Archive for the ‘Human Rights’ Category

We have three questions for Akbayan in relation to its position on the Cybercrime Prevention Act:

What do you really find objectionable in the law? Who do you think is accountable for this? What do you now propose to do?

Recent public statements reveal confusing positions articulated by some of Akbayan’s leaders. These pronouncement lead us to believe that Akbayan is not really serious in fighting this law, and is more interested in preserving its alliance with President Benigno Aquino III who signed the law on September 12, 2012

Let us examine Akbayan’s statement dated September 20, on the event of the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Martial Law.

“(W)hile the days of military rule are long gone, vestiges of its legacy have found its way to the present times. A case in point is the recently passed Cybercrime Prevention Law.”

“While we laud the intent of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to combat child pornography, identity theft, computer related forgery and other offenses using the said law; we are alarmed that some its provisions such as its anti-libel clause are alarmingly repressive in nature.  We believe the law’s provision on libel is ill-conceived and will only serve to limit the public’s use of the internet as a venue for airing their opinions, views, and even dissent.”

The group seems to recognize the repressive nature of the online libel provisions. It talks of the vagueness of the provisions and how these are subject to abuse by authorities. However, the group’s gratuitous statements regarding Aquino’s intent at combating child pornography, identify theft and computer-related forgery are attempts to find some saving grace in the assailed law, as well as an attempt to shield their political ally in Malacanang form any more public criticisms.

 

Galit na galit kay Sotto, pero sobrang tahimik naman kay Aquino.

The group blames the internet libel provision on “cut-and-paste master, Senator Vicente Sotto III”.  While it is true Sotto inserted the provision, and that the Congressional Bicameral Committee approved the insertion,  there is absolutely no effort on the part of Akbyan to hold Aquino accountable for signing the law with Sotto’s insertions. This is just like blaming the AFP Generals for the abuses of martial law, and but leaving out Marcos who signed Proclamation 1081. It is simply absurd.

This is even more absurd when taken in the context that Palace spokespersons have consistently defended the President’s move to sign the law, saying the measure was reviewed by Palace lawyers. It means that Aquino read the insertions and saw that they were good enough to be signed into law.

And that is where the problem lies. By not seeing Aquino’s accountability in the Cybercrime Law fiasco, and by limiting their criticism of the law to the online libel provisions, Akbayan recommends measures that do not solve the problem.

From their Sept. 20 statement, we get the following proposal:

“As such, Akbayan calls on President Aquino to address the infirmities of the law by inviting media people and organizations, social movements and civil society groups to participate in the crafting of the law’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) to negate the law’s repressive provisions and safeguard the rights and welfare of internet users. The Aquino government must swiftly act to salvage this law or otherwise the people will have no option left but to bring this to court.”

Akbayan thinks that by involving the people in the crafting of the IRR, the patently unconstitutional provisions of this law can be cured or “negated”. Good grief, any student of the law would say otherwise. The IRR cannot accomplish more than what the law sets out to do. If the law intends to criminalize online libel, the IRR cannot reverse or negate this. If the law allows the take-down of websites by the DOJ sans a court order, the IRR cannot reverse or negate this. What Akbayan is doing here is fostering the illusion that engaging the Aquino regime in crafting the IRR would somehow be able to “salvage” the law and address the public’s just concerns. This is not just reformism. It’s plain dishonesty or just sheer ignorance.

However, Akbayan does believe in the possibility of going to court, but it seems only as a last resort, when the people “have no option left”.

There seems to be changes though in their next statement on the Cybercrime law, which came 11 days after, on October 1, the same date when the LP-Akbayan-NP-NUP senatorial slate was launched in Club Filipino.

“A day before the scheduled en banc session of the Supreme Court, Akbayan Party-list today called on the high tribunal to recognize the petitions filed by several groups and concerned citizens questioning the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Law with the end view of ruling in favor of internet freedom.”

“We ask the Supreme Court to give due course to the petitions filed questioning the constitutionality of the cybercrime law by recognizing that the petitioners have legal standing as taxpayers and as citizens who use the internet and are in danger of being prosecuted under the said law,” Akbayan Vice-Chairperson Marie Chris Cabreros said.

Akbayan said it is worried that the Supreme Court might not recognize the legal standing of the petitioners as the high tribunal can argue that the petitioners cannot show that they have been injured with the passage of the cybercrime law.

It is not clear if at this point, Akbayan had already abandoned its position of participating in drafting the IRR now that the people have already taken up the “last option” of going to court. Or if Akbayan just realized the futility of their proposal on the IRR. Or if Akbayan realized there was already overwhelming support for a legal challenge before the SC and zero support for the IRR proposal. As of October 1, there were already 7 petitions filed before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of various provisions of the new law.

In their October 1 statement, Akbayan’s main concern was that the court might not recognize the locus standi of the petitioners which would lead to the dismissal of the petitions. Akbayan was urging the court to recognize the standing of the petitioners and give due course to the petitions.  I find that strange since the issue of standing should primarily be the concern of the petitioners themselves, and since Akbayan is not a petitioner, well… sige na nga.

