Archive for the ‘Political killings Philippines’ Category

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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Today’s release of all Wikileaks cables included the complete set of cables from the US embassy in Manila. Most interesting are the cables that deal with meetings between the Philippine government and the US embassy in the context of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s fight for political survival amid allegations of election fraud. Cables reveal that ranking Arroyo government officials were already contemplating the declaration of a state of emergency to crackdown on opposition groups.

In 2005, wiretapped phone conversations involving the president and an election official were leaked to the public. Malacanang at first tried to deny the authenticity of the tapes yet at the same time sought to suppress their dissemination. In the tapes, Arroyo was asking Comelec commissioner Virgilio Garcillano to help secure her 1 million vote lead over nearest rival Fernando Poe, Jr.

In a confidential US embassy cable dated June 17, 2005, the US embassy candidly acknowledged that the voice on the “Garci tapes” was that of the president. “Garcillano could be a key witness.  He is apparently the person President Arroyo is speaking with in the audiotape,” the cable said.

“Snippets of the tapes featuring what certainly seems to be the President’s voice have even been re-mixed with music to make what is becoming a very popular ring tone for cell phones,” the embassy noted.

However, in an earlier cable, the US embassy said it received transcripts of the “Garci tapes” several weeks before their release, but noted there was no smoking gun to link Malacanang to election fraud.

In the same cable, it was revealed that the Arroyo government, through two officials, suspected the US of involvement in the release of the Garci tapes but the US embassy was quick to deny this.

Thousands took to the streets to demand Arroyo’s ouster or resignation. A broad anti-Arroyo united front had taken shape.

Emergency rule now an option

Possibly the earliest cable mentioning the Arroyo government’s option to declare a state of emergency to deal with the Opposition came out in November 6, 2005. The cable entitled ASSESSMENT OF POTENTIAL THREATS TO DEMOCRACY IN THE PHILIPPINES confirmed that based on the US’ own intel, “senior advisors are considering — and perhaps have begun drafting — possible measures to implement emergency rule of some sort in the Philippines.”

The Philippine government went as far as seeking US help for the measure  via an aide memoire (non-paper) submitted to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US intel chief John Negroponte. In the document, Philippine officials claimed that “political opportunists and destabilizers have forged understandings with Communists, terrorists and Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists to remove the President” and urged “vocal support for our President (Arroyo)” from the US government to help with this “increasingly serious and dangerous situation.”

The US embassy however said that it “did not share the analysis in the aide memoire or believe circumstances would justify extreme measures.”

“We have made clear in our meetings with senior-level GRP officials, also including during CDA’s October 21 meeting with President Arroyo and a separate meeting with Foreign Secretary Romulo on November 3, our firm opposition to emergency rule or martial law,” it added. The US embassy also expressed concern that Arroyo’s advisers “may be increasingly successful in convincing her.”

But the US did not completely shut its doors to the idea of emergency rule.

“In the current political environment, any emergency rule could only be justified by a blatant attempt to overthrow the government, which we do not see as forthcoming,” it said.

In another cable dated November 14, 2005, the US again registered its “firm opposition” to emergency rule to Arroyo, DFA’s Romulo and defense officials. According to the cable, Arroyo replied that the ‘Constitution defines what we can do’ and asserted that her administration may legally invoke certain emergency measures.

Visiting State Department official Eric John also told Arroyo said that “emergency measures could trigger a review of U.S. defense-related and other assistance to the Philippines”.  To this remark, Arroyo “responded only with a defiant stare,” the cable said.

The cable also reported that “Chairman of the Mindanao Economic Development Council “Jess” Dureza told Charge that emergency rule plans were in place to respond quickly to any extra-constitutional attack on the government.  He acknowledged that some top officials, such as National Security Advisor Gonzales and Justice Minister Gonzalez, believed the government was already under siege by communists, terrorists and political opponents, but he doubted that the President would use emergency powers in the absence of a strong provocation”.

In his meeting with an embassy official, House Speaker Jose de Venecia said that emergency rule was being considered because the “alliance of party list leftists in Congress, the New People’s Army, and Opposition figures might make such a step necessary”.  JDV then asserted that his push for charter change “was actually aimed in part at undermining the temptation to resort to such (emergency) measures”.

The US embassy concluded that “it is clearer than ever that consideration of such emergency measures is ongoing at very senior levels”. What is not clear, it said, was if a decision has been made.

