December 12, 2016

The people say “Enough”

President Duterte had it coming.

Yes, Virginia, in a country rife with continuing human rights violations, the annual International Human Rights Day on December 10 is invariably marked with protests and mass demonstrations.

Public anger over the secret burial of the remains of the Dictator Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani and all that it implies still smolders necessitating the highlighting of wholesale human rights violations under martial law and Marcos one-man rule. Yet the Duterte regime’s disturbing human rights record in the brief period it has held power (coupled with his most recent outrageous pronouncements and decisions on related issues) has managed to overtake the Marcos burial issue.  Unsurprisingly, it occupied center stage in this year’s traditional protests.

That the killing of an alleged drug lord, Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinoso would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back was a surprise of sorts.  After all, critics of the government’s “war on drugs” kept asking why only drug users and small-time pushers from slum areas were getting hit.

The truth of the matter is that Duterte brought it on himself.

His early pronouncement defending the police CIDG team that raided the jail and killed Espinosa and another inmate despite obviously questionable facts and circumstances; the revelation that he prevailed on PNP Chief “Bato” de la Rosa to assign Superintendent Marvin Marcos to CIDG Region 8 despite his tainted record of involvement in illicit drug trade without a credible explanation; and his persistence, nay bull headedness, in clearing Marcos and his men despite Senate and NBI findings pointing to a likely “rub out” scenario — all these actuations piled up inexorably as the dead bodies of victims of extrajudicial killings to shock even those inured to Duterte’s penchant for saying dumfounding things.

Duterte’s handling of Mayor Espinosa’s brazen and pre-meditated killing at the hands of the police while already in detention serves as unmistakeable red flag in his “war on drugs”.  An unrelenting pattern — police raids on suspected lairs of drug pushers, alleged shoot-outs with a unbelievably high rate of sharpshooting by police, and dead bodies beside shabu sachets and alleged weapons — has emerged as nothing less than a license to shoot-to-kill people who have yet to be proven guilty or even to have anything to do with the illicit drug trade. Coupled with Duterte’s vigorous defense of his men, it amounts to presidential condonation of summary executions and impunity for their perpetrators.

There is growing unease over this kill-and-take-no-prisoners solution to a social scourge with complex causes requiring a multifaceted approach that puts rehabilitation of drug dependents and addressing underlying social ills at the forefront. There are growing reports of innocents being killed; communities terrorized; and the use of “Operation Tokhang” for counterinsurgency purposes against grassroots organizers and activists.  Meanwhile there is the Duterte regime’s own admission that many policemen and government officials are deeply involved in the drug trade even as no purported big fish amongst them are being properly prosecuted to effectively dismantle the drug mafias.

Even the killings ascribed to “vigilantes”  cannot remain unaddressed and unsolved for they contribute to the climate of impunity.  It consigns their poor victims to oblivion as involved in some way or as “collateral damage”. Some police officials have claimed that these killings could be the result of a war among drug lords.  If true, it only confirms that the way the “war on drugs” is being conducted allows it to be used as a convenient cover for inter-drug cartels’ killing frenzy as well.

The issue of political prisoners, more than 400 of them as of last count by human rights organization, KARAPATAN, has festered for so long despite attempts of supposedly democratic regimes post-Marcos to sweep them under the rug.

The Arroyo regime’s counterinsurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya, involved not only the targeted assassinations of leaders and members of legal progressive organizations (not armed combatants of the New People’s Army, take note), but also what government dubbed as a “legal offensive”.  A task force of public prosecutors worked hand-in-glove with police and military intelligence officers as well as pliant judges to illegally arrest, detain, prosecute and convict hundreds of perceived Leftists on the basis of trumped-up common crimes (multiple murder, arson, robbery in band and so forth) not even the political crimes of rebellion or sedition.

As part of a bold move to talk peace with the revolutionary forces of the CPP-NPA-NDFP, President Duterte offered a general amnesty as the swiftest way of remedying this patent injustice.

To jumpstart the formal peace negotiations, Malacanang worked with the political prisoners’ lawyers for the grant of bail to 17 NDFP consultants and 2 personnel. The ensuing effect on the peace process was unprecedented — a simultaneous unilateral ceasefire of indefinite duration and acceleration of the negotiations over socio-economic and political reforms. A bilateral ceasefire was in the works pending the release of all political prisoners and progress on a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER).

Sadly, Duterte has steadily backtracked from his earlier enlightened position regarding the political prisoners.

Apparently upon the advise of militarists and rabid anti-communists in his Cabinet and the military top brass, Duterte now says he will not release more political prisoners unless a bilateral ceasefire is signed arguing that to do so would mean he will lose bargaining chips in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.

Moreover, while Duterte gives blanket immunity for police, he undertakes the blanket labelling of political prisoners as members of the New People’s Army, to justify his hardline stance and in the process underscoring his utterly distorted sense of justice and the rule of law.

These shocking statements are especially unjust for the 130 of these political prisoners who are elderly, sick, women (especially those whose husbands are also in jail), or have been imprisoned for more than ten years.  The government peace panel has repeatedly promised to expedite their release on humanitarian grounds considering 13 have already died in detention.  They and their families have been undergoing a see-saw of emotions in the wake of government flip flops between announcing their impending release and then pronouncements that amount to their being held hostage to the peace negotiations.

The continuing militarization of the countryside, state terror inflicted on the peasantry and lumad in the form harassment through encampment in their communities, interrogations and up to summary executions by military and paramilitary elements, are ongoing despite the existence of unilateral ceasefires on each side of the protagonists in the armed conflict. This reality is rendering the current situation more and more untenable and could spark clashes in the near future.

The appointment of a general implicated in the enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos, the son of Joe Burgos, an icon of the fight for press freedom during martial law, and other human rights violations to the top post of the AFP; the threat to suspend the writ of habeas corpus as part of government’s anti-terrorism efforts; the moves to restore the death penalty and to revive the notorious, martial law-vintage Philippine Constabulary  — are among the Duterte regime’s actuations that are undermining whatever claims he has made to being a progressive and a harbinger of change.

The effigy burned at last week’s Human Rights Day was that of a skeletal monster with the face of the Dictator Marcos but with unmistakeable referencing to Duterte’s troubling human rights record.

“Never again!” clearly not only referred to the restoration of the Marcoses to Malacañang but to signs of the growing resort to fascist measures by the Duterte regime. #

Published in Business World
12 December 2016


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