May 02, 2007

Jurors' wise words

I have always had this fascination, bordering on reverence, for trees, especially the big, old shady ones with their gnarled roots and marvelously textured trunks. I see them as wisdom incarnate. Now to my more than pleasant surprise comes a man by the name of Puno -- Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato S. Puno -- to be exact, who is quietly making waves by his politically astute and exceedingly profound statements on matters that lesser men, least of all government officials, dare not speak on except to repeat the banal views of the dominant, the strong and the smug.

Mr. Puno chose to speak about human rights and the US-led, so-called war against terrorism to this year’s graduating students at the University of the East. His commencement address is replete with incisive comments on the oft-cited number one enemy of the world in this millennium – terrorism.

One is served well by reading not just news reports about Mr. Puno’s speech but the entire speech itself ( What I would like to bring attention to is the fact that the speech and the recent verdict of the Permanent People’s Tribunal Second Session on the Philippines ( draw very similar conclusions and causal interconnections between the extrajudicial killings, abductions and other human rights violations as well as violations of national and economic sovereignty and the Arroyo regime’s counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), and the US "war on terror".

Let both documents speak for themselves.

On poverty and violations of economic and social rights as source of injustice and root of conflict:

Puno: “In poor countries, it is also poverty that renders the poor vulnerable to violation of their rights, for the poor will not vindicate their rights in a justice system that moves in slow motion and whose wheels have to be greased with money. And would any dare to doubt, that our national security and our human rights are more threatened by the fear that we face an environmental collapse if we do not take immediate steps to save our seas and our forests from the despoliation to satisfy the economic greed of the few...”

"It will not take a prophet to predict that countries that cannot give decent life to their young people will serve as incubators of extremism that may end up in terrorism."

"The growth and development of any nation lies in the hard work of peasants, fisherfolk, workers, indigenous peoples, women and their communities. But when these very people face intense poverty, hunger, unemployment, landlessness and loss of all resources, then development is meaningless because life itself is threatened and communities are destroyed"

"Such forms of rights violations have brought about a resistance by the people to claim their rights to land, culture and identity. But it has been met with various human rights violations manifested in arbitrary arrest, persecution, torture, killings, destruction of property and land by military forces including extrajudicial killings...."

On dependence and subservience to foreign powers and interests, rampant corruption and lack of legitimacy as source of failure to protect human rights:

Puno: “The threats to our national security and human rights will be aggravated if we have a state, weakened internally by a government hobbled by corruption, struggling with credibility, battling the endless insurgence of the left and the right; and, by a state weakened externally by pressure exerted by creditor countries, by countries where our trade comes from, by countries that supply our military and police armaments. A weak state cannot fully protect the rights of its citizens within its borders just as a state without economic independence cannot protect the rights of its citizens who are abroad from the exploitation of more powerful countries.”

PPT: “The Arroyo regime’s dependence on the
US and the US trained armed forces is crucial for the survival of the regime...”

“The cost of such strict dependence in terms of gross violations of individual and collective rights, has been dramatically confirmed and documented in detail...The never ending military, police and paramilitary operations are the expression of all-out war, or so-called “holistic approach” in Operation Bantay Laya (OBL) or Operation Freedom Watch, a policy which has been carried out since 2002.”

On the direct linkage between US "war on terror", OBL and human rights violations:

“In less polite parlance, the search and destroy strategy gave little respect to the sovereignty of states and violated their traditional borders. The strategy which is keyed on military stealth and might had trampling effects on the basic liberties of suspected terrorists for laws are silent when the guns of war do the talking…One visible result of the scramble to end terrorism is to take legal shortcuts and legal shortcuts always shrink the scope of human rights.”

”These shortcuts have scarred the landscape of rights in the

PPT: "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’.”

"Bantay Laya is the latest formulation of previous counterinsurgency plans initially crafted under the Marcos regime. It is an end product of more than three decades of successive failures and frustrations of US-GRP-AFP in their attempts to crush and defeat the struggles of the people. The
US, through Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency has been involved in conceptualization, planning, training of AFP personnel and execution of the plan.”

On the shared responsibility for upholding and protecting human rights:

Puno: “…the business of safeguarding our national security, the obligation of protecting human rights is a burden shared by all of us…The apathy of those who can make a difference is the reason why violations of human rights continue to prosper. The worst enemy of human rights is not its non believers but the fence sitters who will not lift a finger despite their violations.”

PPT: “As Permanent People’s Tribunal and part of the larger human family, we recognize that the dramatic and worsening human rights situation in the Philippines is the responsibility for us all, not just for those who struggle for their rights in that country. We commit ourselves to strengthen our efforts to defeat those powers which, under pretext of the so-called ‘war on terrorism’ and in the mantle of ‘market- and profit-driven globalization’, deprive the marginalized of a life in justice, dignity and peace.”###

*Published in Business World
27-28 April 2007


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