Bert Gonzales’ agenda

In November 21, the US embassy also met with National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales who said that he had proposed to Arroyo to invoke a constitutional provision that would “allow her to order the military and police to arrest leftist politicians and suspected Communist forces whom Gonzales believes are now coordinating with the Opposition to overthrow the government.” He further suggested a “six-month duration” for emergency rule to significantly weaken the CPP, before the next impeachment complaint is filed by June of 2006.

According to the cable, “Gonzales said that the GRP would use such powers to arrest all CPP Central Committee members, which he believes includes party list Congressman Satur Ocampo, and other members of Congress whom he believes to be front men for the CPP/NPA.  He admitted that there was no specific plan to date, but noted many things in the Philippines happen without a plan”.

Gonzales apparently saw the political crisis as a way to advance his own ideologically-motivated agenda of ridding the country of leftists and communists. “He said that he had told President Arroyo that, for the good of the country, she should take this step in order finally to get rid the Philippines of the Communist presence, noting that all of the Philippines’ neighbors had already done so,” the cable said.

However, the US embassy official  told Gonzales that “the U.S. would not support emergency rule, that we did not share his analysis of the threat posed by the NPA, and that a campaign against the NPA would be seen as detracting from  genuine counter-terrorism activities for domestic political reasons”.

Again on January 30, the US met with House Speaker de Venecia and he reiterated his support for emergency rule but acknowledged that the US is not supportive. In his meeting with a US official, JDV said that “emergency rule was needed to deal with the threat posed by the New People’s Army (NPA), but the U.S. “keeps saying no.”  JDV said the government needed special powers to arrest individuals in the media and elsewhere who are paid and controlled by the NPA.”

February 24 declaration

One month later, the Philippine government would indeed declare a state of emergency over what it viewed as fresh destabilization attempts from an alliance of the “extreme left” and “military adventurists.”Arroyo declared a state of emergency in a televised address at 1120 am on February 24, 2006. JDV told the US embassy that he supported the move and that meetings were conducted up to 3am that day to iron out the declaration.

Prior to the declaration on TV, Gonzales phoned a US embassy official at 6am to inform him that “President Arroyo had approved a draft declaration of a State of Emergency. The US embassy did acknowledge that there were threats to the government from soldiers mounting a coup. There was no “firm opposition” to emergency rule aired by the US, only a call to the Philippine government to respect fully the rule of law, protect civil liberties and human rights, and reject violence”. But even this statement displeased Philippine officials who were expecting greater understanding and support from the US.

Gonzales indicated that “the government planned to arrest members of the military and civilians involved in the plot”. Indeed arrests took place. The PNP released a list of some 50 activists and known CPP members who were to be arrested and charged with rebellion. Included in the list were partylist representatives and other legal personalities. Crispin Beltran would be arrested and brought to Camp Crame. The Batasan 5 partylist lawmakers would eventually be given protective custody by the House of Representatives, which was ironically headed by JDV.

Apart from the arrest of opposition leaders, government attempted to crack down on protest actions and even the media.

In another cable dated March 1, Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz and NSA’s Gonzales said that the government “had decided some four months ago to develop judicial cases against persons suspected of rebellion.  Cases were almost ready for submission to judicial authorities when the attempted coup of February 24 was uncovered.  The first charges were brought February 27 against at least 50 individuals, including six Members of Congress. The six legislators are under the temporary custody of the House of Representatives, while others named in the cases have gone underground, they said.  All members of the secret Central Committee of the Communist Party would be charged and arrested,” the two officials told the embassy.

These declarations by Cruz and Gonzales could indeed be true since the government formed the Interagency Legal Action Group (IALAG) which specialized in the filing of trumped-up charges against activists.

“They also intend to re-open old cases, including a case against Congressman Satur Ocampo from 1989.  They will pursue cases against members of the political party Bayan Muna, which they consider a front organization for the CPP/NPA.  They said the government will not pursue cases against other left-wing organizations that neither espouse violence nor associate with the CPP, such as Akbayan”, the cable said.

It should be noted that the people fiercely resisted the declaration of emergency rule and that it was lifted after one week. It should also be stressed that the trumped-up charges of rebellion orchestrated by Gonzales, Cruz et al, and based on ridiculous assertions and inadmissible documents , were all dismissed by the Supreme Court.

