Human Rights After the First Days of the Aquino Administration
On Peace
Tuesday, 26 February 2013 19:12

Human Rights After the First Days of the Aquino Administration

(This article was published in 1986 by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) “Philippine Human Rights Update”)


PHRU_1986_cover_smallNo measure of brutality could underscore military abuses committed against thousands of defenseless civilians in both city and hinterland areas where popular protest mounted against despotic and bloodthirsty Marcos regime. Last year, almost all totals from most categories of human rights violations soared to unprecedented levels in what clearly resulted from the Marcos regime’s last ditch attempt to perpetuate itself in power in the face of insurmountable protest.


Defeated finally by the millions who poured out into the streets last February, the hated Marcoses together with their cronies fled and left behind massive foreign debts shackled to the country’s emaciated economy, notwithstanding voluminous cases of human rights violations awaiting justice.


The Aquino administration brought bright prospects for human rights in the country by releasing political prisoners and by creating an unimpeachable body, the Presidential Committee for Human Rights, to investigate all transgression of human rights.


But hardly had all political prisoners been released when grumblings from within the Reform the AFP (RAM) turned to forceful proddings not to release the detainees, particularly the so-called hard-core communists. One senior top brass RAMist warned the new government that the releases would “demoralize” the troops.


Post-Marcos dictatorship campaigns for justice initiated by aggrieved relatives and victims of military abuses, particularly the ongoing campaigns by FIND, SELDA, MARTYR and by peasant in strife-torn areas, had yet to win any decisive result when new cases of human rights violations began to be reported anew with alarming frequency throughout the country. One very recent case involved a member of FIND who was intimidated by a military man to stop pursuing the leads on her son’s abduction and disappearance. Most of the cases, however, were of the same vicious violations engendered during the Marcos regime.


Indeed, widespread euphoria over the erstwhile regime’s ouster had barely dissipated when militarization again wrought havoc across the land and notched more violations of human rights. Intensified counter-insurgency operations is still the order of the day in Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Cagayan Valley. Negros and in suspected NPA strongholds all over the country.

In Claveria, Misamis Oriental, militarization never really left the residents for one minute, even after the Marcos regime’s exist. The year’s military offensives at alleged NPA guerrilla bases in Claveria started with massive troop deployment early February, but the full blown counter-insurgency operations continues to this day.


Victims condemn the 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion and its cohatchetmen, the paramilitary Bolo Battalion, for the slaying of 16 residents, the hamletting of over 200 families, the burning of more than 60 houses, the death of 9 infants at the cramped and unsanitary evacuation centers, and the rampant incidents of strafing, pillaging and serial bombings spanning eight upland barangays in Claveria.


Last April in Nueva Ecija, residents accused the local CHDF and the 126th PC Company for salvaging, massacre and strafing incidents in Lupao, Talavera and Guimba towns. Nueva Ecijanos vehemently protested intensified military offensives and zoning operations, and they strongly demanded the dismantling of the CHDF. They appealed to concerned government bodies to conduct impartial investigation into all the cases, especially those which were allegedly perpetrated by private armies of local warlords.


In May, at Kabankalan, Negros del Norte, 38 striking workers of Hacienda Hagnaya were threatened by military operatives in Taboso. One of the organizers of an earlier strike, Uldarico Antojado, 44, an active member of the National Federation of Sugar Workers, was abducted and salvaged by unidentified men in military uniform. Antojado’s body bore the same gruesome marks inflicted upon the thousands who were martyred in the name of “national security” under the Marcos regime.


The new salvo of human rights violations which were caused by the same widespread and stepped up militarization reveals that the President’s call for peace and national reconciliation have fallen on not a few deaf ears. Sincere though some individuals within the new government and the AFP may be, their efforts are derailed by anti-people elements within the military – within the dominant RAM, and more so within the Marcos loyalist blco.


Militarization’s steep uptrend appears to be beyond redemption as military authorities persistently drumbeat for all out war against the NPA. Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile has publicly criticized the President for her “kid glove’ treatment of the NPA. AFP Chief of Staff, Brig. Gen. Fidel Ramos had likewise egged the President last June 4 to toughen up against the NPA to prevent what he called the further growth of the armed dissident movement since the new government took over.


