June 06, 2007

Smoking gun

In undemocratic, politically repressive societies such as ours, cases of forced disappearance and extrajudicial killing by state forces, almost always end up in the waste basket of law enforcement agencies. This is not surprising, especially when closer scrutiny discloses that far from being exceptional and isolated instances of abuse, such cases stem from a militarist internal security policy coupled with a scorched earth, leave-no-quarter, counterinsurgency program that brooks no dissent, even legal and unarmed, against the ruling regime and status quo.

Victims and their families end up facing a blank wall when witnesses are intimidated, harassed into silence, or themselves killed; the police botch the investigation, cover up the crime and absolve the prime suspects; government prosecutors are unenthusiastic about building up a case or deliberately undermine it; judges are pressured or enticed to dismiss any cases that reach the courts no matter how meritorious; and the highest civilian and military authorities persist in wallowing in what the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings describes as a “state of denial.”

It is not for want of leads that the authorities come up empty handed and declare their investigation stymied. In the case of the “Erap 5”, followers of the former President Joseph Estrada were kidnapped by armed men from a house in the heart of Quezon City (QC) and later turned up shaken and severely tortured, in the custody of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, only after a high-profile effort by Senator Jinggoy Estrada to have the men surfaced. No heads rolled in that case, not even the torturers who tried to beat the “Erap 5” into confessing that they were the top-level communists the government is hunting down.

Another celebrated case is the abduction of the activist son of journalist and much admired freedom-fighter Joe Burgos. Despite many eyewitnesses in a crowded QC mall, the kidnap vehicle being traced to the army’s 56th infantry battalion headquarters, appeals by big names such as former President Corazon Aquino and quiet lobbying by European Union governments, Jonas Burgos remains missing close to six weeks since the incident.

Perhaps to fend off international flak over the unsolved political killings during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s current trips abroad, Malacanang has taken the highly unusual move of directly intervening in the desaparecidos case, with no less than Executive Secretary Ermita, who claims to be a family friend, belatedly promising to take action.

Last May 27, Naval Intelligence Security Forces (NISF) and purported elements of the Cavite provincial police abducted United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Pastor Berlin Guerrero in Binan, Laguna, in full view of his wife and three children. He had just come from the local church where he had been serving for the last two years.

He was subsequently turned over to the Cavite Provincial Police Office at Camp Gen. Pantaleon Garcia in Imus, Cavite -- beat up, dirtied and still blindfolded -- together with his laptop (with his personal files deleted and alleged subversive materials uploaded) and other confiscated personal belongings. The police merely noted that the pastor was arrested by virtue of a 1992 arrest warrant, conveniently overlooking the true facts and circumstances behind his terrible ordeal.

The abductors, with the connivance of the police, are trying to make it appear that the arrest was in accord with law. But one does not have to be a lawyer to see clearly, from Rev. Guerrero's and other eyewitness accounts, that the "arrest" was anything but lawful.

The abductors were not in uniform. They did not introduce themselves as officers of the law. They did not show Rev. Guerrero any arrest warrant even when he demanded one. They used guns, pointed it at him and his family, with one of the assailants hitting him in the nape. They dragged him to a van with covered-up plate, brought him to a safe house where he was tortured and threatened with death unless he incriminated himself and others to be ranking officers of the Communist Party of the Philippines. His whereabouts were hidden from his family and lawyers so that the abductors could do their worst.

Several questions beg to be asked. Why was the arrest done by military men and not the police? The official documents clearly indicate this: the NISF elements were merely "assisted” by two members of the provincial police. According to Police Senior Superintendent Fidel Posadas, Rev. Guerrero was first brought to the NISF NCR office “for documentation and to evaluate the tactical significance to national security (of) the items found in his possession.” That Rev. Guerrero was "turned over" to the police the following day clearly indicates it was not police authorities that had “served” the warrant for his arrest.

Why did the police officers not immediately investigate or at least report the irregular manner by which the "arrest" was effected and that he was evidently tortured? Normally, turnover includes a document saying subject is in "good condition", i.e. with a medical certification by competent authorities. Under the circumstances, if they were not part of the cover-up, should not the police have immediately filed a complaint against the NISF?

Why have the authorities, including the Police Directorate, the Department of Interior and Local Government and Malacanang, not come out even with the name of the unit of the NISF and the identities of the operatives, much more taken steps necessary to determine who gave the orders to abduct and torture Rev. Guerrero?

More interestingly, who gave the orders to "surface" him and turn him over to the police? By all indications, the abductors had not the least intention to do so, until "someone upstairs" gave the order, perhaps anxious not to have another Jonas Burgos case in their hands while Mrs. Arroyo was Down Under trying to sell an economically robust, peaceful and just Philippine society.

Why did Rev. Guerrero turn up alive, unlike the close to 200 others who have involuntarily disappeared under the Arroyo regime? Human rights advocates attribute this to the unrelenting local and international pressure on the government; for while Malacanang and military/police top brass persist in attributing these human rights violations to a supposed internal communist purge, no one is taking them seriously.

The bottom line is still this: any government worth its salt would put a stop to such killings. Mrs. Arroyo, Chief Executive and Commander-in-chief, is commonly and correctly perceived as tolerating, if not in fact abetting, such heinous crimes against her regime’s critics, dissenters and the common folk who just happen to be in the way.

For anyone seeking proof that the extrajudicial killings, frustrated assassinations, forced disappearances, tortures and massacres of progressives, activists and even bystanders are state policy, this case of Pastor Guerrero is the smoking gun. ###


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