Oh yes, still no mention of Aquino’s accountability for signing the law in their October 1 statement. Which is to be expected since, as we said, that was the launch date of the LP-Akbayan-NP-NUP-NPC-LDP ultra-electro-magnetic powerhouse senatorial slate in Club Filipino. Why ruin an important occasion over a small matter such as our constitutional rights? Why issue a strongly-worded statement against Aquino when he’s about to raise your hand and endorse your senatorial bid?

However, in the October 1 statement we find some “refinements” in Akbayan’s position.

“Akbayan said it opposes parts of the law including a clause on e-libel and provisions that allow law enforcers to monitor data of people and companies on the Internet even without a court warrant. It also opposes the takedown or blocking of websites even without a court ruling.”

So it appears that their opposition to the Cybercrime Law is now based not just on online libel, but also on other unconstitutional provisions, right?

Wrong.

A tweet from Akbayan’s Risa Hontiveros also dated October 1 says that Akbayan accepts Cybercrime Law EXCEPT libel provisions (all caps hers).

And to further add confusion to the issue, Ms. Hontiveros proposes three ways to address her singular concern regarding online libel. First, for Congress presumably to repeal the provision. Second, for the Supreme Court to “side with the complainants”, and in the meantime, for someone to “neutralize” libel through IRR (again?).  All these are supposed to be happening somewhat simultaneously.

In  her October 2 ‘tweets’, Ms. Hontiveros also incited the public to “commit an act of ‘libel’” against Sotto (hanep), calling him a threat to freedom (naks), but still no word on the guy who actually signed the law, same guy who would be implementing the law. It’s like the anti-Sotto rants are deliberately being done to deflect attention away from Aquino.

Going back to Akbayan’s proposals, as our counsel explained, the IRR cannot reverse the provisions of a law. That track is a dead end, and Akbayan should know better than to foster the illusion that this is the way to “neutralize” this oppressive law and its unconstitutional provisions.

So that now leaves us with two options, the Supreme Court and Congress. Akbayan did not file any case before the Supreme Court. They merely urged the High Court to give the petitions due course, worried that the petitioner’s locus standi would not be recognized (sige na nga).  As of this writing Akbayan also has not filed any house bill seeking to amend the law.

So that  leaves us with?

There you have it. Because of Akbayan’s alliance with the Aquino regime, they cannot seem to truly see this fight through to the end. They will not criticize Aquino for his responsibility in signing the law (si Sotto lang may kasalanan). They will try to “salvage” the law, believing in the law’s “good intentions”, despite so many provisions that assault our freedoms. They will even convince us that the law is OK, “except” for the libel provision. They treat our efforts with the SC as a “last option”, showing “support” only after seeing overwhelming public opinion favoring the SC action (may tawag dyan eh). They will also try to lure the people into a meaningless process such as the drafting of the IRR (and tell you it’s part of their dual-tactics engagement within and outside the Executive).

For the record, I have no personal quarrel with anyone from Akbayan. And I know only a few of them personally. But I raise these issues so that the public may know. And I urge Akbayan members to raise the same to their leaders.

PS.

Kung sasagutin man ito ng Akbayan, sana umusad na tayo sa diskursong ‘RA-RJ’, ‘communist front’, ‘sumuporta kayo kay Villar’, ‘laos na ang armed struggle’ blah blah blah. Susmaryosep, sagutin nyo na lang yung tatlong tanong sa umpisa.

UPDATE: Today October 5, Pres. Aquino, Akbayan’s political benefactor, announced that he wants to keep the libel provision in the Cybercrime Law. So paano kaya ito, Akbayan? Still hoping the IRR would change things? Still not able to criticize Aquino? Still saying that the Cybercrime Law is not all that bad? Btw, the ruling clique seems to be singing the same chorus. “Let’s wait for the IRR”. Even Speaker Belmonte is not keen on amending the Cybercrime Law at this time and tells critics to “wait for the IRR”. And Malacanang has scheduled a dialogue between  Cybercrime Law critics and the DOJ, also on the issue of the IRR (on the same date as the SC en banc).

We’re being drawn to a path that leads to a cliff. Huwag magpaloko.

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Atty. Romeo Capulong at the CHR hearing on the Morong 43 Photo from Bulatlat

It is with great sadness that we learned today of the passing of people’s lawyer, human rights defender, international jurist and founder of the Public Interest Law Center Atty. Romeo Capulong. He had been confined for some time at the Medical Center Manila. Last August, Beng and I went to the hospital to donate blood as he needed transfusion. We were not able to visit him at the room but his grateful daughter was there to meet us at the blood bank.

I first met Atty.Capulong at the Public Interest Law Center office in Makati, sometime in the late 90’s when we needed to consult the case of student activists from Lyceum who were facing sanctions from the school administration.  We were still with Anakbayan at the time. At the get go, Atty. Capulong clarified that whatever legal tactic that would be employed, that would be secondary to the political movement. He told us of the primacy of the political struggle, that this was the most decisive, and that the legal tactics should serve the political tactics.

That conversation stuck with me. I was fortunate to get a chance to see up close what he meant, and to appreciate the correctness of his words.

Atty. Capulong would provide important legal inputs in the Estrada impeachment, and led the walk out of private prosecutors when the Senate refused to open the second envelope related to the Jose Velarde account.