Brig. Gen. Ramos’ pessimism on the new government’s non-militaristic peace initiatives was shared by the US deputy secretary if defense for international security affairs Robert L. Armitrago. Last June 2, his assessment on the Aquino admistration’s peace initiatives was marked with cynicism when he said: “ The NPA’s are (still) not coming down from the hills.” Armitrago went on to blame the so-called escalation of NPA guerrilla activities on the new government because it slashed the AFP’s budget by 15%.


Aforementioned claims on the AFP’s being saddled with money problems is belied altogether by recently increased military troop deployment and intensified counter-insurgency offensives throughout the country, especially in Bicol and Cagayan Valley.


Brig. Gen. Salvador Mison, AFP Vice Chief of Staff, has ordered government troops in Bicol last April to stress more in “protecting ordinary citizens” rather than in giving security to the rich. He also stressed that the military should now look outward the confines of their barracks and stop being overly cautious of protecting their own camps from the NPA. Soon after his command, Bicol folks, most of whom were farmers, ordinary citizens, began complaining anew of military abuses.


The present 12 battalions deployed in Bicol since the first quarter of 1985 was beefed up last May by 2 more battalions and 12 truckloads of soldiers.  The added muscle would please, if none others, Gen. Ramos, who himself ordered escalated military campaign in Bicol.


In Cagayan last May, Brig. Gen. Manuel Ribo, Cagayan Valley Regional Command Chief and Col. Rodolfo Aguinaldo, Cagayan PC Provincial Commander declared that they will “flush out the NPA from Cagayan in two weeks” by means of a massive counter-insurgency campaign codenamed Oplan Pegasus.


There are at present, 3000 officers and men in the region backed up by T28 warplanes (tora, tora),  jetfighters, helicopters, gunships. tanks, Armored Personnel Carrier, including artillery . Defense Minister Enrile had sent additional 252 rifles to CHDF which are under mayors suspectedly loyal to him.


To quash the estimated 300 rebels in the region, Gen. Ribo sketched a battle plan reminiscent of the Vietnam war. The general admitted the use of helicopter gunships and Tora Tora planes to support ground troops comprised of 4 infantry-sized battalions and 4 companies of scout rangers. He also admitted the setting up of food blockades and justified: “We have to be sure that the rebels are deprived of their supplies and other needs.”


By Mid-May, Cagayan folk banded themselves under the Cagayan Valley Human Rights Organization, Taripnong, Sadiri dagiti Manalon ti Cagayan, Katipunan dagiti Manalon ti Isabela (peasants organizations affiliated with the national Katipunan ng Magbubukid ng Pilipinas ) and the Isabela Nationalis Aggrupation for People’s Power, and trekked to Malacanang seeking the President’s intervention, but to no avail.


By Mid-June, close to 200 residents have fled from the military onslaught and sought refuge straight to Manila. The evacuees told harrowing stories of torture, salvagings, at least, 15 house burnings, and an indefinite number of strafing incidents, perpetrated by men in fatigue identified with the 17th Infantry Battalion.


Cagayan folks have suffered enough from the ousted regime’s brutality. Data gathered from 1977 to 1986 reveal that 100 residents have been killed due to militarization while some 500 more have been salvaged since that time. For the record, Cagayan is the province with the largest number of reported salvaging cases in the country.  With the 83 unsolved cases of involuntary disappearances, Cagayan Valley ranks second only to the region comprised of Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon and the Lanao Provinces which have a total of 100 cases.


Despite overwhelming odds, Filipinos have proven in the February upheaval and in previous historic revolts that they can rise united, in great numbers, against tyrants and their instruments for oppression. What is more, Filipinos have proven that they can win.


As remnants of the hated Marcos regime continue to hold sway and thwart the popular clamor for justice and peace, so too must human rights advocates throughout the land continue the struggle, together with the growing number of new found sincere allies both in the new government and in the military, to uproot the cause of militarization. Now more than ever, the challenges post by escalated militarization must be answered with relentless struggle maximizing and raising the power of the people to greater heights.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 19:17

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