But what of the conspirators of emergency rule and the proponents of warrantless arrests and trumped-up charges? What of those who laid the ground work for the violation of civil liberties and human rights? Those who raided the newspaper Tribune and threatened broadcast stations covering the protest actions?

They should all be made accountable. It’s never too late to demand justice for all the wrongs that they did. ###


									

From 2004-2010, the Philippines witnessed one of the worst waves of human rights violations in its history. Hundreds of activists were killed or abducted. Hundreds more were arrested and faced with trumped-up charges. The magnitude of the abuses caught the attention of the international community. The issue also further isolated the regime of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The main suspects in the killings and disappearances were state security forces.

There were numerous embassy cables on the US position regarding extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. My own estimate is that there were more than 40 cables that referenced extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. These cables ranged from scenesetters for visiting US officials, to actual reports on the actions taken by the US embassy and the Philippine government on EJK’s.

But while there were strong statements of concern to address the killings of activists and journalists, the US continued to provide economic and military aid to the Arroyo government. While the US said “there’s more that needs to be done”, the US also noted progress in the human rights situation as well as Arroyo’s “seriousness” in addressing the problem.

The Philippines remains the biggest recipient of military aid in this region of Asia, receiving some $30 million annually in Foreign Military Financing, education and training as well as Excess Defense Articles. Human rights issues in the country must be taken in the context of US support for Philippine security forces. With the nationwide phenomenon of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, a feat that can only be accomplished by state security forces, there is a valid perception that US tax dollars were funding human rights abuses committed by the AFP.

The US seemed content with how the Arroyo government explained and addressed the issue of extrajudicial killings. The US embassy did not seem perturbed by the lies peddled by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Department of National Defense and the Executive Secretary when asked of the causes of these killings. ( See US gov’t inquired about PH efforts vs. extrajudicial killings — WikiLeaks cable)

Here’s how Executive Secretary Ermita explained the killings in one of the cables dated April 20, 2007:

“In discussing unlawful killings of leftist activists, Ermita provided a detailed historical account of the communist insurgency.  He argued that the killings did not take place in a vacuum but instead occur in the context of the Philippines’ war against the terrorist Communist insurgency.  He underscored that the National (sic) People’s Army (NPA), the armed component of the Communist Party of the Philippines, routinely ambushes and kills members of the AFP.  “There is a war going on,” he emphasized.”

Here, Ermita actually affirms our long-held view that the killings occur in the context of the Philippine government’s counter-insurgency program, which in this case is Oplan Bantay Laya. However, Ermita is saying is that while the killings occur in the context of the counter-insurgency program, whose main implementor is the AFP, the military cannot be blamed for the EJK’s.

The US was in fact supportive of Oplan Bantay Laya. “While total victory over the CPP/NPA in the foreseeable future remains unlikely, the new campaign could over the next couple of years contribute to improvements on the ground,” Kenney said in one cable.  (Ref ID 06MANILA2777).

Another official, DND Usec Ric Blancaflor commented that killings have resulted from the “intensification of anti-insurgency and anti-terrorist drives.”

The same official even tried to explain and justify the targeting of activists from partylist groups.  “Blancaflor added that many within the AFP believe the NPA has taken advantage of the initiative to include Communist elements in the political process,” the cable said.

The DFA meanwhile sought to contain the international impact of the killings. “Department of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for the Americas Rey Carandang told the Staffdel that the unlawful killing issue had been greatly exaggerated.  “We are not in a state of war,” he claimed”.

The US seemed to take everything at face value, even the discredited line that the killings were the result of an internal purge by the New People’s Army. This view has been discredited by the government’s own Melo Commission as well as the report of UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings Philip Alston. There was in fact no evidence produced to support this view, except for an alleged document called “Oplan Bushfire” produced by the AFP itself, allegedly taken from a raid against the NPA.

In cable dated February 9, 2007 (07MANILA458) entitled PROGRESS AGAINST POLITICAL KILLINGS, the PNP’s General Avelino Razon “confirmed suspicions that the Luzon killings may be linked to the then-presence of controversial Major General Jovito Palparan, nicknamed “the Butcher” by activists, although he noted that “there was little or no hard evidence directly linking Palparan or units under his command to such killings”. Truth is, TF Usig never really investigated Palparan. The PNP claimed that Palparan was not under PNP jurisdiction. (Meanwhile, the AFP said that they won’t be investigating Palparan for EJK’s because that’s the PNP’s job).

