September 20, 2007

A familiar scene

Yearly, on September 21, the day martial law was declared, the whole nation renews its collective call for vigilance: Never Again! For most, it means, never again to fascist dictatorship, to subordination of civilian to military rule, to killings and abductions and a host of human rights violations. Indeed, martial law was all that.

But martial law was more than that. It was also about unprecedented graft and corruption, bureaucrat capitalism of the highest order (subsequently placed in the statute books as plunder) and the surrender of national and economic sovereignty to foreign interests resulting in mounting national debt, depressed wages, skyrocketing prices, non-existent or inaccesible social services and greater hardship and misery for the common tao. It was about gross violations of the Filipino people's economic, social, cultural rights and the right to national independence and self-determination perpetrated under the aegis of "constitutional authoritarianism".

In fact, martial law was the legal means utilized by then incumbent President, Ferdinand Marcos, to hold on to power for fourteen years (although martial law was formally lifted in 1981when Marcosian decrees were in place) since the 1935 Constitution barred him from vying for another term in office.

Those who lived through martial rule may now be watching the national scene with a distinct sense of deja vu. It would seem that the conditions for its resurrection from the political graveyard are all there and more. We see a worsening economic crisis for the majority of people despite glowing government statistics; heightened protest and vigilance of the people; restiveness among the military; increasing challenges not only from the Opposition but also close allies of the incumbent administration, in a situation where there is less room for accomodation of interests; a weakened and isolated ruling faction resorting to draconian measures versus all, including erstwhile allies, to preserve power and amass more wealth.

Contrary to government claims that "all's well" and the ship of state is "full steam ahead", the Arroyo regime is really going through very turbulent waters, rocked by scandals and bedevilled by exposes, even as previous outstanding issues like the "Hello Garci" controversy refuse to go away.

In fact, Mrs. Arroyo's triumphs nowadays seem to be all too fleeting. She had hardly the chance to bask in the glow of what her government claims to be astounding growth rates when a cheeky reporter asked her how come ordinary people didn’t seem to feel particularly prosperous. This episode landed prominently in the front pages of a major newspaper.

Then the arrest in the Netherlands of Prof. Jose Maria Sison, founder of the reestablished Communist Party of the Philippines, and the Arroyo regime's declared Public Enemy No. 1. Mrs. Arroyo, her National Security Adviser and generals could not help gloating about Mr. Sison's arrest even as they pretended her government had little to do with it. Eventually the national police, seeking credit, could not help crowing about their role in providing the Dutch police with the evidence with which to nail Prof. Sison. Then when they thought they had got him by the balls, he is surprisingly released by the Dutch panel of judges for, what else -- insufficient evidence.

To Malacanag's relief, former President Joseph "Erap" Estrada's conviction for plunder was unaccompanied by the much-feared and anticipated convulsive display of displeasure by pro-Erap loyalists despite earlier surveys showing spontaneous public sympathy towards the disgraced ex-president. But now with a vengeance, comes the unraveling of the $330M National Broadband Network deal with members of Mrs. Arroyo's official family, the Commission on Elections head (who is suspected to have a lot to do with her alleged fraudulent 2004 presidential win) and her husband no less being pinpointed as deep into the NBN scam.

In less than twenty-four hours of the Sandiganbayan verdict, the public has latched on to the demand that not only Erap should pay for committing the crime of plunder but also Mrs. Arroyo and her cabal of corrupt government officials, family members and business cronies. With the NBN deal coming unhinged due to damaging testimony from a most unlikely whistleblower, the son of her close ally, Speaker Jose the Venecia, GMA’s impending comeuppance has surprised even some of her political enemies. Indeed Mr. Joey de Venecia’s testimony has hit very close to home even as he swears by the innocence of “his President”.

According to a Bayan primer on the NBN controversy, "While Joey de Venecia did not categorically implicate Mrs. Arroyo in the NBN scam, there are several facts which cannot be denied. Mrs. Arroyo has known of the NBN deal for quite some time now, even citing her vision for the NBN in her 2006 State of the Nation Address. She authorized the signing of the contract in China even if it went against the guidelines she herself laid down for the Philippine government. She also made several sins of omission by not investigating the alleged theft of the contract and for not investigating the officials believed to be involved in the anomalies surrounding it. At first, Arroyo said she would allow her Cabinet officials to testify only at the Supreme Court to insulate the matter from politicians, esp Opposition senators. Recently, Arroyo has asked her cabinet officials to appear before a Senate inquiry to explain the NBN contract after getting so much flak again about lack of transparency, cover-up and defiance of the Court's ruling regarding the right of Congress to investigate 'in aid of legislation'."

