July 26, 2007


It is not surprising that de facto President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo hardly mentioned the “war on terror” in her annual State-of-the-Nation-Address (SONA). Not a word about how this small but favorite ally of great big white brother is faring in the “second front against terrorism”. Is it because there is nothing bright or rosy to report?

For after all, the recent Basilan ambush that resulted in the death of at least fourteen Marines reminds us all that (1) the Abu Sayyaf, which the Balikatan 02-1 "joint US-RP military exercises" was supposed to have wiped out five years ago, is still up and about; and (2) the much-touted "reduction of hostilities" in Mindanao brought about by a Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP)-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ceasefire agreement is a myth. In short, no amount of military offensives or "peace agreements" that do not address the roots of armed conflict can bring about genuine peace. In fact, they only perpetuate and aggravate the problems that bring about political dissent and social conflict.

Now comes news that US military aid for the Philippines in 2008 has been drastically cut partly because of unmitigated human rights violations, foremost of which are the hundreds of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. The President’s apologists and front men are at their wit’s end trying to deny the astounding news. Executive Secretary Ermita and temporary Defense Secretary Gonzalez are not quite in unison trying to explain such aid cut’s adverse effects. The US embassy spokesperson lamely explained that the 2008 budget has not even been passed so the report is both “premature” and “misleading”.

Did the ABS-CBN North American News Bureau just make it all up?

What we do know is that a strong lobby by US mainline Protestant churches and human rights institutions to get the US Congress to pay attention to the Arroyo regime’s abominable human rights record is making headway. Proof of this is a very recent US House Committee report that states that it is "highly concerned with reports of extrajudicial killings by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP)... (and) with the effect these killings may be having on the work of civil society organizations.”

Even if what exists, at the moment, is only a US State Department proposal to cut aid to the Philippine, no matter how big but especially if big, it already sends a clear political message to all and sundry that there is a growing debate in US policy circles about what attitude to take towards the lame duck Arroyo regime.

If the aid cut is big enough, it will undoubtedly have an impact on the capacity of the AFP and PNP to function as the repressive arm of government, even as US-sourced equipment such as helicopters and mortar have been shown to be defective and therefore unreliable and even a hazard to life and limb. Especially worrisome though for Mrs. Arroyo and her generals is how restive young military officers and foot soldiers will receive and interpret such news.

At the same time, the US government has long been criticized for ignoring a country’s human rights record when it comes to the sale and transfer of weaponry and the conduct of military training to the security forces of friendly governments so long as there are far more important considerations, e.g. gargantuan profits for the US military-industrial complex and the advancement of US strategic economic and geopolitical interests. So there must be more to this proposed cut than meets the eye. At the minimum, there are signs that even in the corridors of power, voices opposed to unqualified US support for the Arroyo regime are gaining headway.

Certainly Mrs. Arroyo is vulnerable because, apart from being dogged by almost universal condemnation of her inability to stem extrajudicial killings, she has chosen to hitch her political fortunes to Mr. Bush and to use the much-ballyhooed “war on terror” to justify her mailed fist policy against supposed “terrorists” and assorted “destabilizers”.

Mr. Bush himself is a lame duck president suffering from one of the lowest, if not the lowest, credibility ratings, with his policies in the Middle East and other global regions, unraveling. The US Congress is now in the hands of the Democratic Party, whose leaders are under tremendous public pressure to counter Bush on the Iraq war and other foreign and domestic policy issues.

The rivals of Mrs. Arroyo, especially with the 2010 presidential elections just around the corner, are keen about the slightest indication that the Superpower is on the look-out for a new Philippine Chief Executive. Activists and the more radical among the Opposition are correct in viewing these developments as positive considering that the US is the foremost pillar that is propping up the much reviled Arroyo regime.

Mrs. Arroyo’s version of the “war versus terror” is being continuously exposed as a fascist cover-up for her over-arching ambition to stay in power and is on the verge of collapse. Apparently this is one major reason for her need to put up an assertive, even pugnacious, pose during her SONA before the 14th Congress.

Consequently, Mrs. Arroyo’s declaration that she is very much in charge as the President of the Republic of the Philippines, and that she is as ”strong as she wants to be”, has ironically served as her self-indictment.