Perhaps the best summary of the US position on EJK appears in a scenesetter for US Congressman Steve Chabot. In this February 15 2007 cable signed by Kristie Kenney, the US wanted to send the message that the Philippines needs to “control the problem” of EJK’s.

“We press the government at every opportunity to resolve these killings, and I have discussed them with President Arroyo and key members of her cabinet, as well as the Armed Forces Chief of Staff and the Chief of the Philippine National Police.  They all tell me they are as appalled as we are, but we remain insistent that they must get control of this problem,” Kenney said.

Here the issue was not really achieving justice for the victims or correcting the wrongs done by the AFP. The issue was the containment of a problem:  avoiding international fall-out, the further degeneration of the AFP and the further complications in US involvement in Philippine counter-insurgency efforts.

In a scenesetter for visiting General Bryan Brown (Ref ID 07MANILA977), Kenney’s concern on EJK’s focused on “the need to take decisive action to resolve the issue of unlawful killings, which threaten to tarnish the impressive victories the AFP is winning in the field”.

In March 16, 2007 cable (07MANILA863)  issued by Kenney, visiting US State Department official Scot Marciel warned the Philippine government that that unresolved, unlawful killings have the potential to become “a cloud in the relationship” between the two countries.

In the other cables, the US will claim to have helped resolve the issue of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses by providing training, funding and capacity-building for Philippine institutions. The US also claims that its Philippine Defense Reform and other actions by the Joint US Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) also have positive effects on the AFP.

A new counter-insurgency program has been put in place, one that takes its cue from the US counter-insurgency guide (COIN) of 2009. The new plan combines the “hard” and “soft” approaches to insurgency. Despite the new plan, human rights violations still persist. Under the Aquino administration, human rights groups have documented 50 cases of extrajudicial killings. Meanwhile, convictions of perptrators from the past regime have been dismally low. ###

The 3,000 cables dumped by WikiLeaks last Thursday August 25 provides vital insights into US interests and positions on topics such as terrorism, the Subic rape case, the Arroyo presidency and the ouster movement, extrajudicial killings, the 2007 and 2010 elections and the Philippine economy. It would certainly take some time to analyze the cables which date from 2005 to 2010. I’ve attempted to classify some of them based on topics that would be of interest to progressives and analysts. There will be more to come in the following days. We hope that the “crowd sourcing” done by WikiLeaks can also be done here. We need more people to read and analyze the cables. They’re on the internet. Anyone can read them and make their own summaries.

In the meantime, here are brief descriptions and highlights from cables dating from 2005-2008.

Counter-terrorism

Many of the cables dealt with the issue of counter-terrorism, on the need to maintain US troop presence in Mindanao, the need to pass the anti-terror law and the need to maintain US aid to go alongside US military presence. The topic of terrorism permeates almost many aspects of the work of the embassy, from scene-setters for visiting US officials, regular country assessments, US military and economic aid, Philippine legislation and diplomacy.

  1. The US wanted to build “dual-use” infrastructure in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. Apart from their civilian use, these airports would have been designed to meet the requirements of US aircraft such as C-130 cargo planes.  http://wp.me/p1Phi-ji
  2. PH Defense Usec Ric Blancaflor describes US.-PH relationship as “just short of incest.” http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/04/07MANILA1284.html
  3. The Human Security Act (terror law) should give PH government some new tools to use against the CPP/NPA-  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/07/07MANILA2327.html
  4. WikiLeaks- US troops in Mindanao provide “PR services” to help Armed Forces of the Philippines  improve its image http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/07/08MANILA1764.html
  5. DFA Secretary Romulo tells US that PH worked with Dutch gov’t “for several years” to build case vs. CPP founder Joma Sison  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/09/07MANILA2982.html
  6. US gov’t gave economic aid and projects to Gov.Zaldy Ampatuan of the ARMM and a known warlord. Three years later, he will be implicated in the massacre of 57 people, including more than 30 journalists.  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/04/06MANILA1845.html
  7. The US embassy believes that Philippines “has no obvious enemies except for leftists and Muslims linked with extremist activities”.  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/10/05MANILA4810.html#par32
  8. PGMA tells US ambassador the AFP wants to buy additional US aircraft because “that’s what our pilots like to fly”. “http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/06/07MANILA1983.html

Human rights

There were several cables from 2005-2009 on the particular issue of extrajudicial killings of activists and journalists. During this time, there was a surge in the killings of activists critical of the Arroyo government. The US identified the victims as leftist activists “associated with the Communist Party of the Philippines”. In several cables, the US ambassador and other representatives of the US government strongly and repeatedly urged the Philippine government to “control the problem” of EJKs.  In subsequent cables, the US seemed content with the actions taken by the Arroyo government, including the formation of TF Usig, the Melo Commission among others. The US talked with various Philippine officials and noted the progress in addressing the problem of EJK’s. The Philippines is the biggest recipient of US military aid in this part of the world.

