In the order of battle
Long before Bienvenido “Ka Bien” Lumbera was named Ramon Magsaysay Awardee and National Artist, I knew him as one of the most gifted and resilient of the cultural and political activists coming from the martial law period. The gifted part has been validated by a body of work not just read by scholars, students and admirers but performed on stage and watched by a much broader audience.
The resilient part has just been confirmed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) whose intelligence operatives were caught last week with their pants down conducting a surveillance operation on the mild-mannered professor who has continued to recite nationalist, some say incendiary, poems in protest rallies against the Arroyo government even after receiving the coveted awards.
Why would the military, which surely has better things to do, target such a soft-spoken, pleasant and by all accounts, unlikely security threat as Prof. Lumbera?
Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro attempts to downplay the incident by saying it was a complete mistake for the military to have ordered the surveillance and that heads would roll. (We await the heads that Mr. Teodoro will offer up as proof of his decisive action.)
The military spokesperson tries to pass off the incident as a routine intelligence training exercise assigned to a rookie enlisted man who obviously failed the test by getting caught. (What about the two others who escaped? Were they more senior and therefore more capable because they got away?) He also describes a supposedly hypothetical scenario that the surveillance team was supposed to verify, that alleged communists were converging in Prof. Lumbera’s residence. (But the Navy claims Prof. Lumbera’s address was picked out at random and there was no deliberate attempt to target Prof. Lumbera himself.)
Executive Secretary Ermita tries to trivialize the incident by cracking a mindless joke, making it appear that the unfortunate incident is just a fluke in the navy’s intelligence training program.
Tell that to the marines!
Ka Bien is the Chairperson of the progressive Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) which is listed in AFP briefings since 2006 as an "enemy of the state". ACT has announced it will take part in the party list elections in 2010. Pioneering progressive party list organizations such as Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party and Anakpawis have all been similarly accused as “enemies of the state”, its leaders, ordinary members and even mere supporters placed in a veritable death list called an “Order of Battle”.
Prior to and during the 2007 elections, the AFP undertook a comprehensive and all-out campaign against these party list organizations, including what they euphemistically referred to in their documents as “special operations of the Palparan model”. Subsequently many leaders and members of these groups ended up victims of extra-judicial killing, enforced disappearance, torture, illegal arrest and detention and all manner of state terrorist attacks.
The only byte of truth in the official excuses is the slip-of-the-tongue reference to the AFP’s suspecting Prof. Lumbera of having links with communist leaders. This, more than his being one of the most prominent leaders of the organized umbrage against Malacañang’s use of the National Artist Award to reward Arroyo ass-kissers, has made Prof. Lumbera a marked man.
Evidently for the same reason, another multi-awarded writer, UP Professor Pedro“Jun” Cruz Reyes, has been the subject of renewed military surveillance in his home in Hagonoy, Bulacan. Prof. Cruz first experienced intense surveillance and was warned by friendly local officials that his name was listed in the military’s “Order of Battle” in 2007. It was there and then that UP students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Emperor were abducted also in Hagonoy, when General. Jovito Palparan was the Central Luzon Regional Commander.
The sinister implications of these cases are not difficult to see. UN rapporteur Alston confirmed the existence of an AFP “Order of Battle”. Most of those listed are known to have been subjected to surveillance and harassment before they were killed or abducted. Prof. Lumbera appears to be on this “Order of Battle”, if not an eminent candidate for inclusion.
The recent noticeable resurgence of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of progressive activists and human rights defenders together with the intelligence operations on Professors Lumbera and Cruz underscore the fact that the Arroyo government has not abandoned its counter-insurgency policy under Oplan Bantay Laya, of attacking legal personalities linked with the progressive movement.
There is no irony behind the fact that the specter of a police state victimizing its citizens as exemplified by the Lumbera case, along with persistent warnings that despite the elections hoopla, the cabal of Arroyo-Ermita-Gonzales are plotting to declare, if not martial law, then a “state of emergency” in order to retain power, are all taking place on the occasion of the 37th anniversary of martial law. These only underscore the fact that the overthrow of the Marcos Dictatorship and the so-called restoration of democracy in 1986 had not decisively eradicated the roots of tyranny and fascism in Philippine society.
We are starkly reminded that martial rule was not just about the machinations of a power-hungry, greedy, devious and ruthless man, Ferdinand E. Marcos, and not even of a “conjugal dictatorship” with his wife Imelda, but about a system of elite democracy that was even then falling apart at the seams.
The ruling classes and their foreign backers could no longer resort to mere deception to keep a restive people in check but had to resort more and more to coercive means; until the trappings of liberal democratic rule itself - a functioning legislature, an independent judiciary and a free press - had to be set aside with the declaration of one-man rule.
The reactions to the Lumbera incident, or lack of these, from those aspiring to lead our country and promising lofty political and social reforms once in power, are a useful, if revealing, gauge of what importance they give to the protection and promotion of human rights.
Sec. Teodoro's statement not surprisingly echoes previous Malacañang and AFP-DND denials of a state policy in effect. Senator Chiz Escudero, chair of the Senate Human Rights Committee, rejected the “lame explanation” of the Navy and said this incident “should not be swept under the rug”. But the silence of other candidates, including those who parade themselves as champions of democracy and human rights, certainly says a lot about how high - or low - human rights and the rule of law are on their list of priorities.
How many more are under covert surveillance and in the AFP's “Order of Battle”? How many more killings, disappearances, illegal arrests, detention and torture will take place? What reason or assurance do we have to believe that all these will end, even assuming a change of administration, in 2010?
It will be up to a more politically aware electorate to demand from the presidential candidates their stand on human rights and whether and how they will put a stop to the impunity enjoyed by the masterminds and perpetrators of human rights violations in this country. #