For if this was truly the case, why can’t she put a stop to the political killings that have put her government on the defensive? Is it just the lack of political will to clean up the military and police forces of “rogue” elements or is it because the killings are under her direction unmistakably as the Commander-in-Chief?###

July 25, 2007

Dubious and dishonorable

One does not have to look very far to see how “terrorist”-labeling under the aegis of the US-led “war on terror” has been used for dubious and dishonorable political ends that have little to do with combating the scourge of real terrorism. The case of Filipino revolutionary and exile, Prof. Jose Maria Sison, who recently won a landmark decision of the European Court of First Instance (ECFI) annulling the decision of the Council of the European Union to put him in the “terrorist” list for more than four years, deserves serious study.

The Dutch and British embassies in Manila have been quick to dismiss the ECFI decision as being meaningless because it allegedly does not cover a later EU decision on 28 June 2007 that renewed Mr. Sison’s inclusion in the EU blacklist. This is in marked contrast to the assertion of his international battery of lawyers that a singular victory had been achieved, not just for their client, but for people and movements around the world who are being politically persecuted utilizing the onus of being called “terrorist”.

Several critical facts must be taken account of. The July 11, 2007 ECFI judgment found that Mr. Sison’s rights to due process had been denied him in three ways: first, the reasons for his being placed in the EU “terror” list were not stated; second, he was not allowed to defend himself; and third, his right to judicial protection was violated.

To a fair-minded person, it must be pretty obvious that the ECFI ruling states more than enough grounds for Mr. Sison to be immediately delisted. Repeatedly putting him in the EU blacklist from 2002 onwards constitutes a patent violation of his due process rights.

Moreover, the ECFI directed the Council to pay for the litigation costs that the plaintiff, Mr. Sison, had incurred, as well as those of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), as intervener. Would the ECFI have done so if it did not find Mr. Sison’s petition questioning his inclusion in the EU “terror” list meritorious?

According to the International Committee – Defend, “The Council has made the blanket charge of terrorism against Prof. Sison but has not cited against him any specific act of terrorism. It cannot cite any such act because in fact Prof. Sison has never committed any kind of criminal offense within the jurisdiction of the European Union or anywhere else.”

We take note that during all this time the Arroyo government itself could not officially designate Mr. Sison as a “terrorist” because the crime of “terrorism” did not even exit yet in Philippine statues. (The Anti-Terrorism Act aka Human Security Act only came into effect on 15 July 2007.) The military and Malacanang could only engage in a relentless vilification campaign against Mr. Sison and the CPP-NPA, branding them as “communist terrorist”.

It would appear that what the US, the Netherlands, Brittain and the EU Council had used to justify the blacklisting of Mr. Sison were unsubstantiated and even spurious intelligence information from the Philippines. If so, the recent Supreme Court dismissal of the rebellion case versus Crispin Beltran and fifty other individuals, including Mr. Sison, further denigrates whatever bases these foreign governments have heretofore relied on for their unjust listing of Mr. Sison.

The Arroyo government is now in a quandary with the SC dismissal of the rebellion charges and its throwing out voluminous "evidence" presented by the Inter Agency Legal Action Group/Department of Justice. That all the nine months of "investigative" efforts turned out to be insufficient even to establish probable cause, much less to establish the guilt of the accused, shows how flimsy are the grounds on which the government has succeeded in persecuting (not prosecuting) the leaders of the Philippine Left.

The charges of rebellion against the legal leaders of progressive mass organizations, lumped together with Mr. Sison and other alleged top leaders of the CPP-NPA, concomitant with labeling them as "communist terrorists" and as a prelude to charging them with the crime of "terrorism" under the Anti-Terrorism Act, unmasks the real intent and practice of the GMA regime and its foreign backers to use "counter-terrorism" to suppress legitimate protests and stem the “Oust GMA” tide. ###

*Published in Business World

20-21 July 2007

July 12, 2007

Legal battles

Recent legal victories of well-known Left personalities such as Anakpawis representative and former chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and Kilusang Mayo Uno, Crispin Beltran, as well as Prof. Jose Maria Sison, founding chairperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines and currently chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front in peace talks with the Philippine government, underscore the fact that progressives and even avowed revolutionaries will not shirk from fighting in the legal arena despite its known pitfalls and built-in biases against them.

Mr. Beltran was finally released from “hospital detention” Tuesday night after the Supreme Court ruled with finality that the rebellion case against him, five other progressive legislators and scores of other individuals including Mr. Sison, should be dismissed for lack of probable cause and due process. He had been detained for more than 15 months since his illegal arrest a day after the declaration of emergency rule last year.

Mr. Sison, on the other hand, won a landmark decision before the European Court of First Instance (ECFI) in Luxembourg regarding his listing by the Council of the EU as a “terrorist”. According to the International Committee for the Defense of Jose Ma.Sison, “The ECFI ruled that the Council of the EU violated the rights of Prof. Sison to defense, the obligation to state reasons and the right to effective judicial protection. There had never been any competent judicial authority calling him to a criminal investigation or any court hearing regarding any terrorist act.”