What the public is witnessing is a single corruption scandal opening up a veritable can of worms. Comelec Chair Abalos' undeniable involvement leads back to the entire "Hello Garci" episode and charges of systematic, massive fraud attending the 2004 presidential and even the recent mid-term elections held under Mr. Abalos' watch. What's more, the First Gentleman's fingerprints on the NBN deal could lead directly to Mrs. Arroyo and could thus be very damaging.

All these developments underscore the fact that the Arroyo regime’s vaunted strength and stability are just not so and its myriad vulnerabilities are simply being shielded by the administration's resort to convoluted lies and half-truths, stonewalling, manipulation of the mass media and coercion, if not elimination, of vital witnesses.

So when we say "Never again!" We mean not only "Never again to fascist dictatorship, killings, massacres, torture and all these gross human rights violations." We should also mean "NEVER AGAIN to plunder, crony capitalism, kleptocracy, unbridled ambition, abuse of power and puppetry to foreign interests." ###

September 14, 2007

Justice? (2)

Like clockwork, the Dutch panel of three judges handed down the decision to extend the detention of Prof. Jose Ma. Sison, before the two-week deadline had ended. It would have been an admirable display of Dutch efficiency were it not for the fact that it was also a truly worrisome indication of what brand of justice lay in store for Mr. Sison.

While still undergoing investigation on the charge of “incitement to murder” while in exile 7,000 miles away, Mr. Sison has already spent all of 17 days in solitary confinement; allowed only very brief visits by his lawyer but none other, not even his wife nor any member of his immediate family; disallowed visits by his physician of choice; and worse, kept in the dark about the bases for his arrest and continuing detention because of a court gag order on his lawyer. On top of all these he was deprived of newspapers, television and radio for the first week of detention without any justifiable reason except to cause him undue punishment.

Prof. Sison’s friends and supporters were spurred to mount protest actions in front of Dutch and Philippine embassies all over the world, by this cruel and inhuman treatment tantamount to torture, currently reserved by the US for “terror” suspects detained in such notorious US prison facilities as in Guantanamo, Cuba. Therefore there is merit in trying to illumine the reasons for the “terrorist” label on Mr. Sison, considering the way he is being treated by the Dutch government, as if he had already been convicted of the crime of “terrorism”.

A legal study by the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) noted that Mr. Sison had been appearing in Washington’s official reports concerning “global terrorism” more than a decade before 9/11. He is first cited in a 1990 report as a “supporter of the (Philippine) communists.“ In “Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1990”, the US State Department acknowledged its interest in Mr. Sison’s asylum case. In the 1991 report, it expressed concern over his continued presence in the Netherlands, stating that Mr. Sison “is involved in raising money for his movement, mostly from sympathetic European leftist groups”. The bases for such suspicion however were not specified.

In 1996, a new US law, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), was passed; thus began the blacklisting of “foreign terrorist organizations” or FTOs. AEDPA defined an FTO as “any foreign organization that engages in any terrorist activity where such activity threatens the security of US nationals or the national security of the United States.” “National security” is in turn defined as “the national defense, foreign relations, or economic interests of the United States.” Once an organization is designated an FTO, its funds and assets will be seized and the provision of “material support or resources” by any person becomes a criminal offense.

The vague definition of “terrorism” plus the catch-all definition of “national security” makes the law prone to subjective and self-serving interpretation and abuse in implementation. It is a dangerous law especially in light of President George W. Bush’s either-you-are-with-us-or-against-us view of the world.

The warning of the impending designation of the CPP-NPA-NDFP as an FTO can be traced to House Speaker Jose de Venecia who, on November 22, 2001, made an overseas call to Mr. Sison in Utrecht to tell him so. Mr. De Venecia was then in Mexico with Mrs. Arroyo for the conference of the Christian Democratic International. They met with top officials of the US Defense Department and Department of State. Two days earlier, Mrs. Arroyo was on an official visit to the US where she held a joint conference with Mr. Bush and gave her regime’s unqualified support for the “war against terror”.

Mr. De Venecia said the Philippine government would try to dissuade the US from listing the CPP-NPA-NDFP provided the NDFP agrees to a “Final Peace Agreement” with the GRP within three months. As it turns out, the so-called “Final Peace Agreement” was a surrender agreement tot ally ignoring the need for a just resolution of the underlying socio-economic and political causes of the armed conflict.

Parallel to the threat of an FTO designation were threats of direct military engagement with the NPA by US troops in Philippine territory. In January 2002, US Sen. Stephen Brownback called the Philippines the “second front in the war on terror”; subsequently, Balikatan 02-1 made the Philippines the site of the largest US overseas troop deployment outside of Afghanistan.

On August 2002, US State Secretary Colin Powell came to Manila in what appears to be a visit that sealed the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA). This companion agreement to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) reintroduces into Philippine law the notorious extraterritorial privileges and virtual basing rights of US military forces and facilities in the Philippines.