Atty. Capulong would also be visible as a legal counsel for the negotiating panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. He would be present, along with some government officials, during the releases of prisoners of war .

Ka Romy would play a leading role in the legal battle for the release of the dropping of the charges of rebellion against the Batasan 6 and other accused. We won that fight and the rebellion raps were dismissed. This paved the way for the release of Ka Crispin Beltran who was still under arrest at the time. The Supreme Court decision junking the sham rebellion raps filed against activists during Gloria Arroyo’s state of emergency in 2006 is a major legal victory for human rights, especially at a time when the regime used the non-bailable crime of rebellion to detain activists.

I had the opportunity to see Ka Romy visit Ka Bel at the Philippine Heart Center before the decision came out. Bukod sa lawyer-client, magkumpare yung dalawa. Ka Romy assured Ka Bel of the correctness and necessity of the pursuing the case before the Supreme Court, even if it meant being under hospital arrest for some time. I saw how Ka Bel had full confidence in Ka Romy.

I saw Ka Romy stand before the Supreme Court for several hours arguing the case of Ka Satur Ocampo when the later was arrested in 2007 on the trumped up charge of murder. Ka Romy ably answered the queries of the justices as he pointed out that not only were the charges fabricated, they should also be subsumed under the charge of rebellion which Ka Satur at that time was already facing and which the SC had yet to decide. Ka Satur was granted bail as a result of that legal action.

Ka Romy would again play a leading role in the legal defense of the  Morong 43 who were arrested in February 2010. It was his idea to bring the case both to the Supreme Court and the Commission on Human Rights. When the writ of habeas corpus was granted, it was Atty. Capulong who stood before the Court of Appeals to argue the case and to condemn the failure of the AFP to bring the detained health workers to court. He stood up to demand that the handcuffs of the detainees be removed while they were in court. He spoke eloquently on how the rights of the 43 health workers were violated from the moment the warrant of arrest was issued up to the time they were arrested and detained without access to counsel, and made to go through a bogus inquest proceeding.

Atty. Capulong also spoke before the Commission on Human Rights, then chaired by Leila de Lima, on the violations of the rights of the health workers.

There were times when doubts crept in regarding the legal tactics employed by Atty. Capulong. Some though there could be a more convenient and expedient way out. But Ka Romy pointed out that what appeared convenient or expedient at first would turn out to be more problematic in the end. During the struggle to free the Morong 43, there was a suggestion to explore the possibility of the detainees posting bail. Posting bail however would mean going through arraignment and thereby legitimizing the illegal proceedings that the health workers were subjected to in the first place. It would eventually compound the problems of the detainees. Ka Romy pointed out that we should give primacy to the efforts with the Supreme Court and the ongoing DOJ review. He explained to the detainees the need for patience, for determination, and for the intensification of the political struggle, even as the lawyers pursued the agreed upon legal tactics. But he never imposed his views on the detainees. Bail was a matter of right after all. He presented the two sides of the story and  asked his clients to decide based on the presentation.

He was proven right though. The health workers were released on the strength of the mass movement after the DOJ concluded its review and withdrew the cases filed against the Morong 43. He was right that the health workers not go through arraignment. He was right in pointing out the primacy of the political struggle even as he upheld the correct legal tactics.

During these times of doubt, he himself would go to Bicutan and explain to the detainees of why such was the tactic employed and its relation with the political struggle. But before he started with the legal briefing, he would first make a self-criticism on why he and other lawyers could not visit the detainees as frequent as possible.  Such was the humility of the man.

I last spoke with Atty. Capulong, on the phone, during the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona.  He gave important tips on what the mass movement can do in relation to the Senate trial. “Di tayo pwedeng bumitiw dyan,” he told me. He also correctly predicted that the Supreme Court would not allow the opening of the Corona dollar accounts and that the Senate would not defy the Supreme Court on this. He told me of the influential forces such as the big banks, the big business interests embroiled in the Senate trial as well as foreign interests that would be affected.

Madami pa akong pwedeng maikwento tungkol sa abogadong ang tawag ng marami ay RTC. Nagmartsa din sya nung panahon ng CPR ni GMA. Laman din sya ng kalsada sa maraming mahalagang pagkilos. Sigurado akong marami ding kwento kaugnay ng mahalagang papel niya sa usapang pangkapayapaan.

Pag si RTC ang humawak ng kaso, parang kagyat na panatag ang loob ko. Ang dami na nyang dinaanan, at nakitang pakikibakang legal, at pag nagsalita sya, sigurado sya sa sinasabi nya.

Sayang, hindi na rin sya umabot sa 40th anniversary ng Martial Law sa September 21. Alam kong marami ding kwento ang mga Marcos victims kaugnay ng papel ni RTC sa laban para sa katarungan. Oo nga pala, yung mga migrante, may mga kwento din sila sa naging papel ni RTC sa kaso naman ni Flor Contemplacion. Ang daming kwento talaga.

Sa mga bago at nakababatang abogado ngayon, mainam na makilala nyo sa Atty. Romeo Capulong, abogadong naglinkgod sa bayan hanggang sa huli. Napakahusay na huwaran para sa mga future lawyers.

To RTC, our most militant salute, and most heartfelt appreciation. Salamat, Sir. Isang, karanganlang makilala at makasama kayo. We honor you by carrying on with the unfinished struggle, until victory.