This observation is apropos because of unrelenting accusations from the government, including the Melo Commission, that human rights groups like Karapatan had undermined the work of the Commission by refusing to cooperate with it and influencing Hustisya, the organization of human rights victims under the Arroyo regime, to do the same. Unknown to the public, Karapatan and its lawyers had continuing discreet meetings with members of the Commission and its legal panel and had provided it with many documents (still unreturned to date) that were used as basis for the body’s findings against Gen Jovito Palparan and other military commanders.

Open participation in the Melo Commission’s proceedings by such groups however eventually became meaningless and even foolhardy when the Commission bungled the task of winning these groups’ trust and confidence. Serious doubts they raised about the body’s independence, lack of powers, e.g. to protect witnesses, and the capacity to pursue the prosecution of identified perpetrators were not acted upon. Karapatan’s misgivings have been validated by the fact that Mrs. Arroyo has not taken any concrete steps to follow through on the serious charges made by her own Commission against her favored general, Jovito Palparan.

In marked contrast, human rights organizations and other advocates that the government labels as being “communist front organizations”, cooperated fully with the various independent fact-finding missions such as those of Amnesty International, UN Special Rapporteurs, the Interparliamentary Union, Human Rights Watch and many other international bodies. The deciding factor: the latter groups’ willingness to seek the truth from facts and to work to put a stop to the extrajudicial killings even though, or more so, because state forces are implicated as likely perpetrators.

In fact, even Bayan and other national democratic formations stereotyped by government as always seeking violent confrontations with the police in street demonstrations and incapable of reasoned argument and sober dialogue, have filed numerous cases at the Commission on Human Rights, the Ombudsman and in the various courts, including the Supreme Court, to seek redress of grievances and pursue the ends of justice.

Sadly, outside of the Supreme Court, such groups’ experience with the justice system has been very disappointing, if not frustrating. Invariably, especially in criminal cases such as the murder of their leaders and members and complaints of gross human rights violations, perpetrators have gotten away scot free while witnesses and the complainants have suffered harassment, intimidation and even death at the hands of suspected masterminds who are in positions of authority.

Take the case of Mr. Beltran. His case exemplifies the brand of "justice" reserved for those branded as “Leftists” (meaning “communists”) under this regime. Despite gross violations of due process and patently fabricated evidence (such as perjured testimony that he was seen in Batangas with rebel military officers on the day that his physical presence at sessions in the Batasan was clearly recorded on video and official HOR records), he had to languish under detention for a year and a half.

The Supreme Court’s dismissal of the rebellion case appears at first glance to be an assurance that there are still institutions and processes that uphold the rule of law. Instead, it has only served to expose the harsh reality that the capacity of government instrumentalities to disregard, distort and/or circumvent the law -- in the name of “national security” -- knows no bounds.

Quite recently, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales summarily removed a state prosecutor working on the case of desaparecido Jonas Burgos because he had allegedly prematurely disclosed the names of six military personnel who were prime suspects in the Burgos abduction and thus put government in a bad light. In the aforementioned case of the Batasan 6 et al, Mr. Gonzales had no such qualms in depriving the accused their right to due process when he and his prosecutors engaged in what the Supreme Court pointedly scored as the “obvious involvement of political considerations in (their) actuations.”

The Arroyo regime’s rush to implement the Anti-Terrorism Act despite the lack of Implementing Rules and Regulations and a sufficient public information effort speaks loudly of its unspoken objective: to tilt the balance in the legal arena towards an oppressive government that needs a fascist law to win its battles against so-called enemies of the state.###

July 06, 2007

Terrorist tag and peace

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales assures the media and the public that wiretapping, surveillance, warrant less arrest and freezing of bank deposits – among a few of the draconian measures the new anti-terror law aka the Human Security Act has in store – will not be used against anyone unless he or she is a “terrorist” to begin with. Now that’s a laugh. The law is indeed quite vague about who a “terrorist” is, so much so that it is the likes of Mr. Gonzales and other right-wingers cum militarists in the Anti-terrorism Council, who will end up saying who is and who is not, a terrorist. Small comfort, that.

Even now the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime is itching to use the anti-terror measure to outlaw the Communist Party of the Philippines or CPP (the repeal of the Anti-subversion Law effectively legalized it) and to impose the onus of terrorism on its armed wing, the New People’s Army or NPA.