On August 9, 2002, Mr. Powell announced the designation of the CPP-NPA as an FTO. Three days after, on August 12, Mr. Sison was tagged as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” (SDGT).

The US “terrorist” tag started a series of similar actions against Mr. Sison by Western governments allied with the US. A day after, the Netherlands government listed the NPA and Prof. Sison as “terrorist”. The United Kingdom, Canada and Australia followed suit. It must be pointed out that all these foreign governments, in their “terrorist” tagging of the NPA, are in fact violating Philippine national sovereignty. For clearly the NPA, an entity that exists and operates exclusively within Philippine territory, is outside the jurisdiction of all these foreign governments. They have no judicial, legislative or even administrative competence to adjudge the NPA as “terrorist”.

Mr. Sison’s inclusion in the EU Council’s “terrorist” listing on October 30, 2002 was accomplished through the combined efforts of the Dutch and Philippine government. Mr. Ople’s press statement welcoming the “diplomatic victory” linked his mission with the “Final Peace Agreement” when it said, “The purpose of this diplomatic initiative was to bring pressure on the Communists …to lay down their arms and transform themselves into a peaceful political party capable of competing in the constitutional arena, in peaceful and democratic elections.”

The subsequent rise in the number of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances involving hundreds of progressive party list leaders and members give the lie to this sugar-coated bullet intended to decimate the Left, whether armed or unarmed, legal or underground, in the Philippine political arena.

Mr. Sison has been fighting back not just politically but even in judicial avenues intrinsically stacked against revolutionaries like him. For him the national liberation movement in the Philippines and his role in it can never be proven “terrorist” for as long as facts and the truth are upheld, due process is observed and the integrity of judicial processes is safeguarded.

Ironically, recent landmark legal victories of Mr. Sison in the Philippine Supreme Court and in the EU Court of First Instance may have forced the hand of the current fascist regimes in the US, the Netherlands and in the Philippines. Worried that these could spell an end to the use of judicial proceedings to neutralize Mr. Sison, these 3 governments have acted in concert to undertake a most vicious and brazen attack on his person, his rights and his liberty.

Using what the PILC calls “legal black magic”, the governments that have considered Mr. Sison an enemy from the very beginning are now the very same ones accusing, punishing and judging him.

All these measures to suppress Prof. Joma Sison in the hope of decapitating the Philippine patriotic and democratic movement will ultimately fail. The spontaneous outburst of protest in major cities worldwide indicates broad support for Mr. Sison and what he stands for. His unjust arrest and inhuman detention will only serve to highlight the justness and humanity of his cause. #

September 07, 2007

Justice? (I)

Dutch Ambassador Robert Vornis and National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales are one in dismissing reports of inhumane treatment of revolutionary leader, Prof. Jose Ma. Sison, while under incommunicado detention in a Dutch prison as “propaganda”. Mr. Vornis invoked the “fair and competent” Dutch legal system and the reputation of the Netherlands as a haven for political refugees in order to pooh-pooh such complaints by Mr. Sison’s family and supporters. He even expressed surprise and amusement “to hear criticisms of the Dutch system (from) those who have embraced that system” obviously referring to Mr. Sison and his associates who have sought political asylum in that country.

Rather than invoke the Dutch state’s reputation as one friendly to politically persecuted individuals (a reputation that, as we will show, did not manifest itself in Mr. Sison’s case) Mr. Vornis could have easily checked the truth of the complaints for they are serious ones and deserve a forthright answer rather than a smug and taunting reply. The latter we expect from Mr. Gonzales, whose all-consuming obsession is to see to Mr. Sison’s destruction and the revolutionary movement’s defeat, but not from the ambassador of a state whose justice system he claims to be above reproach.

For how could Mr. Sison’s lawyers and family falsely claim such readily verifiable facts surrounding the conditions of his detention -- the denial of his right to be seen by a physician of his choice and to receive his medications, the right to visitation by a member of his family, the right not to be held incommunicado, a condition that is universally regarded as constituting cruel and unusual punishment – and hope to get away with it once an honest investigation of the complaints are undertaken.

To add insult to injury, the Presidential Spokesman, hypocritically talks about the Philippine government extending legal and other assistance to Mr. Sison, should he ask for it, but it cannot take the simple and expedient move of officially inquiring into Mr. Sison’s actual situation under detention. Whatever subsequent improvement has taken place with regard to this matter cannot be attributed at all to the efforts of the Arroyo government, for they are nil, nor to the belated benevolence of the Dutch government, but to the international protest generated by his unjust arrest and detention.

Mr. Vornis also tries to cover-up the real track record of the Dutch government in persecuting Mr. Sison during his entire twenty year stay in Utrecht, first in relation to his asylum petition and second his unwarranted listing as a “terrorist”.

