All out war
Volume 20 Number 2
Friday, 30 June 2006 00:00
Last June 16, 2006, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo again declared war against the left. She stated, "While the revenues are the enabling mechanism for us to carry out our anti-poverty programs, the fight against the left remains the glue that binds. I am instructing the national security group to work with the DBM[1] on selected hardware and funding, aside from the five billion pesos per year modernization that will give the decisive edge against the NPA[2]. The timetable of six to ten years is too long."[3]

It is ironic that this declaration of war was made on the day we commemorate the establishment of the Miranda doctrine which mandates state agents to advise all criminal suspects of their rights before interrogation.

But then again the Miranda doctrine is rendered inutile when death squads have killed boldly and systematically, arrogating unto themselves the role of accuser, judge and executioner. How many more will fall prey after this latest beating of the drums of war?

This is not the first declaration of all out war by Mrs. Arroyo against the left. In 2002, she declared that an "all out, no nonsense war" be waged against the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF). In that year, military share of the national budget increased by 25%. Today, she orders the release of 1 billion pesos and sets a timetable of two years to defeat the NPA in critical areas, namely, Cordilleras/Northern Luzon, Central Luzon and Southern Luzon.

As if on cue, Major Gen. Jovito Palparan, redeploys his troops even in the urban centers of Central Luzon and sets up additional detachments in identified base communities of the NPA and the Rebolusyonaryong Hukbong Bayan (RHB), a splinter group of the NPA. Additional battalions coming from Mindanao are also sent to Central Luzon. To date, according to news reports, seven battalions are deployed in the region.

After the June 16 declaration of war, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales was quoted, as saying there will be "collateral damage" in the fight against the Left. Sure enough, two University of the Philippines (UP) students conducting research in Bulacan were roused from sleep and abducted last June 26. To date, the two remain missing.

Looking at Our Past: Aquino's total war policy
The collapse of the Marcos dictatorship in February 1986 ushered in the regime of Corazon Aquino, widow of former senator Benigno Aquino, a leading figure of the anti-Marcos opposition. Peace talks were initiated with the CPP-NPA-NDF. Political prisoners were freed. A Commission on Human Rights (CHR) was formed by virtue of a provision in the 1987 Constitution. There were high hopes that the Aquino leadership would be the exact opposite of Marcos. Alas, this would not last, as Mrs. Aquino declared "total war" against the CPP-NPA-NDF in the wake of the failed peace talks.

In her speech at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) on March 22, 1987, she said, "I told you when we were discussing the peace initiatives that when they fail, as we feared they would, and when it becomes necessary to take out the sword of war, that I want a string of honourable military victories."[4]

High profile cases during that time were the assassination of Rolando Olalia, Lean Alejandro, the Mendiola massacre and the Lupao massacre.

During Aquino's term, cases of human rights violations totalled 6,130 with 20,591 individuals as victims.[5]

By the end of her term, the CPP-NPA-NDF still stood as a formidable foe. Though badly bruised from the total war with its base communities severely hit, it was nowhere from being defeated.

Ramos MTPDP and peace talks
Ramos' centerpiece program was the Medium Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP). It set bold targets for economic development for the length of his term. At the same time he engaged in peace talks with all of the armed opposition – CPP-NPA-NDF, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and other splinter groups. He created an amnesty commission as part of the process. While civil and political rights violations experienced a downtrend, economic, social and cultural rights violations increased. This was evident in the number of demolitions undertaken not only in Metro Manila but in other key cities as well.

Ramos regime (1 July 1992 – 31 December 1997)
(based on reports received by Task Force Detainees of the Philippines – National Center as of January 1998)
Number of incidents of demolition    161
Total number of houses demolished    16,175
Total number of victims    269,106

Human rights violations also occurred in areas where mega-development projects were undertaken. This was the time when the term "Development Aggression" was coined to capture the sense that the development being pursued was not people-decided and not people-based.

ERAP's war against the Muslims
The presidency of Joseph Ejercito Estrada was marked by its vicious war against the MILF that resulted in the displacement of 800,000 individuals.[6]

Arroyo's all out war
Even before this latest policy statement from Mrs. Arroyo, human rights violations have been on an uptrend. Since her first year in power in 2001, 44 journalists[7] and more than 600 political activists[8] have been killed. Abductions and disappearances have also been on the rise; the latest victims are the two UP students.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) was moved to respond to this unabated wave of killings. In its latest statement, it said "On extra-judicial killings, the CBCP stand is of long standing. We have issued statements on this issue in the past. Needless to say, we join the outcry of groups that have denounced the increasing number of extra-judicial killings of journalists and social activists suspected as sympathizers of insurgents allegedly by some ultra-rightist elements in the military."[9]

The public clamor to put an end to this impunity has forced the Arroyo government to form a Task Force Usig to investigate these killings of journalists and political activists. And as if to taunt the task force, the killings continued.

Human Rights Implications of Arroyo's All-Out War

In all these wars waged against the revolutionary forces, it has been the people that have born the brunt of human rights violations. Civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights violations have attended all these wars instigated by the state. At the end of the terms of every president after Marcos, each ballyhooed that he or she has triumphed against the revolutionary forces.