  1. US senate staff says Philippines on “downward trend in terms of human rights and rule of law” wikileaks.org/cable/2007/08/
  2. US embassy in Manila takes cynical view of extrajudicial killings in PH, saying these killings will persist so long as NPA also escalates attacks vs. AFP  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/03/06MANILA1452.html
  3. Here’s a self-incriminating statement. Defense Undersecretary Ric Blancaflor said killings of activists “resulted from the intensification of anti-insurgency, anti-terrorist drives.” http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/04/07MANILA1284.html
  4. US embassy shows “concern” over arrest of Morong 43 amid reports of rights abuses. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2010/02/10MANILA289.html

The Arroyo presidency

The cables revealed the attitude of the US embassy towards moves to oust Arroyo from power. The US closely monitored the situation and came to the observation that there was no critical mass to oust Arroyo and that her removal via people power would serve as another bad example to other nations. Arroyo was no Thaksin, as one cable said. The embassy was confident she would weather the different challenges to her regime. The embassy took note of Arroyo’s SONA speeches, her declaration of a state of national emergency, her refusal to resign, efforts at charter change and the various issues of corruption plaguing her administration.

In one cable, released just before the death of President Corazon Aquino, US ambassador Kristie Kenney called the former president an “icon of democracy” but also a  “partial icon of morality” because of her alliance with “dubious political figures” like deposed president Joseph Estrada. Cory and Erap were both part of the broad anti-Arroyo movement. According to Kenney, the decision of Cory to align with Erap against GMA “blemished her reputation as a moral crusader”.

  1. US embassy in Manila did not think anti-GMA protests would gain momentum http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/07/05MANILA3231.html
  2. Little chance Arroyo will do a Thaksin http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/04/06MANILA1569.html
  3. On the declaration of a state of emergency, PH officials downplay negative effects http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/02/06MANILA839.html
  4. US had negative view of “people power” to oust GMA, calls them constitutionally-questionable means with negative implications for stability http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/02/08MANILA483.html
  5. Anti-Arroyo protests still lack critical mass http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/02/08MANILA521.html
  6. Wikileaks: Kenney calls Cory “partial icon of morality” for allying with “dubious political figures” like Erap. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/07/09MANILA1414.html
  7. Arroyo’s last SONA:  GMA touts achievements, slam critics http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/07/09MANILA1586.html

Subic rape case

Updates on the Subic rape case involving US Marine Lance Cpl Daniel Smith was a common post from 2006-2008. The cables detail how the US embassy intended to manage the fall-out from the incident. It showed the insistence of the US to keep custody of Smith even after his conviction by a Philippine court. Smith would later on be acquitted  by an Appeals court after the victim, under mysterious circumstances, executed an affidavit that she wasn’t sure that she was raped.

The US protested detention of US Marine and convicted rapist Daniel Smith in PH Jail, insisting on US custody . The move would trigger another round of controversy in the Visiting Forces Agreement. Smith was transferred back to the US embassy amid protests from lawmakers and activists. The Supreme Court would eventually rule that the transfer to the US embassy was not in accord with the VFA, that it was wrong. However, a final ruling on the matter was made moot when an Appeals court acquitted Smith in the rape case.

The economy

Being an important trading partner hosting many US economic interests, the US embassy kept tabs on the Philippine economy. It discussed the impacts of the global financial crisis, labor export policy, the sustainability of growth among other issues.

The US embassy often used its position to lobby for the interests of US firms, as seen in their efforts to amend certain provisions in the Philippines Cheaper Medicines Bill authored by Senator Mar Roxas. The US felt that the bill, which sought to bring down prices of drugs, would infringe on the intellectual property rights of US pharmaceutical firms. The US reps talked with Sen. Roxas at least twice. At least 3 cables were dedicated to discussing these exchanges.

Another cable talks about the US embassy’s support for a Texas power firm that was bidding for the concession agreement of the country’s power transmission line. The competitors in the bidding included China’ State Grid.