Today farmers of Hacienda Luisita were overcome with tears of joy as they waited for the announcement of the Supreme Court’s final ruling on the Luisita dispute. The SC voted 14-0 in favor of land distribution, upholding an earlier ruling. The court also voted 8-6 in its decision to peg the value of the Luisita land at 1989 levels, instead of the 2006 valuation that management was pushing for. Obviously management wanted a bigger “just compensation” before they lose control of the land. Their motion however was denied.

Many have sacrificed their lives in the course of the struggle. A memorial marker stands at the Gate 1 of the Luisita Central Azucarera de Tarlac, where the names of the Luisita martyrs are inscribed.

The battle for land that has raged on for decades now reaches another turning point. The Luisita management said they will comply with the SC ruling, though they have yet to get a copy of the decision. Luisita lawyer Atty.  Antonio Ligon said that the valuation of the land, even if done based on the 1989 period of reckoning, will have to undergo a process. He hinted that even in 1989, the land had undergone “improvements”. So it is possible that HLI will still attempt to get more than what they should.  They may use these arguments to further delay land distribution until they get more for the land. “The actual value of the land will still be determined by the Special Agrarian Court because that is what is in the law. It is not automatic,” Ligon said. He cited “other factors that will be considered” and that this is “subject to study and investigation”.

When asked if HLI can still challenge the valuation done by the Special Agrarian Court, the Luisita lawyer answered in the affirmative.

This whole concept of “just compensation”, which has been echoed by President Aquino himself whose family owns Luisita, will likely remain a thorny issue.

In an attempt to downplay the importance of and distribution, Ligon said that once land is distributed to the farmers, “they’re on their own”.

The fight of the farmers is not yet over. Collective vigilance is now necessary in ensuring that the HLI management and the Aquino government comply with the SC ruling.Maneuvers of the management and the government to delay land distribution should be exposed and opposed.

We do intend to prove Ligon wrong. The farmers are not “on their own” since many continue to support them and their just struggle for land. The farmers will be fine even if they are divorced from HLI. And along with land distribution, government should provide support services to the farmers.

The road ahead for Luisita remains full of challenges, but on this day, the Luisita farmers have earned every right to celebrate their victory.

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I write this not for my activist friends who are already partisan, but for my other friends and possible readers who may not be sympathetic to the plight of the Silverio Compound residents that faced off with the police in today’s violent demolition.

I just came from the Silverio compound with Rep. Satur Ocampo, Rep. Paeng Mariano and a contingent of lawyers, doctors, human rights advocates, students and church people to investigate the violent incident which led to the death of at least one person and caused injury to scores. When we arrived there, we learned that 33 had been arrested and detained during the police operations. Eight of those arrested were minors, 2 were women.

I am not well-versed with the legal issues and history of the dispute between the residents and the city government but surely the residents were convinced that they had to stand their ground and that they were justified in their resistance.

When we arrived at the Silverio compound, we were met by the local leaders and residents gathered outside near the media tents. The police were no longer there. We were informed that there were people still injured inside the community but were too afraid to go out for fear of being arrested.

We were told that the land of the Silverio compound is the subject of an expropriation case by the City Government during the term of Mayor Joey Marquez. The City Government had reportedly deposited P10.4 million so that the LGU can acquire the lot and enable the residents to pay for their property through a mortgage program. So the residents were not really illegal occupants. They had the backing of a previous administration’s city ordinance. They were willing to pay for the property so that they could have housing security.

But it seems that the current regime of Mayor Florencio Bernabe has other plans. He said in media interviews that his administration was planning to build medium rise buildings for more than 1,000 families. The residents do not seem impressed with the plans. One resident, whose son was shot during the protest, said that he cannot afford to pay for the condo that would be set up. “Tuyo nga ang ulam ko, paano ako magbabayad ng condo?” he said.

The condo he was referring to seemed to be linked to SMDC of Henry Sy. The SM management has denied any involvement in the dispute. However, the local mayor keeps on mentioning plans for medium rise buildings in the area. If not SM, are there private developers that have been contracted to build these medium-rise buildings? (Incidentally, there’s an SM Hypermarket right in front of the Silverio compound.)

SM released the following statement which curiously does not disclaim that they have a possible project in the area.

“1. SMDC is not the owner of the Silverio Compound;
2. SMDC is not in any way involved in the demolition of existing structures in the Silverio Compound or in the dispersal of the protesters.”

To reiterate the position of the residents, they were willing to pay for the land where their houses are built, but they cannot afford the housing that the city government is planning.

It is not clear what it is that made the demolition today so urgent? The mayor, in his interviews said that the target of the demolition was the local talipapa (market). However, the residents say this would only pave the way for more demolitions.

Violence

When we asked what triggered the violence, this is what residents told us. During the standoff, the residents blocked the streets and put up barricades. Negotiations were made so that one lane would be opened to motorists. The leaders of the residents were agreeable to the proposal; they just wanted to put it in writing. My understanding was that they were seeking ways to lessen the tension.

Even before the leaders could present their draft, tear gas canisters were fired upon the residents. I asked several random people what triggered the violence and everyone said that it started with the firing of tear gas into the protesters.  The residents were fairly consistent with their reply. They said that the protesters only started throwing rocks after the firing of tear gas.

