freedom Watch), the current counterinsurgency program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the latest expression of the state’s “all-out war” policy, to be the underlying cause of the extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, massacres and other gross violations of civil and political rights. Thus, the PPT said it “has found unequivocal evidences that the militaries have a central role in the greatest majority of the scenarios of human rights violations in the Philippines.”

It also said, “The US, through Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency, has been involved in conceptualization, planning, training of AFP personnel and execution of…[this] latest formulation of previous counterinsurgency plans.” According to the verdict, the Security Engagement Board Agreement of 2006 between the US and the Philippines created the Security Engagement Board—a joint committee of defense and military officials of the two countries tasked to “oversee the anti-terror campaign” in the Philippines.

The tribunal concluded, “The reported killings, torture and forced disappearances fall under responsibility of the Philippine government and are by no way justified in terms of necessary measures against terrorism.”

On the other hand, the interim report of the UN Rapporteur, Mr. Philip Alston, pointed to “two of the most important underlying causes of a great many of the killings.” The first is the government campaign of vilification or guilt by association accorded to groups in the left of the political spectrum who are labeled as “front organizations” of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). Subsequently, a wider range of groups “including human rights advocates, labor union organizers, journalists, teachers’ unions, women’s groups, indigenous organizations, religious groups, student groups, agrarian reform advocates, and others are classified as ‘fronts’ and then as ‘enemies of the state’ that are accordingly considered to be legitimate targets.”

“The second cause is the extent to which aspects of the Government’s counter-insurgency strategy encourage or facilitate the extrajudicial killings of activists and other ‘enemies’ in certain circumstances.”

Mr. Alston states emphatically that his recommendations “will make little difference unless there is a fundamental change of heart on the part of the military or the emergence of civilian resolve to compel the military to change its ways. Then, and only then, will it be possible to make real progress in ending the killings.”

The truth is slowly but surely emerging that indeed the killings and other grievous human rights violations are part and parcel of state policy and that government officials up to the highest levels are responsible for their cover-up and the resulting climate of absolute impunity.###


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