National Security Adviser (NSA) Norberto Gonzalez rants about the success of “communist propaganda” in placing the blame on the military and the entire GMA regime for unabated extrajudicial killings. He eagerly anticipates the HSA’s effectivity, insinuating that it will be used to bludgeon not just the communists and NPA but also their so-called front organizations and mass base meaning leaders, members and supporters of the legal national democratic movement exemplified by Bayan and its allied organizations.

When US President George W. Bush bombed the hell out of the Taliban in Afghanistan for hosting Osama bin Laden, the presumed mastermind of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the US mainland, few could argue against the move. It seemed only right that the US government avenge the close to 3,000 civilian casualties of the Twin Towers collapse alone.

In no time, the Avenger Bush launched the borderless “war on terror” that saw the US invading and occupying Iraq on the basis of the falsehood that Saddam Hussein held weapons of mass destruction. The US spread out its military tentacles all over the Middle East as well as bolstered its presence in East Asia where the Philippines was declared as the “second front” in the fight against “terrorism”. It became increasingly clear that the US-led “war on terror” was just the convenient cover for America’s reinvigorated economic expansionism and military adventurism under the rubric of what Mr. Bush and his fellow neoconservatives called the “Project for a New American Century”.

To Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her inner circle of die-hard anticommunists, closet fascists and power-hungry bureaucrats, the US-led “war against terrorism” was heaven sent. Mrs. Arroyo’s unquestioning support for it achieved two complementary objectives: 1) maintaining US backing for her beleaguered regime and 2) justifying political repression and military attacks against her critics, most especially the Left, in the name of “anti-terrorism”.

Mrs. Arroyo, her generals and rabid anti-Left advisers like Fr. Romeo Intengan SJ and Norberto Gonzalez pushed hard for the government-touted anti-terror law, both to please her US sponsors as well as to have a powerful legal instrument to use alongside the policy of “all-out war” against the CPP-NPA, extrajudicial killings of unarmed activists and the virtual collapse of peace negotiations with the umbrella formation, the National Democratic Front or NDF.

There are a host of things to criticize and oppose in the purported anti-terror measure but oftentimes one thing is overlooked; that is, its effect on efforts to resolve the decades-old armed conflict in the country, specifically the prospect of restarting the almost collapsed peace negotiations between the government and the NDF.

The Arroyo regime, in collusion with the Bush government, used the US designation of the CPP-NPA as a “foreign terrorist organization” and CPP founding chair and NDF chief political consultant, Jose Maria Sison, as a “terrorist” to try to pressure the NDF into capitulating at the peace talks. The government threatened the NDF with all the dire consequences of being tagged as “terrorist” if it did not agree to an open-ended ceasefire and a government-dictated “final peace agreement”.

Five years later, the government is no closer to its objective of making the CPP-NPA and other revolutionary organizations of the NDF surrender by using the “terrorist” tag. In fact proscribing the CPP-NPA would cause the permanent termination of the peace negotiations, according to Mr. Sison.

In a 3 July press statement, Mr. Sison averred, “The NDFP has made clear its just and reasonable position: it is willing to resume the formal talks of the peace negotiations on the remaining issues in the substantive agenda (socio-economic and political reforms) if exploratory talks can bring about a formal written agreement on certain prejudicial questions, such as the ongoing human rights violations by the regime, the murder and kidnapping of NDFP personnel and consultants, the ‘terrorist’ listing of the CPP, NPA and NDFP by foreign governments and the indemnification of the victims of human rights violations under the Marcos regime.”

The NDFP also said it was willing to enter into a ceasefire agreement under its proposed 10-point Concise Agreement for an Immediate Just Peace. However, it rejected any ceasefire “which blatantly violates or runs counter to the existing agreements between the GRP and NDFP, the national and democratic principles of the NDFP and the people’s demand for the adoption of basic socio-economic and political reforms to address the roots of the armed conflict.”

Mrs. Arroyo’s handling of the terrorist labeling of Mr. Sison by the US, the European Union and others is turning out to be a gross miscalculation. The belief that such hardball tactics would work on a revolutionary movement that has survived and even flourished in the face of the worst that the Marcos fascist dictatorship could do to it is proving to be the height of political naiveté.

It is tragic that the Arroyo regime is wasting time and squandering what has been achieved so far in the peace negotiations in a bid to maintain itself illegitimately in power. After five years of using “anti-terrorism” as a trump card to pressure the NDF, the government has in fact moved farther from reaching an agreement that could bring about a truly just and lasting peace. ###