Shots were fired in the course of the confrontation. TV footages showed a SWAT team member firing his automatic rifle, not in the air but apparently in the direction of the protesters. Then we saw the footage of a man sprawled on the streets, believed to be dead. Philippine Red Cross Secretary General Gwen Pang told Yahoo! Southeast Asia that Arnel Leonor Tolentino, 21, died from a gunshot wound in the head.

He was not the only one with gunshot wounds. In our visit to the community, we encountered a 16-year old male who got hit in the arm by a bullet. His x-ray results showed that he suffered a fracture in his left arm. He was brought to a local hospital but had to return home since his parents did not have the P15,000 needed for his operation. He was very weak when we saw him. Doctors from CHD assisted him and took the initiative of bringing him to another hospital through the assistance of Anakpawis. There were other injured residents examined by CHD, many fearful that if they went to a hospital with their injuries, they might be arrested.

Many of those arrested were beaten up while in police custody. Videos have appeared on TV showing police brutality at its worst. One man who had the misfortune of going through a line of policemen was hit several times by the policemen he passed.

During our visit to the site, we saw spent cartridges that the residents collected from the streets after the shootings. All of the shells that I saw were 5.56mm cartridges used in M-16 rifles. Now unless the residents of Silverio had been carrying long firearms during the demolition, these cartridges could only come from the PNP.

It is really insulting when the Mayor claims that the police were firing blank cartridges. How does that explain the fact that residents suffered gunshot wounds from REAL bullets?

In the first place, the police shouldn’t have brought guns and they shouldn’t be discharging their weapons in such situations. There have been stronger resistance in other demolitions, such as those in Corazon de Jesus in San Juan where Molotovs were used, but we did not see indiscriminate firing on protesters. The Silverio demolition is significant because of the disproportionate use of force, the use of firearms, and the resulting death and injury.

When I heard the news of the violence, I immediately recalled the experience of Hacienda Luisita. I feared that a whitewash would take place given the statements of the Mayor. In the Luisita massacre, the authorities claimed that farmers were armed, that violence started from the ranks of the farmers and that the farmers were infiltrated by “outsiders” who were agitating them.

The same storyline is now being repeated by the authorities even before an investigation into the incident has taken place. Authorities are saying that residents were armed too, that they started the violence and that they were infiltrated by “outsiders”.  The idea here is simple. Blame the victims and problem goes away.

Those saying that residents are as much to blame as the police lose sight of the reality that mayor has all the resources of government at his disposal, armed personnel included, while the residents have nothing but collective action to defend themselves. It was the government forces who should have exercised restraint upon sensing the strong resistance from the people. It was government that was in a position to avoid the outbreak of violence by simply NOT pushing the demolition on that scheduled date.

This is not the first violent demolition under the Aquino government. There have been many. It should make us ask the question, why is it that residents risk life and limb to defend their homes? Are they not convinced with government promises of relocation and housing? Surely something is wrong with how the government is addressing the housing needs of the residents they are targeting with displacement. And if these things happen again and again, shouldn’t the government reexamine its housing program?

Finally, we should ask ourselves, will we really allow the police to get away with this one?  Will we allow a local official to simply shrug off serious human rights violations as if they never happened?

We should all be indignant.

Here it is, my list of the Top 10 mass movement moments of 2011. These are events that are memorable, significant in terms of national impact, and representative of victories for the mass movement. As always, this is a personal list, in no particular order of importance or ranking. I encourage folks to make their own list so we can all take stock of what we had done the past year.
This was a year of struggles and triumphs. An even more exciting year looms as the people push hard for justice and genuine change.

1. The fight to hold Arroyo accountable – Justice and accountability were key issues for the mass movement this year. Topping that list is the demand to jail Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Several lawsuits against GMA were filed this year by various groups, from plunder to human rights violations. Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, seen as Arroyo’s first line of defense, was impeached then later resigned in the face of intense public pressure. GMA almost made good her escape with the Aquino government still unable to file charges in court after 500 days in power. At the last minute, before the SC could uphold its TRO on Arroyo’s Watchlist Order, the Comelec filed before the Pasay RTC a non-billable case of election sabotage. At this time, public clamor to hold GMA accountable was at an all-time high and it would have been disastrous for the Aquino government if it would still have nothing to show for all its anti-corruption rhetoric. For only the second time in 10 years, a former president was arrested, mug shots taken then detained. Still, GMA has not been made to account for her many other crimes against the people as the Aquino government has yet to file charges concerning gross human rights violations and the massive election fraud of 2004. The fight to hold GMA accountable, and the massive pressure on the Aquino government to make good on his promise, has opened up another front in the worsening political crisis. The year ends with the Chief Justice impeached, the Senate convened as an impeachment court, and critics anxious and wary of moves that would make Aquino exercise tremendous control over the Supreme Court in the future.