The US was also very interested in the mineral reserves of the country but was wary of the security situation in Mindanao.

  1. Wikileaks – DENR sec Mike Defensor asks US gov’t for “joint mineral resources assessment” of PH http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/08/05MANILA3811.html
  2. US Embassy Manila wary of government efforts to curb oil prices. May harm U.S. commercial interests. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/09/05MANILA4338.html
  3. Former Senator Mar Roxas talked with US gov’t re intellectual property rights issues in cheaper meds bill. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/05/06MANILA2185.html
  4. Wikileaks- US ambassador offers to be “catalyst” in facilitating power sector privatization in PH http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/06/06MANILA2633.html
  5. US lobbied legislators Rep.Cua and Sen.Mar Roxas to protect IPR of US drug firms in PH Cheaper Meds Bill. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/12/06MANILA4940.html
  6. Texas power firm asks US gov’t help to secure bid for TransCo vs. China’s State Grid Corp and Italy’s Terna SPA http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/01/07MANILA170.html
  7. US embassy sees labor export as “engine of growth” but calls on PH gov’t to address brain drain http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/01/07MANILA193.html

Peace, insurgency, elections, corruption

There were other cables on topics such as the peace process with the MILF, how the US government viewed the armed struggle waged by the CPP-NPA, as well as the Philippine partylist system which offered representation for marginalized sectors. There’s also  one article trying to explain the “masa” phenomenon and its potency as a political force.

  1. US embassy on the CPP-NPA http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/07/06MANILA2973.html
  2. US embassy in Manila believed that total victory over the NPA was unlikely even with Oplan Bantay Laya http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/06/06MANILA2777.html
  3. PH has no obvious enemies except for leftists and Muslims linked with extremist activities. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/10/05MANILA4810.html#par32
  4. US embassy discusses Philippine Party-List System http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/04/07MANILA1215.html
  5. The “Masa” as a political force http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/04/05MANILA1808.html
  6. Philippine government “is taking real strides” towards eliminating corruption http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/11/07MANILA3669.html (This was released in late 2007, at the time the ZTE controversy first broke out).

As far as diplomacy was concerned, the US asked the Philippines “never be more than 1 vote apart from the US UN delegation and to abstain rather than vote against the U.S. on issues in the UN.  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/10/06MANILA4348.html

Responding to a query by a US State Department office on Women Empowerment, the US embassy in Manila said that the 5 influential women in the country are Sen. Loren Legarda, Ombudsman Merci Gutierrez, TV host and actress Kris Aquino, journalist Malou Mangahas and governor  Grace Padaca http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/01/07MANILA302.html. The cable also listed the phone numbers and addresses of the 5 women. The cable also revealed that the US embassy point-of-contact for women’s issues is a guy. ###

Marching streamer - Photo from Arkibongbayan


The July 25 SONA ng Bayan protests brought together some 10,000 more than 14, 000 people along Commonwealth Avenue, according to the reports obtained by Bayan from participating groups. The crowd was bigger than last year’s rally which numbered around 8,000. Police estimates for this year’s rally, as expected, was lower, at 6,500.

Before the march got underway, we had to appear before the QC Regional Trial Court for a hearing on our petition on Bayan’s application for a rally permit. The case was quite simple. Bayan applied for a rally permit for Batasan Road on July 25, and the City Government had two days to act on the application otherwise it is deemed granted. Two days passed and there was no action from the City government. Three days before the rally, we received a letter from the Department of Public Order and Safety that our application was denied and we were being referred to the football field in the City Hall compound. The denial was, in our belief, violates BP 880 and recent Supreme Court rulings on the right to peaceably assemble.

Our lawyers asserted that we had the right to march to Batasan Road but the city officials insisted that we would be causing traffic and that they had no time to make adjustments anymore. The judge appeared to mediate between the two parties. Without conceding our right to march to Batasan Road, we said that we would be amenable if the police barricade was moved back from the original position of St. Peter’s Church by up to 100 meters or so. The DPOS refused this compromise and said they would not budge from their established position. The hearing ended with no compromise reached.

It was therefore to our great surprise that the judge denied our petition for a Temporary Restraining Order and cited that both sides had agreed to a compromise. The judge did not rule on the merits of the case and simply said that both parties had reached an agreement on where to hold the rally.