To this day, government is faced not with a vanquished foe but rather with a determined and persistent enemy. While it is nowhere near its objective of toppling government after more than 30 years of protracted struggle, it remains strong with a sizable mass base in the countryside.
What has been waylaid by this all out war is human rights. Government has failed in its obligation to respect, protect and fulfill.

Right to life
Forty-four dead journalists since Arroyo came to power have earned us the dubious distinction of being the second most dangerous place for journalists next to Iraq. More than 600 dead activists is a blot on government's duty to respect and protect human rights. The culture of impunity has not been arrested, it thrives in this dangerous times. For agents of change, it is a time of peril.

Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person" and these assaults on human life are an affront to our status as a member of the community of nations. It also betrays our sham commitment to human rights even if we have become a founding member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

A casualty of this internecine conflict is the right to due process, the right to be presumed innocent and the right to a fair and impartial trial. The death squads have put a monkey wrench to this entire process of investigation, arrest, detention, trial and conviction. In their eyes, they judge and execute in the name of national security. The thinking that prevails is that a perceived enemy has no rights.

"Collateral damage" as pronounced by Secretary Gonzales all the more emboldens the death squads to maim and kill. After all, it can be attributed to collateral damage, which cannot be avoided if we go by the justice secretary's logic.

Right to peaceably assemble in redress of grievances
While the "calibrated pre-emptive response" policy of the Arroyo government to mass protests have been struck down by the Supreme Court, it continues to maintain its "no permit, no rally" policy which has led to countless dispersals of demonstrations and rallies. It has declared Mendiola a no rally zone and insists that mass protests can be held without permit only at designated freedom parks. What it conveniently forgets is that applications for rallies have been routinely denied on the basis that possible violence may occur or that the ranks of demonstrators will be infiltrated. Violence occurs when police move in to disperse the demonstrators.

But the graver implication to human rights is the determination to quash all dissent and opposition to its rule. This tactic is reminiscent of the martial law years when the dreaded Metrocom routinely did dispersals of rallies and demonstrations.

Freedom of expression and the right to information
Executive Order (EO) 464 banning public officials from participating in investigations and giving interviews without presidential approval is seen as a "gag order". This EO has been used to snub senate hearings in aid of legislation. This is not a simple matter of a war of nerves between the Palace and the Senate, it impinges on the peoples’ right to information.

When journalists and activists are killed for being such, then freedom of expression and the right to information is curtailed. A gag order and continuing attacks on the bearer of the news do not augur well for the free flow of ideas and information. It forebodes of an Orwellian strategy to control information much like the propaganda of Hitler and Marcos.

Freedom from torture
Torture remains an abomination that will not die. TFDP has already documented 106 cases involving 233 victims committed by state forces since Arroyo came to power. While a significant number of local government units from the provincial to the barangay levels have adopted resolutions condemning torture, a national legislation against torture and prescribing penalties remains a continuing lobby effort.

Right to peace and security
The peoples right to peace and security are under siege. Instead of farms, they face arms. Instead of peace, they experience war. Instead of security, they find turmoil and discord. Instead of giving flesh to their hopes and dreams for a better life, the government's answer is militarization.
Major Gen. Jovito Palparan has declared that he will wipe out the insurgency in his area before he retires in September of this year. He does not distinguish between armed and unarmed, legal and underground. For him, they are all the same. This has earned him the notorious monicker "Butcher" for in every area he has been assigned, he left a trail of human rights violations. His black or white kind of thinking which he employs with deadly results can best be summed up by the phrase from the anti-communist witch hunts of the 50s and 60s "better dead than red".

Human rights are under assault. The oppressed and marginalized are under attack. The Arroyo government is utilizing the full might of the state to rout the revolutionary forces and in the process terrorize and silence all forms of dissent.

It is not the armed left that will suffer in this all out war, it is the civilians and the struggling masses who still wail for "jobs and justice, food and freedom, land and liberation" twenty years after the fall of Marcos.

The annihilation of the Left will not bring lasting peace. The two-year timeframe to cleanse the critical areas is ambitious. What it fails to address are the roots of the armed conflict – injustice, exclusion and poverty. If this is not addressed in a meaningful way, then the plan to defeat the Left will fail. The Left's resilience has been proven repeatedly in our history. Its decimation and marginalization as planned by the hawks in government does not augur well for democracy and pluralism. It throws us back to the days of witch-hunts and red baiting.

This government must learn its lesson – injustice feeds the fires of revolution. Its all out war and total repression will only breed resistance. Lasting peace will not come from the barrel of a gun.

[1] Department of Budget and Management
[2] New Peoples Army
[3], PGMA's Opening Statement during the Joint RDC-Cabinet Meeting of the North Luzon Group, June 16, 2006.
[4] “Aquino junks peace policy, declares war on insurgents,” Malaya, March 23, 1987.
[5] Based on cases documented by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
[6] Conde, Carlos H., Philippine Refugees/Dodging a rebellion: A long, soggy wait for real peace in Mindanao, International Herald Tribune, January 6, 2004.
[9] Shepherding and Prophesying in Hope, A CBCP Pastoral Letter on Social Concerns

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 September 2009 19:01

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