June 26, 2008


De facto president Gloria Arroyo’s visit to the United States amidst national tragedy wrought by Typhoon Frank shows she is more interested in her own survival than that of hundreds of thousands of Filipino families directly and indirectly affected by the calamity and that she considers the support of the US more important than the support of the Filipino people.

What is it in Mrs. Gloria Arroyo’s so-called working visit to the US that is so important that she could not put off the trip in light of the devastation in many provinces not to mention the sinking of the ferry MV Princess of the Stars with hundreds dead or missing and still unaccounted for?

The height of the visit was a 35-minute audience of Mrs. Arroyo with US President Bush wherein the two “reaffirmed … the close cooperation between the Philippines and the United States on food security, defense and economic development”.

What was that exactly?

According to the Malacanang press release, Mr. Bush expressed his condolences to the families of the victims of the sea tragedy and announced the sending of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan “and other naval assets” to help in the retrieval and rescue operations. He also lauded Mrs. Arroyo for her “strong position against terrorism.” Mr. Bush promised “food aid to help the Philippines with its rice supply problems”. He and Mrs. Arroyo took up “(their) mutual desire to advance … bilaterally and multilaterally in trade agendas.” For her part Mrs. Arroyo used the occasion to underscore that Philippine-US relations were “strong and healthy” and the two governments were working together “to establish a progressive Philippines, the torch of democracy in Asia.”

Nothing earthshaking if we go by the official reports. Nothing that could not have been achieved through the usual diplomatic channels or even videoconferencing. In fact, Malacanang claims that through the latter device, Mrs. Arroyo has managed to be “hands on” in the relief and rescue operations while being thousands of miles away.

The lack of substance in the agenda and the empty rhetoric that ensued from the Bush-Arroyo meeting reveal what Mrs. Arroyo’s trip was really all about: A beleaguered Philippine president again paying obeisance to the US overlord and getting that desperately needed public expression of continuing US support, be it coming from a much-reviled, lameduck president, facing a congressional resolution for impeachment on 15 counts, mostly relating to the illegal and immoral US war of aggression against Iraq.

But wait, one of Mrs. Arroyo’s apologists in Congress, Palawan Representative Antonio Alvarez says that “because (Mrs. Arroyo) was able to personally appeal for help to President Bush, a ship whose air assets are more than the ASEAN nations combined will now be helping in relief and rescue work.” Carried away by his logic that bigger is better, Mr. Alvarez further opines that since the US was sending a carrier group bigger than what it had sent to Myanmar and China, “whose cyclone and earthquake fatalities dwarf the loss of lives caused by Typhoon Frank,” then US President Bush must really have a high regard for his boss, Mrs. Arroyo, who made the appeal in the country’s behalf.

We would be impressed were it not for the fact that the kind of rescue and relief operations at this point obviously does not require an aircraft carrier much less the entire carrier strike group (CSG). The victims of the typhoon are reeling from the loss of family members in the storm and subsequent flooding, the destruction of their homes, farms and other small livelihood. They need food, shelter, health care and help to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of the calamity.

Most of the affected communities are accessible unlike in other calamities like earthquakes, landslides or volcanic eruptions where victims require massive airlifting. The sunken passenger ferry on the other hand is near land and is already the object of coast guard operations to mainly retrieve the bodies of the dead and prevent a massive oil spill from the ship’s fuel tanks.

A quick check on the internet tells us that the CSG is composed of an aircraft carrier which is a “warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft” and one or two guided missile cruisers, a guided missile destroyer, a guided missile frigate, one or two attack submarines and a combined ammunition, oiler, and supply ship.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon, former Armed Forces Chief, questioned the US deployment of an aircraft carrier to help in the search for survivors of the sea mishap. “An aircraft carrier is not designed for salvage. The USS Ronald Reagan is a strategic and combat vessel whose main assets are aircraft, F-18s. What will the F-18s do for the recovery (efforts)?”

Furthermore Wikipedia states, “The CSG is intended for employment in any of a variety of roles, all of which would involve the gaining and maintenance of sea control such as protection of economic or military shipping; protection of a marine amphibious force; establishing a naval presence in support of national interests; and power projection.”

Rather than be effusively grateful for the grand gesture of Mr. Bush in sending an entire slew of sophisticated warships to help us out in the wake of a natural calamity, shouldn’t our political leaders be asking simple questions like: Is the help offered useful in doing what has to be done? If not, what are the reasons behind the apparent overkill in assistance?

It no longer comes as a surprise that humanitarian assistance in times of disaster is being used by the US government, with the approval of the Philippine government, to condition the public mind into uncritically accepting the presence and basing of US forces and war materiel within the country’s territory, including its territorial waters. This is apart from the all-too-familiar and bogus “war on terror” justification.

The US deployment of the USS Ronald Reagan and its accompanying escort warships constitutes nothing less than the cynical use of the country’s dire need for international aid and assistance in a time of crisis to pursue the strategic politico-military objectives of the US in the region and elsewhere.