Well, even without the TRO, the Bayan-led march was already able to march beyond St. Peter’s church. But the police were still there to block our path. It was the first time Bayan brought a case before a court and our lawyers are still discussing whether to appeal or not. In any case, having gone past the originally intended blockade, the Bayan forces settled and held the program.

A sizeable  international contingent joined the march, representing Bayan-USA, Intal-Beligum, and friends from Canada, New Zealand and Indonesia. The ILPS flag was carried by the international contingent.

 

State of the wang-wang address

The speech was basically peppered with populist rhetoric which at this point has become tiresome and overused. The overarching theme was the ‘wang-wang’, which Aquino views as the symbol of abuse and entitlement. But beyond the “wang-wang” metaphor, there was really not much the people could get from the SONA. It was underwhelming in its litany of so-called achievements, and disturbing in its glaring omission of pressing people’s issues.

The picture of the economy depicted by Aquino was very far from the reality experienced by ordinary Filipinos. The so-called increase in the stock market index or the improvements in the credit ratings are not things that translate to concrete benefits for the poor. These are mere indicators from the point of view of big business and the banks, and are not reflective of the state of the people. The fact that he chose to preface his SONA with stock indices and credit ratings shows what mindset Aquino has in terms of the economy.

Marchers near St. Peter's Church (Photo from http://www.bayan.ph)

The more than 50-minute speech ended without any mention of how government will generate new jobs, increase wages, create housing for the poor, implement land reform or even assuage the impact of price increases. It is still the same ‘pantawid’ programs that will be implemented in the next five years.

Aquino cited his accomplishment in terms of providing housing for police and soldiers but had nothing to offer for thousands of urban poor who are being displaced left and right in Metro Manila. Just two days before his SONA, two people were killed when residents and security guards clashed in a disputed area in Caloocan.

The president’s claim of an improved employment conditions is being disputed by analysts, since the jobs created were offset by the new additions to the labor force, and the increase in underemployment. There is also the assertion that the new jobs created were either temporary employment in the area of construction or are the result in the increase in the number of self-employed, something which the government cannot take credit for.

Aquino even made the outrageous claim that with the improved conditions, Filipinos can now choose between domestic and foreign jobs and not be tied to seeking work abroad.

“Dati, nakapako sa pangingibang-bansa ang ambisyon ng mga Pilipino. Ngayon, may pagpipilian na siyang trabaho, at hangga’t tinatapatan niya ng sipag at determinasyon ang kanyang pangangarap, tiyak na maaabot niya ito,” Aquino said in his SONA.

This claim has no basis in fact. More than a million Filipinos leave country each year to look for work abroad. Overseas deployment of Filipino workers in 2010 reached 1.47 million, still higher than the 2009 figure of 1.42 million. If there is a decrease in the growth rate of OFW deployment abroad, this is not because there are jobs being created here. The relative slowdown the deployment growth is the result of the global economic depression.

Aquino never bothered to outline how new jobs will be created. He did not say which sectors of society will generate employment, and how these will happen. He talked of a “job-skills mismatch” as if this was the principal reason why unemployment is so high. Even if government “corrects” the so-called mismatch allegedly affecting 50,000 available jobs monthly, this will not offset the number of unemployed (considering additions to the labor force every year).

What government needs to do is embark on a comprehensive program for genuine land reform and national industrialization to address the problems of poverty and unemployment. Government must strive to build a self-reliant economy. Relying on foreign investments for job creation will get us nowhere, as 30 years of experience will show. A self-reliant economy is even more urgent now that the US is on a brink of a debt default. We cannot continue to pin our hopes of progress on an economy that is grossly unstable and crisis-ridden.

Aquino seemed to talk tough when it came to the issue of sovereignty, particularly the Spratlys dispute. However, Aquino was deafeningly silent on sovereignty issues in relation to the United States, particularly the US troops and the Visiting Forces Agreement.

Tough-talk

The tough-talk on Spartlys was obviously anchored on the US having expressed a willingness to intervene in the dispute to protect its own economic and politico-military interests.  However, we’ve yet to see Mr. Aquino stand up for national sovereignty in relation to US violating our own sovereignty.

Aquino also made a big deal about the Philippine Navy’s new acquisition, Hamilton Class Cutter from the US Coast Guard.