Photo from Bulatllat

2. The Luisita farmers score legal victory in SC – Seven years after the infamous Hacienda Luisita massacre, the farmers of this vast sugar estate finally won a significant legal victory before the Supreme Court. The SC, in a unanimous vote, ordered the distribution of land to the more than 6,000 farmer beneficiaries of Luisita. The implementation of this order is not going to be easy and the HLI management has filed a motion for reconsideration and clarification. Issues of compensation for the Cojuangco family have also created problems for land distribution. In any case, the organized farmers continue to assert their right to till the land and the occupation of hundreds of hectares of agricultural land continues. The next round in the struggle will be the actual distribution of land.  

3. The fight for justice for human rights victims – 2011 is the year human rights victims landed a strong counterstrike against the human rights violators of the past regime. The Morong 43 and the United Methodist Church slapped GMA with a civil suit for human rights violations. The parents of Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno went after Gen. Jovito Palparan. Political prisoners nationwide pressed for their freedom despite claims of a Palace spokesperson that they did not exist. The family of slain botanist Leonard Co also filed charges against members of the 19th IB in Leyte for the killing of Co and his two companions Sofronio Cortez and Julius Borromeo. Before the year ended, Palparan was a wanted fugitive after a Malolos court issued a warrant for his arrest on kidnapping charges. The Butcher is the highest military official to be charged in connection to human rights violations. As of this posting, he remains at large.

4. People’s SONA 2011- This was the second SONA of Aquino as he observes his first year in office as president. Some 17,000 marched along Commonwealth Avenue to protest the absence of any meaningful change under Aquino’s so-called “daang matuwid”. A giant “Penoy” on board a Hummer was the centerpiece of the march. The crowd reacted negatively to Aquino’s worn-out and continuing reference to the “wang-wang” as a symbol of entitlement, while not commenting on other substantial issues including the economy and human rights. The SONA protest was one of the biggest mass action for 2011.

5. Protests against budget cuts, “Occupy Mendiola” – This year saw students and teachers again striking against cuts in the education budget and other social services. They marched to Mendiola and other public squares nationwide and engaged Aquino apologists in heated debates over the nature and existence of the cuts. Towards the end of the year, students attempted to set up camp at the Mendiola Bridge. Two attempts were violently dispersed by the Manila Police, reinforced by police from other cities and regions. Several were arrested, scores were injured. The overkill security deployment seemed to stem from so-called intel reports received by the PNP regarding the conduct of the activity. It was later learned that the intel reports were merely taken from Facebook and given a different spin by the police. The events at Occupy Mendiola showed that the Aquino regime could be just as ruthless and repressive as the Arroyo regime when it comes to street protests. It is a lesson that the mass movement will take to heart as it gears for bigger battles ahead.

6. Relief ops for Pedring and Sendong victims – The mass movement put in tremendous effort this year to aid victims of typhoons Pedring and Sendong. Central Luzon was severely battered by rains and floods from Pedring, with huge parts of Bulacan, Pampanga submerged. Various groups took the initiative to raise funds and relief goods for distribution to affected areas. But before the year ended, the nation was shocked to see the devastation wrought by Sendong on Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and Negros Oriental. The mass movement again mobilized people and resources for the victims of the deadliest storm for 2011. A lot of work still needs to be done for the victims of Sendong, with relief and rehab operations continuing for the first few months of 2012.

7. People stop MRT/LRT fare hike – The first quarter of 2011 saw the mass movement locking horns with the Aquino government on the issue of fare increases for the MRT and LRT. We attended hearings, protested on train terminals and campaigned furiously against the unjust and anti-people increase. While the LRTA has approved the fare hike, its implementation has been stalled because of public resistance. This is an important victory that continues to benefit hundreds of thousands of MRT/LRT commuters.

8. People pay tribute to Ka Roger – In October this year, the CPP announced that the long-time spokesperson of revolution, the voice of the people Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal had passed away in July. There was an outpouring of tributes for Ka Roger, from lightning rallies in public spaces to a nationwide gun salute by the NPA on October 11. On October 15, more than 2,500 people gathered at the University of the Philippines Theater in Diliman to pay tribute to Ka Roger. Present were friends from the media, former government officials and members and consultants of the NDF and GRP peace panels along with the relatives of Ka Roger who travelled from Ibaan, Batangas. A DVD of this memorable event is now available.

9. Protests vs Hillary Clinton – US Secretary of State Clinton’s second visit to the Philippines was met with all sorts of protests. Marches to the US embassy, to Mendiola bridge along with several smaller but high-impact actions. For the first time in the Philippines, the convoy of a US official was stopped by protesters. Paint bombs were hurled at the SUV. Lastly, let’s again give a hand to Marjohara Tucay for standing up and protesting during the Clinton forum at the National Museum. That was an awesome thing to do.

10. Mining firms shut down by NPA– This event made the front pages and headlines of so many media outlets and reverberated even overseas. Three large foreign-owned mining firms were simultaneously raided by the NPA and their operations were stopped. By some coincidence, the documentary show Reporter’s Notebook had earlier done a story on one of the mining firms which showed the extent of damage done by Nickel Asia to the surrounding environment. The docu called “Philippines for Sale” was released a day after the NPA raid. The documentary also showed that the Aquino government was already aware of the destruction caused by the mining firm. The event once again brought to the fore the issue of mining and its effects on communities. A peace advocacy group called on the government to resume peace talks with the NDFP so that the issue of mining can be tackled in the second substantive agenda on socio-economic reforms.