The dire implications therefore are more than just the cost of Mrs. Arroyo’s publicity stunt in the guise of a “working visit”. Mrs. Arroyo is complicit in opening the doors wider and wider for an aggressive, jingoist Superpower to intervene militarily in the Philippines and outlying countries. Her regime is a party no less to the culpable violation by the US government of the Philippines’ national sovereignty and territorial integrity.#

June 05, 2008

Human rights and US "war on terror"

The (US) 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. The war on terrorism has inevitable spillover effects on human rights all over the world, especially in countries suspected as being used as havens of terrorists.
-- Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno

At the 8th session of the UN Human Rights Council, during which the Philippine human rights record is being reviewed, UN Special Rapporteur Professor Philip Alston, stood by his findings on the alarming spate of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in the last six years.

According to the non-government organization, Philippine UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Watch, Mr. Alston stated that so many of the cases remained unexplained; only a few cases, prosecuted; and to date there had been no conviction of military personnel involved. Mr. Alston underscored his finding that, in so far as the number and characterization of the killings, the methodology used by the Philippine government was defective.

Fr. Rex Reyes, head of delegation of the Philippine UPR Watch, said that after Alston’s report, the Philippine Mission in Geneva submitted a 6-page statement lambasting the report as "inaccurate, highly selective and biased” and vilifying Mr. Alston himself.

It is not at all out of character for the Philippine government to stick to its denial mode as far as extra-judicial killings (EJKs) and other human rights violations are concerned. The regime of Mrs. Gloria Arroyo, while continuing to understate the gravity and extent of the killings, washes its hands of any culpability, accuses its detractors of exaggerating the problem and of politicking, and then proudly proclaims that it has significantly reduced the incidence of EJKs and human rights violations in general.

Mr. Alston was reported to have “happily note(d) the drop in the number of extrajudicial killings since he began his mission in the Philippines.” But he also wryly added, “The decrease in number while a cause to congratulate, is likewise a cause to condemn because it merely shows clearly who are behind the extrajudicial killings.”

The Arroyo regime’s bloody human rights record has close to universally been criticized by the international human rights community, including such institutions as the International Parliamentary Union as well as certain countries in the European Union known for their consistent defense of human rights. Yet most recently, Malacanang issued a press release welcoming the 2008 report of the US State Department “hailing the Philippine government’s adherence to democracy and freedom, respect for human rights and stepped up efforts to end extrajudicial killings and disappearances.” Presidential Spokesperson Bunye added, “(The report) reiterates the commitment of the American government to assist and stand by us.”

The US-backed Arroyo regime, facing serious challenges to its political survival, has courted the support of the US and ensured the loyalty of the US-trained Philippine military by escalating military actions not only against the CPP-NDFP-NPA but against legal progressive organizations and personalities under the guise of countering “terrorism”. Hence the rise in extrajudicial killings.

Moreover, the regime has been emboldened by the US “war on terror” to rely mainly on a military solution to the armed conflict rather than address the roots of the armed conflict by instituting basic social, political and economic reforms. Thus, one of the first victims of the US “war on terror” in the Philippines is the quest for a just and lasting peace through peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

In the light of increasing revelations about the horrendous violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the US military, US government-contracted private security agencies and such state investigative arms as the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the course of the US war of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and while rounding up suspected “terrorists” in the US and other countries, it is not surprising why the Bush administration and the Arroyo regime find themselves mutually reinforcing each other’s fascist mindset and policies.

It behooves human rights advocates exposing and opposing the brutal Arroyo regime to pay particular attention to the US own bloody human rights record everywhere and the particular role that the US continues to play in encouraging and sustaining state terrorism by its neo-colonial client regimes. The indisputable and documented trail of US war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and crime of aggression against sovereign countries must be unmasked and fought against.

Specifically, the US refusal to sign on to the Rome Statute mandating the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its use of arm-twisting measures, e.g. a cut-off in military and economic aid, against countries that ratify the Rome Statute, is a virtual admission of guilt and the intent to continue violating human rights (HR) and international humanitarian law (IHL). The ICC is widely considered to be a historic and major breakthrough in human rights protection because it provides international mechanism for prosecution of grievous violations of HR and IHL. The Philippines signed but did not submit the treaty to the Senate for ratification due to such US pressure.

The official US post-9/11 “Guidelines for Interrogation” of suspected “terrorists” include methods considered as torture by international law standards. Even US courts have ruled these to be unconstitutional. The US also signed but “with reservations” the International Convention on Torture. Severe, inhuman and dehumanizing torture has been inflicted by US forces in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other US-run detention facilities all over the world. Evidently the practice of torture by US security agents and armed forces is systematic and to a certain extent institutionalized.

Human rights groups and several public inquiries in Europe have found the US government, with the help of numerous governments worldwide, to be engaged in the illegal practice of extraordinary rendition, secret detention and torture. The US government-sponsored program of renditions is an unlawful practice in which numerous persons have been illegally detained and secretly flown to third countries, where they have suffered additional human rights abuses including torture and enforced disappearance.

The latest scandal surrounding the US-led war of terror is the emergence from a number of sources such as statements from the US military, the Council of Europe and related parliamentary bodies and the testimonies of prisoners, that the US is operating “floating prisons” in an attempt to conceal the numbers and whereabouts of those detained as “terrorist” suspects.

Indeed, Mrs. Arroyo’s upcoming meeting with US President Bush in the US this month shows just how much she still admires and follows the lead of her fascist, if lame-duck, role model.#