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In the Name of the People: Stop the Repression
Volume 21 Number 1
Tuesday, 24 November 2009 13:37

by Jerbert Briola

On January 30, 2001, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) kindled the fires of hope in the hearts of Filipinos. GMA swore she would be remembered as one of those people who spoke “never again, (they said) will we tolerate a lifestyle that necessarily precludes serving the people and serving them well. Never again, (they said), will we allow our basic rights to be trampled.”

Among those who listened to GMA were clergy, youth and students, workers, urban poor, non-government organizations and human rights activists. For some people, at least, there would be a new life. There would be food, there would be jobs, and there would be roof over their heads. And there would be democracy in its truest sense.

Six years later. Human rights record of GMA has gone bad to worse and indefensible since she took the presidency in 2001. Hundreds of activists have been victims of extra-judicial killings by suspected government-backed militia in Luzon alone in 2006 and government troops have rounded up dozens of suspected members and supporters of “terrorist organizations”.

Some of those killed and arrested have been tortured and mutilated.

These government operations seem to be intended to wipe out “terrorist organizations” and to decimate their active supporters. This situation only reveals that a culture of impunity reigns, which is enough for the international human rights community to claim that highest government officials are responsible in creating the kind of environment we have now.

As it was then in Marcos’ time, the country is now ruled by fear. In the early part of 2007, government’s strong arm tactics under the guise of counter-insurgency operations similar that of last year continue to unfold as we have seen Army soldiers prowling the streets day and night in at least 26 urban poor communities in Metro Manila. When the top brass of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) went into deploying soldiers to certain urban poor communities, they did not exactly provide answers and justifications for it.

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon tried hard to make the deployment look good before the public - that the soldiers were just doing socio-civic action work. The military has an even more colorful metaphor for their operation, they are merely “being proactive” by launching an initiative in “community-based peace and development”, said Maj. Gen. Ben Dolorfino who heads the military’s National Capital Region Command.

These were how things would later turn out to be. The deployment of soldiers in the urban poor communities seems to be part of the counter-insurgency operations of the military and intended to decimate their supporters. In particular, reportedly, the soldiers are urging residents not to vote for certain party-list groups in the May elections.

While similar incidents continue to unfold, the government and military are doing things pretty much Marcos’ way. With GMA and the military running the show, the insurgency persists and even grows in the face of government’s “war on terrorism”.

As it is, we’re back to square one. Like Marcos and other regimes before her, GMA intends to crush the problems of insurgency and “terrorism” by turning our land into a “howling wilderness”. It flows from the belief that communists and not poverty and injustice, are the root causes of insurgency.

GMA has given her generals up to 2010 (when her term ends) to crush the problem of insurgency and they mean to meet it. It is a war they wage in the name of peace, a kind of peace initiative that makes civilians run out of fear to be tagged as communist sympathizers and sends activists to the graves.

All we have to go by to measure the effects and price of government’s counter-insurgency campaign is the periodic boasting by the Executive Secretary and military officials that they are winning the “war on terror” and peace efforts are on the right track. We would like to know how. But we do not see how the military’s so-called socio-civic action work in urban poor communities and by arresting anyone identified as a “terrorist” or a sympathizer can pull this off. When we talk about peace, it does not mean decimating the ranks of legal militant organizations. Spreading the word of peace does not mean civilians and progressive party-list groups and their supporters rounded up in the dead of night.

Back in 2003, the military claimed that they were cleaning the pond that supports the “terrorist fish” in referring to their crackdown operation on Muslim communities to arrest suspected members of terrorist groups. The problem is that, as any fishpond owner knows, draining the pond eliminates all sorts of fish, both edible and poisonous.

As it is, that seems to be happening now - the “war on terror” has victimized the innocent civilians and a policy anchored on pond-draining operation would soon give way to a deep and terrible fear among innocent civilians. The “war on terror” has plunged to depths of ambiguity, that struggle for human rights and the affirmation of life now constitutes rebellion. That is what GMA’s “war on terrorism” is all about.

When one considers the fear and anxiety caused by military operations to the civilians, one must be doubtful about the justness of the campaign. And when one considers the indignation such injustice engenders, one must wonder its wisdom. Also, one wonders if these military operations are all just for show to draw away attention from criminal responsibility for the culture of impunity now prevailing in the country.

It is not enough to catch a suspected terrorist; government must work together to root out the causes that lead to the making of “terrorists” in the first place. This holds true in fighting terrorism and solving the problem of insurgency. So long as state repression continues, there is no way to win the “war on terrorism” and to break the back of insurgency.

On January 30, 2001, GMA kindled the fires of hope among the hearts of Filipinos. Six years later, after GMA spoke to the clergy, the youth and students, the workers, the urban poor, the non-government organizations and the human rights activists, hundreds of them are dead.

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