Photo from PDI/ANN

My list of mass movement moments of course are for events that happened in the Philippines. But if you look at the global context, 2011 was the year of people’s uprisings and upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East. It was the year of “Occupy Wall Street” and the “occupy movement” that spread worldwide. 2011 was also the year of Wikileaks when the entire trove of cables were finally made public. Right now, our brothers and sisters in Egypt are continue to protest to push the revolution forward. Working peoples in Europe, the US and Latin America have stood up against massive social cutbacks. TIME magazine itself was forced to recognize “The Protester” as its person of the year. But “The Protester” is fighting not for an annual recognition by the corporate media. He/She is fighting for something more fundamental, more basic and more urgent. So expect “The Protester” to be back next year with a greater resolve to fight for change and a brighter future. ###

There was also US intervention in the peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Philippine government as in those between the latter and the MILF.

Confidential and secret cables released by Wikileaks from the US embassies in Manila and The Hague in the Netherlands show how three governments worked together to designate as “terrorist” Jose Maria Sison, chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in peace talks with the Manila government. The move may have been part of Philippine government’s pressure tactics on the NDFP during peace negotiations. However, the move would not yield the Philippine government’s desired results.

Sison, the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army were included in the US terror list in August 2002, right after the Manila visit of then Secretary of State Colin Powell. He was soon after also included on the EU “terrorist list” of organizations and individuals upon the requests of the US and PH governments. His bank account was subsequently frozen, denying him social benefits accorded to refugees living in the Netherlands.

Terrorist-listing as leverage

The US, Dutch and Philippine governments engaged in acts that were inimical to the peace talks between the NDFP and the Philippine government.   The Philippine government used the terrorist listing as leverage against the NDFP. There was intense pressure was brought to bear on Sison: from the  deprivation of social benefits, threats to his life, and even arrest and detention. The matter of the terrorist listing became a prejudicial question in the peace talks.

In a 2005 meeting with US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said that the NPA’s “delisting as a foreign terrorist organization depended on a demonstration or proof of sincerity… such as entering into a cease-fire or new peace talks.”

The same leveraging tactic was echoed by Presidential Peace Adviser Annabelle Abaya in a discussion with US Ambassador Kristie Kenney in November 2009. Abaya noted that Sison’s delisting by the EU “would eliminate some of the GRP’s leverage over him” and that “the GRP preferred Sison to remain designated as a terrorist” but admitted that “talks had not succeeded during his time in the EU list”.

US intervention, through the terrorist listing, had a very negative impact on the peace talks.  It was a move that was aimed at forcing the NDFP to surrender to the Philippine government, even without addressing the roots of the armed conflict. This negates the inherent character of the talks which were primarily aimed at finding solutions to the root causes of the armed struggle. Arroyo appeared more interested in getting the NDFP to surrender than in addressing the substantial issues in the peace negotiations. These issue include human rights, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and the disposition of forces.

After a long legal battle, Sison was eventually removed from the EU “terrorist list” in November 2009 based on a ruling by the European Court of First Instance. It appeared that the Dutch “terrorist listing” was done only in relation to asylum proceedings and was not based on actual crimes or terrorist activities.

Prior to the delisting, the US and Dutch governments did everything they could to keep Sison on the list, according to the secret cables.

Sison was arrested and detained by the Dutch government in 2007 on suspicion of ordering the killings of two people in the Philippines. Sison was eventually released and the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence. As revealed in previous news, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo told the US ambassador in Manila that Philippine and Dutch governments reportedly collaborated for years to build a case against Sison, but even this could not stand judicial scrutiny.

US opposed de-listing despite lack of evidence

In a confidential 2009 cable from the US embassy in Manila, US ambassador Kristie Kenney vehemently opposed the delisting of Sison by the EU, even if no new information or evidence was available to support his retention in the list.

“The absence of new information does not negate the very significant information we have had for some time regarding Sison.  If Sison and the NPA were to reject their past actions and pledge not to engage in such activity again, there might be some grounds for revisiting their designations, but on the contrary they refuse to agree to a ceasefire and continue to carry out kidnappings and killings.  Under the circumstances, removal of Sison’s terrorist designation is inadvisable,” Kenney said.

In a secret cable from the Netherlands in May 2009, the US embassy in The Hague sought advice from the US State Department on how keep Sison on the terror list amid the looming decision of the EU Court of First Instance nullifying his inclusion in the list. The cable said that the Dutch government was seeking US assistance because Sison was included in the terror list upon the request of the US government.

The US embassy in The Hague cited the inability of the Dutch police, intelligence services and the US embassy in Manila to provide any new information that would justify keeping Sison in the list.

The absence of new evidence or information came despite the massive seizure of NDF documents and equipment during the raids on the NDF office and houses of NDF personnel in the Netherlands by the Dutch authorities in August 2007. The Dutch police seized everything they could get their hands on–computers, disks, papers related to the peace process, personal belongings– and still they could not produce a shred of evidence to support the terrorist listing. Sison was also arrested and detained in this raid.

In another cable from The Hague dated October 2009, the US embassy again sought new information that could justify the retention of Sison in the terrorist list. The cable described a bilateral meeting between US and Dutch officials in Brussels where they discussed how to appeal an adverse EU ruling. The Dutch and US officials feared that the UK and German governments opposed the Dutch position and that majority of countries in the EU would not likely support a Dutch appeal.

