The Lozada perjury case may be the most celebrated example of the Arroyo regime's abuse of state authority to attack the innocent in order to cover up the truth, protect the guilty, perpetuate itself in power and continue plundering the nation's coffers, but it is not the only one and certainly not even the worst.
One does not have to look too far back in space and time to find more horrifying examples.
The recent murder of Agriculture Undersecretary Gumersindo Lasam, who had testified that it was then Usec. Jocjoc Bolante, who gave the orders to disburse the funds in the notorious fertilizer scam, calls to mind the similar murders of journalist Marlene Esperat and peasant leaders Ofelia Rodriguez and Nilo Arado who also testified against Bolante.
In some ways, the Arroyo regime has proven itself a more vicious monster than the hated regime of the dictator Marcos.
To begin with, assassinations and extra-judicial killings of progressives, activists and their sympathizers as well as opposition personalities, including whistleblowers, in the urban areas were few and far between during the fourteen martial law years. In contrast, the Arroyo regime has chalked up an appalling number – hundreds -- in the last five years alone.
The GMA regime has also increasingly resorted to attacks on the close kin of known leaders of the revolutionary movement, such as the recent abduction, rape and murder of Rebelyn Pitao, daughter of NPA leader Leoncio Pitao. Prior to this regime, such attacks by state security forces were only prevalent in the countryside.
The abuse of the judicial system through the Inter-Agency Task Legal Action Group (IALAG), in order to (1) persecute, harass, charge criminally, arrest and detain progressive and opposition leaders and whistleblowers and (2) cover up the Arroyo regime’s crimes and protect the particular perpetrators has been stepped-up. Government agencies in IALAG, especially the Department of Interior and Local Government-Philippine National Police (DILG-PNP) and the Justice Department have been employed systematically and relentlessly to ensure impunity.
But like the Marcos dictatorship before it, the Arroyo regime has utterly failed to completely suppress the truth and stifle opposition, despite the use of the entire state machinery.
Jun Lozada, star witness in the investigation into the anomalous NBN broadband deal, has emerged victorious in the early rounds of his fight against the persecutory legal suits instigated by Malacañang against him. The court hearing the perjury charge filed by former Cabinet member Mike Defensor has granted the Senate petition that Mr. Lozada be temporarily released to its custody while the case is being tried. This means that he is free from the clutches of the police who have apparently received instructions from “higher-ups” to inflict “utmost discomfort” on him, in particular, placing him in a hot, stuffy and smelly detention cell with criminal suspects, all the better to break his will.
This bit of good news comes on the heels of a Palace announcement that Mrs. Gloria Arroyo has put up a 25 million-peso fund for the government reward system that would “put an end to political killings” in the country. For its part, the Philippine National Police offered a P21.235-million reward for the arrest of the killers of journalists and activists. The fund includes a P15-million reward for the arrest of Jose Maria Sison, founding chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and Gregorio Rosal, spokesperson of the CPP-led New People’s Army.
Legislators, notably senators, shot down the 25 million-peso reward fund, including Mrs. Arroyo’s call on the solons to contribute P250,000 each from their pork barrel to the fund. They labeled Mrs. Arroyo’s move as buck-passing, tokenism, and worse, empty talk, in light of the Arroyo regime’s abject failure to put a stop to extrajudicial killings. In fact, the number of such killings, enforced disappearances and illegal arrests and detention since 2008 have continued to rise as monitored by both non-government human rights organizations and the Commission on Human Rights.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita himself admitted that the police and the military - the very agencies accused of perpetrating most of the abductions and killings of activists - stood to receive the lion’s share of the P25-million fund. This isn’t just an unfortunate instance of mixed signals from the Executive. It amounts to the cynical use of human rights atrocities such as extra-judicial killings in order to further line the pockets of Mrs. Arroyo’s loyal generals and keep them focused on wiping out as many of the regime’s purported political enemies.
The reported PNP reward money has elicited scornful laughter from human rights advocates in many quarters. The police bounty on Professor Sison is more of a propaganda tool designed to deflect growing public criticism of the brutality, incompetence, nefarious practices and utter lawlessness of the police. Prof. Sison recently achieved a major legal victory against the efforts of the Philippine, US and Dutch governments to pin him down on murder charges and further demonize him as a “terrorist” when such charges where thrown out by the Dutch court as completely groundless.
We stopped to wonder why the Arroyo regime suddenly came up with the not-so-bright-idea of the reward fund apart from the usual efforts to cover up its sordid human rights record. It was only when we received a copy of UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston’s 29 April 09 follow-up report, on the status of the recommendations he made after his official visit to the Philippines in February 2007, that we found part of the answer.
Prof. Alston concluded that the Arroyo regime deserved credit “for having sent a message to the military which resulted in a significant decrease in the number of killings.” What this implies is that the sudden drop in the number of EJKs after the UN report came out indirectly confirms that state forces are truly involved in them. Mr. Alston also pointed out that “(a)lthough the number of extrajudicial executions of members of civil society organizations has greatly diminished, too many cases continue to be reported and far too little accountability has been achieved for the perpetrators”.
The Arroyo regime’s reward money is nothing but a crude attempt to whitewash its bloody human rights record and appear innocent and diligent in going after the perpetrators in light of continuing international criticism and denunciation. The Arroyos are destined to exit from the Philippine political scene in disgrace, perhaps even worse than the dictator Marcos. #