July 09, 2010

Mr. Aquino, stop the killings!

The cold-blooded assassination of Bayan Muna Aklan coordinator and Lezo town councilor Fernando Baldomero last Monday is forcing the hand of President Benigno Aquino to not only denounce extra-judicial killings (EJKs) and promise to go after their perpetrators but to deal with its obvious link with the government’s counterinsurgency program called Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL).

Will he acknowledge it as something he has inherited but abhors and intends to put an end to? More important, what he is going to do about it, knowing full well that the people, his acknowledged "Boss", would demand more than the same avowals and promises they had likewise heard from the murderous Arroyo regime?

Mrs. Arroyo herself was forced to make some general condemnation of EJKs after the indignant reaction to the fulsome praise she heaped on a notorious general accused precisely of ordering such killings. Rising concern in the international community about the unabated murders of unarmed activists and other progressives may also have pushed Mrs. Arroyo to appoint a feisty chairperson for the nonetheless toothless human rights commission.

But there have been no credible investigations; no arrests; no successful prosecutions; and most of all, no acknowledgement that EJKs have become part and parcel of government’s counterinsurgency operations.

Thus although the numbers of EJKs and other gross human rights violations came down for a while, these started to climb up once more especially as the government’s self-imposed deadline for ending the insurgency drew near.

Mr. Aquino’s pronouncements so far about national security and peace talks and his latest address to the Philippine military in turn-over ceremonies have fallen far short of sending an unequivocal message of his administration’s commitment to uphold human rights.

Despite the gravity of the problem, it is not clear at this point whether part of building “strong, capable and disciplined security forces” includes weeding out those guilty of EJKs and their cover-up. Will Mr. Aquino give them the same leeway as did Mrs. Arroyo or will he relentlessly go after them, in as much as he is called upon to uncompromisingly seek the truth and achieve justice with regard to all the anti-people crimes of her regime?

Even with regard to the so-called Truth Commission, Mr. Aquino has so far been quite general in its announced goals, i.e. anomalies under the Arroyo government, without mention of human rights violations despite local and international outrage over hundreds of unsolved cases and clear signs that these are continuing despite a change in leadership.

The ambiguity in Mr. Aquino’s policy statements leaves much room for perpetuating the climate of impunity that persists to this day. As if on cue, the military spokesperson’s blanket denial of any AFP involvement in Mr. Baldomero’s killing and the innuendo that the NPA are more likely to be the culprits behind it reveals the military’s unchanged attitude and line on EJKs.

The victims of human rights violations expect nothing short of concrete and effective steps from the Aquino administration to put a stop to the killings and render justice to the victims. These include:

1) Investigate, arrest and prosecute the direct perpetrators of EJKs, enforced disappearances, etc and the high government officials and military/police officers who provided policy direction and political justification, praised and promoted the notorious military/police officers implicated, provided systematic cover-up and gave all-out support to Oplan Bantay Laya.

2) Put on hold, subject to review and disavow OBL as part of actualizing the statement of Presidential Spokesperson that “EJKs are not a policy” of the Aquino administration.

3) Immediately put a stop to the military’s vilification
campaign against activists and progressives, specifically linking them to the New People’s Army, thereby setting them up for “neutralization” (a military euphemism for elimination) first politically, and eventually, physically. There should be a clear repudiation of the AFP document "Knowing the Enemy" which set the direction, justified and lined up the targets for "neutralization" by the military.

4) Issue a strong warning and undertake summary action against military commanders in areas of responsibility where EJKs take place and against police superintendents who make no headway in investigating EJKs and other gross HRVs.

5) Stop the widespread practice of arresting, detaining and convicting leaders and members of progressive organizations for alleged criminal offenses on the basis of fabricated charges and evidence. Release all political prisoners detained on the basis of false charges.

Moreover, this blight on the government’s human rights record and the rule of law should not be tackled selectively. It is hoped that Mr. Aquino will not take a leaf from the way the US ambassador recently and notably called for quick official action on media killings while being conspicuously silent on the murders of activists known to be on the Left of the political spectrum.

It must be pointed out that prior governments’ track record with regard to EJKs has been dismal including the assassination of Mr. Aquino’s father, Sen. Ninoy Aquino, where the real masterminds were never officially determined, much less prosecuted and arrested.

It is perhaps a testament to the country’s real state of affairs, where the military and police are now more than ever the armed protectors of an intolerably unjust social system and whoever is the current oppressive regime presiding over it. So much so that whatever their abuses against the people, these are swept under the rug, tolerated and even justified in the name of counterinsurgency and protecting the state.

Sooner than later, the Aquino regime will be unmasked by the festering problems of Philippine society that continue to erupt with such manifestations as EJKs, fiscal crises and unmitigated poverty that no amount of feel-good rhetoric can contain and paper over.

Mr. Aquino will then be forced to confront these and will be ultimately judged by his actions and not mere promises. #

*Published in Business World
9-10 July 2010


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