For the record, Mr. Sison was stranded in the Netherlands when the Aquino government cancelled his passport in 1988 and launched the all-out war against the communist-led revolutionary movement. With his background of suffering extreme deprivations, torture and prolonged detention as a political prisoner under the Marcos dictatorship and the continuing threat to his life by military and paramilitary death squads under the supposedly democratic post-Marcos regimes, Mr. Sison should have been a shoo-in as a political refugee and been immediately granted asylum by the Dutch government.

But that was not to be. In the excellently researched study by the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), “Laws, Labels and Liberation: the Case of Jose Ma. Sison” ( the story of his long-running personal and political persecution by three governments – the government of his home country (Philippines), the government of his host country (The Netherlands) and the government to whom these two governments are subservient (United States) – is recounted in full. For the purpose of this elucidation, however, we shall focus on the role of the purportedly beneficent Dutch government.

According to PILC, in October 1988, Prof. Sison applied to be admitted and to stay in the Netherlands as a political refugee. In 1990, this was denied by the Dutch Justice Ministry forcing Prof. Sison to go to court. In 1992, the court nullified the Justice Ministry’s decision. Nevertheless, the Justice Ministry refused Mr. Sison’s request and invoked its so-called “freedom of policy “in asylum cases.

Repeatedly, the Justice Ministry claimed that Mr. Sison could not invoke protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention because he had committed a “crime against humanity” as described in international agreements or he had committed “serious nonpolitical crimes”. These unsubstantiated claims were made not just in pleadings submitted by the Dutch government to the court but also in its press releases circulated in the mass media.

Intent to debunk such malicious claims, Mr. Sison went to the highest Dutch court with jurisdiction over asylum cases, the Raad van State, in 1993. In its 1995 decision, the Raad van State held that there is “no sufficient evidence” showing that Mr. Sison was involved even by way of “giving direction” to the perpetrators of the criminal activities alleged by the Dutch government. In contrast, Mr. Sison was able to establish in court a “well-founded fear of persecution on account of his political beliefs”, and accordingly his status as a political refugee was recognized by that court.

Still the Dutch executive authorities refuse to grant admission and a permit to stay to Mr. Sison. According to PILC, even before the “terrorist” listing, the situation of Mr. Sison has been “a cruelly peculiar one”. He has been living on Dutch soil for twenty years but in legal fiction he has not yet been admitted to the Netherlands. His lawyers say Mr. Sison is in some sort of “limbo”. “He is publicly referred to as a ‘tolerated alien’ by the Dutch government though it is more accurate to say that he is a victim of intolerable treatment by an alien host that is even willing to disrespect the decisions of its own court just to make Prof. Sison unwelcome.”

An immediate consequence of this ”neither here nor there” status is that Mr. Sison is not allowed to have gainful employment despite his qualifications and is reduced to dependence on social benefits, health and other insurance provided by the government that were subsequently removed when he was listed as a “terrorist”.

Contrary to what some media commentators say was the “generous hosting” by the Dutch government of Mr. Sison, the latter continued its persecutory stance and, notwithstanding the favorable 1995 Raad van State decision, the Justice Ministry issued in June 4, 1996 an expulsion order requiring Mr. Sison to leave within four weeks time. This led to another case filed before the newly-created Law Unity Chamber of the Aliens Court (REK).

In the end, the Dutch government succeeded in using a vague provision in the Dutch statute books that provides an exception (“weighty considerations derived from the general interest”) to the state’s duty to grant admission to a political refugee. What are those “weighty considerations”? The Dutch government argued that allowing Mr. Sison to be admitted and to reside in the country “shall damage a serious interest of the Dutch state, to wit the integrity and the credibility of the Netherlands as a sovereign state, in particular in relation to its responsibilities to other states.” (Boldface supplied.) Shorn of legalese, Mr. Sison’s human rights were thrown out in favor of the Dutch government’s diplomatic interests, with the Philippine government and, more importantly, with the US government.

Why did the Dutch government not expel Mr. Sison at this point? The REK held that it would not be in violation of Mr. Sison’s rights if he is not admitted to the Netherlands or permitted to stay therein so long as he is not actually expelled. With the further deterioration of the human rights record of the Arroyo regime as horrendously exemplified by the close to 900 unsolved cases of extrajudicial killings and 200 involuntary disappearances with state forces implicated and the command responsibility of Mrs. Arroyo raised, the Dutch government would have appeared exceedingly oppressive towards Mr. Sison and grossly violative of its international commitments to uphold human rights.

So much for Dutch treats, Mr. Sison only asked for the recognition of his basic rights as a political refugee. We shall see in a subsequent column how the Dutch government, this time in active collusion with the US, Philippine and European Union governments, uses the “terrorist” label on Mr. Sison to further harass, repress and wantonly trample on his fundamental rights as a human being.#

Published in Business World
7 - 8 September 2007