The US embassy in The Hague also said that information provided by the Philippine government linking Sison to money-laundering activities was “insufficient to support prosecution in the Netherlands”.

In a separate cable issued from the US embassy in Manila, US authorities hinted at the possibility of rendition or deportation of Sison from the Netherlands to the Philippines, but cited as a stumbling block Sison’s status as a judicially recognized political refugee under the Refugee Convention and Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. ###

At least four US embassy cables from Manila dealt with the US response to the abduction of an American citizen and activist Melissa Roxas. All were marked confidential and were cleared by US ambassador Kristie Kenney.

Roxas, a member of Bayan-USA, reported that she was abducted by bonnet-clad armed men in La Paz town in Tarlac, Philippines on May 19, 2009 and held in what she believed to be a military camp. She was later surfaced in May 25. Throughout her captivity, Roxas was blindfolded, but could hear distinct sounds of what she believed to be an airstrip and a firing range. She testified before Philippine courts and human rights bodies that she was tortured into admitting she was a member of the New People’s Army.

Before leaving the Philippines, Roxas filed a petition for a writ of amparo before the Philippine Supreme Court to get protection against the state security forces of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The high court gave the petition due course and referred it to the Court of Appeals for hearing.

Roxas eventually returned to the Philippines that year to testify before the Court of the Appeals, the Commission on Human Rights, and the House Committee on Human Rights.

The abduction of an American activist was the first of its kind ever documented under the regime of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Her nine-year term was marked by hundreds of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances that gained much international attention.

The four embassy cables on Melissa Roxas dealt mainly with the US embassy’s actions on the incident and the Philippine government’s response. The US embassy pressed the Philippine government several times on the Roxas abduction, saying that the embassy gives importance to the safety and security of American citizens.

The embassy however was wary that groups like Bayan and its overseas chapter Bayan-US would use the abduction issue to highlight other human rights abuses in the country and to draw a link between these abuses and US military aid to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

This was articulated by US ambassador Kristie Kenney who wrote in the a confidential June 29, 2009  cable that Bayan was using the incident ”in an attempt to draw connections between U.S. military aid and human rights abuses by Philippine forces, with the apparent goal of ending U.S. financial support for the Philippine military altogether”.

The Philippines is the biggest recipient of US military aid in Southeast Asia. The amount significantly increased after the 9-11 attacks when the Philippines was designated as the “second front” in the “war on terror”.

The embassy noted the Philippine government’s initial response to the incident, which was to altogether deny any involvement in the abduction and torture. A lawyer from the Philippine Office of the Solicitor General even described the incident a “stage-managed event to achieve spectacular and theatrical results to damage the reputation of the Philippine government and earn political capital.”

In another confidential cable dated July 24, 2009, the US embassy expressed concern that “the highly publicized case has the potential to embarrass President Arroyo in advance of the July 27 State of the Nation Address — the last of her presidency — and her highly anticipated July 30 meeting with President Obama, which will be followed by a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder”.

The embassy also noted the seeming difficulties of US authorities in obtaining information from Roxas. The cable even insinuated inconsistency on the part of Roxas when she cited emotional distress as a reason for not dealing with the FBI, while showing “emotional fearlessness” in returning to the Philippines to face human rights investigations. This assessment of course is not accurate. Those who were in close contact with Roxas during her return are familiar with the emotional stress she experienced while recounting her ordeal in public hearings and in open court, all under close scrutiny by the media.

The last cable, dated August 2009, took note of the allegations made by then partylist representative Jovito Palparan who claimed that Roxas was a member of the New People’s Army who trained in the countryside.

“Whether or not Palparan’s allegations of Roxas’ NPA ties turn out to be true, the Mission has continued to echo CHR statements that Ms. Roxas’s political affiliations are irrelevant to a full investigation of her alleged kidnapping and torture. As the truth of Ms. Roxas’ experiences continues to unfold, the Mission will remain closely apprised of developments in the case and report significant developments to Washington”.

In various public hearings, Roxas vehemently denied Palparan’s allegations. It should be also noted that allegations by the likes of Palparan that Roxas is an NPA actually provides a clear motive for the AFP for abducting her. However, Palparan and his cohort in ANAD Jun Alcover insist that Roxas was abducted by the NPA and not by the AFP.  This assertion of Palparan is not supported by any evidence and runs counter to the credible testimony of Roxas that while she was in captivity, she was forced to confess to membership with the NPA and asked to return to the folds of the law. If she was indeed abducted by the NPA, why was she being tortured to admit membership and to return to the fold of the law?

To date, no one has been made accountable for the abduction of Roxas. The US embassy appeared to have gone through the motions of inquiring about the incident, monitoring the news, and expressing concern over the issue. Most of the embassy comments in the cables dealt with the possible negative media attention that the incident would generate.

The Supreme Court has tasked the Commission on Human Rights to undertake further investigation of the case. A recent CHR report practically cleared the AFP of involvement in the abduction and raised the possibility that Roxas was abducted by the NPA.

Roxas continues to fight for justice, this time in arenas outside the Philippines. ###