February 05, 2009

Another Oplan Phoenix?

There is really something more sinister than meets the eye in Malacanang's determined push to place a notorious human rights violator, retired AFP General Jovito Palparan, in the Dangerous Drugs Board. Significantly, this move came to light when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took direct charge of government’s anti-narcotics drive in light of the word war between the Justice Department and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) over the former’s dismissal of charges against suspected drug pushers arrested by PDEA.

Too bad for the government, the quarrel has all the makings of a tabloid crime story wherein no less than state prosecutors (even Justice Secretary Gonzales is implicated) get some rich kids off the hook after being bribed by interested parties. In the process the PDEA agents are made to appear incompetent and violators of due process.

GMA’s appointing herself as drug czarina can simply be brushed aside as a clumsy attempt to earn "pogi points" while troubleshooting the DOJ vs PDEA conflict. The objective is to sweep the controversy under the rug and pretend that the Arroyo administration is undeterred in stamping out the drug menace. It is also a signal to the warring parties to cool down and for the publicity-hungry Congressmen to back off so that Malacanang can control the damage.

Mrs. Arroyo is projected as a no-nonsense executive stepping in to fix things after her subalterns make a mess of things. But in reality, naming herself "drug czar" does not vest her with any additional powers or resources to fight the drug menace.

One gets the picture. The Arroyo administration is not really serious about the anti-drug campaign otherwise it would have to confront the fact that a justice system steeped in corruption is of no use in the so-called war against illegal drugs. The big-time drug pushers, those coddled by venal government officials, the criminal syndicates who make buying off the police, prosecutors, judges and jail wardens part of the business, are all untouchable. It is only the small-time, street pushers who the authorities run after and are then paraded to the media as trophies in the anti-narcotics campaign.

Why else has the focus shifted to random drug testing in the campuses? There is no way this measure can flush out, much less stop drug lords and pushers, any more than the mandatory drug test for driver's license applicants has yanked out the drug users from behind the steering wheel. If this is all the government has to offer, it obviously is merely trying to deflect attention from the dirty linen exposed to public view by the "Alabang boys" scandal.

Emboldened by how it has gotten away with the most corrupt deals, the most heinous of crimes perpetrated by state security forces with impunity, the most brazen of political maneuverings and the most outrageous lies – the Arroyo boys are deep into their latest Machiavellian maneuvers to turn a bad thing to their advantage.

Why not use the quarrel between justice officials and the drug enforcers over alleged rich-kids-cum-drug-pushers as an occasion to highlight the “drug czar’s” political will to fight the drug lords and related scumbags. Why not recycle Gen. Palparan, Mrs. Arroyo’s counter-insurgency poster boy, as the newest crime buster, this time against drug pushers, the kind of public scourge everyone abhors and would like to be rid of.

Riding on the public clamor for decisive action on the drug problem, Malacanang has named Palparan as a prospective key official of the DDB or the PDEA. The general, not having any legal, moral or political scruples about resorting to extrajudicial killings in counter-insurgency is now touted to be just what is needed for the anti-illegal drugs drive. This feeds into the thinking that government can and should utilize extralegal, in fact, illegal measures to solve intractable problems.

But the plot thickens. It is mind boggling that Mrs. Arroyo and her bright boys would not see that pushing Palparan into the DDB would set off another controversy. Several senators, a conservative cardinal and another prelate, opinion makers, not to mention human rights advocates and activists have all decried this politically explosive appointment of “The Butcher” in the DDB.

Arroyo’s Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, himself a retired general who saw official duty in Vietnam together with Fidel Ramos as part of the Philcag contingent in the late sixties, says that Gen. Palparan will be useful because of his expertise in intelligence work that he put to good use dismantling the communist movement’s political infrastructure. That is, he was supposedly good at identifying and eradicating communist rebels pretending to be unarmed activists.

(He was also good, by the way, in scaring the daylights out of the relatives, neighbors and friends of these government “enemies” by threatening or actually punishing them instead. The reality is that the quality of the intelligence gathered may be poor, unreliable or even riddled with false information, but for the likes of Palparan, it doesn’t matter. Brute force, naked terror and summary execution should do the trick.)

Not so subtly, Malacanang is not only praising Palparan's "intelligence" but also exonerating him and the Arroyo government of the murder, torture and disappearances of hundreds of victims who were innocent, in truth and in law.

We suspect that Arroyo’s foremost militarist in civilian garb, General Ermita, is taking a leaf from the Vietnam War, specifically the Phoenix Program, and trying to apply this failed counter-insurgency measure into the Philippine setting. In brief, the Phoenix Program was a military, intelligence, and internal security program designed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and coordinated and executed by the South Vietnam security apparatus and US Special Operations Forces during the war. It was in operation between 1967 and 1972 and was designed to identify and "neutralize" (via infiltration, capture, terrorism, or assassination) the civilian infrastructure supporting the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam.

The Phoenix Program that this government has copied and used in its Oplan Bantay Laya I and II is historically proven to be a failure. It was a covert operation, evidently and admittedly violative of international law and it failed. It did not destroy nor did it undermine the Vietnamese people’s support for the Vietnamese revolutionaries. The ultimate judgment came in the form of abject US defeat in the Vietnam War.

By resurrecting Gen. Palparan and attempting to absolve him of his crimes, Malacanang is banking on the public's short memory and its strong repugnance for and condemnation of the drug menace in order to clear the GMA regime as well for its coddling and encouragement of this erstwhile criminal-in-uniform. Unwittingly, the GMA regime reopens the case against Palparan and itself. It may end up with the whole scheme backfiring on its face.#


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