“Literal na pong naglalakbay sa karagatan papunta rito ang kauna-unahan nating Hamilton Class Cutter, isang mas modernong barko na magagamit natin para mabantayan ang ating mga baybayin,”Aquino boasted. The boat Mr. Aquino was referring to is a Vietnam War-era boat commissioned in 1967 and decommissioned in March 2011 by the US Coast Guard. It is modern only in relation to the World War 2 era ships that our Navy still uses, but it is by no means modern, oh say in relation to uhm… China.

Aquino did not say anything about our OFW’s who are keeping economy afloat. Perhaps there were really no achievements on this front, considering the debacles faced by the government in the repatriation and evacuation of Fiipinos in Libya, Japan and other places. Also, citing any other accomplishment will only make VP Binay look good.

There were some bright spots in the speech, but these were few and far between. There was the certification of the Marcos victims compensation as an urgent bill. There was the appointment of a new Ombudsman.

Human rights advocates were again sorely disappointed when there was no substantial response to the issue yet again. In fact, compared to his last SONA when he at least gave some updates on cases of extrajudicial killings, this year’s speech only had a fleeting, token, solitary mention of extrajudicial killings.

Buo ang kumpiyansa ko na tinutupad ng Department of Justice ang malaki nilang bahagi upang maipiit ang mga salarin, lalo na sa mga kaso ukol sa tax evasion, drug trafficking, human trafficking, smuggling, graft and corruption, at extrajudicial killings.

EJK’s were mentioned along with a whole bunch of issues that the DOJ has to address. The Commander-in-Chief of the AFP is leaving it to the DOJ to solve the problems of extrajudicial killings. It’s clear that the president is not really interested in taking on human rights issues such as the enforced disappearances of Jonas Burgos, Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, or the plight of the more than 300 political prisoners still languishing in jail, or the rising numbers of victims of extrajudicial killings under his watch.

It’s just irresponsible and insensitive and to pass all these issues to the DOJ, especially when the situation demands a strong response from the president. The AFP has not really cooperated and has consistently denied its involvement in gross human rights violations. Various rights groups have called on the president to intervene, but if the SONA is an indication, there’s none forthcoming.

It would be futile to look for more promised changes in Aquino’s next SONA a year from now. It has become increasingly clear that the change we seek will not come from the halls of Malacanang, but from the arduous struggle of the people asserting their national and democratic aspirations. ###

by Renato M. Reyes, Jr.

January 18, 2011

READ FIRST PART HERE

SECOND OF TWO PARTS

Flawed premises

Oplan Bayanihan is based on flawed premises and a denial of the historical roots and basis of the armed conflict in the country.  Oplan Bayanihan offers no clear and precise analysis of why people take up arms against the government in the first place. Failing to understand the root causes of the armed conflict will inevitably lead to a failed response.

In the section on “Strategic Environment” which deals with the socio-economic and socio-political context of the armed conflict, Bayanihan describes the “economic environment” of the country. It admits that there is “inequitable distribution of wealth and unequal economic opportunities” that “result in a wide income gap between social classes”.

However, Bayanihan also says that “there is no direct causal link between low economic status and armed conflict”.  What exists are “perceptions of relative deprivation” which are “correlated with the emergence and persistence of conflict in the Philippines”.

For the AFP, it is the “perception of relative deprivation” and not concrete socio-economic and political issues like landlessness, unemployment and injustice that drive people to take up arms against the government. For the AFP, solving the “root causes” of armed conflict boils down to changing people’s perceptions without having to change their socio-economic conditions.

For example, building a road in a barrio can create the perception of development even if farmers remain landless and at the mercy of their landlords.

Even injustice is perceived by the AFP as a mere “exploitable” issue by the revolutionary forces. To again quote Oplan Bayanihan, “the slow dispensation of justice, especially in rural areas pushes people to rely on extra-legal means of retribution and restitution.. For instance, parochial concerns such as land disputes can escalate and lead to the degeneration of internal peace and security in a wider area. The inadequacies in the justice system therefore provide threat groups another exploitable issue to discredit the government and encourage armed dissent.”

Land disputes, such as those in Hacienda Luisita, cannot be considered parochial or simply an “exploitable issue” against government. The issue of landlessness has historical roots based on state policies and is the biggest hindrance to national development and poverty eradication. The AFP and the government policy-makers show an utter lack of understanding of this social phenomenon, and whatever response they may undertake will likely be superficial.

The “development work” advocated by Oplan Bayanihan is not aimed at addressing the socio-economic and socio-political root causes of rebellion nor is it aimed at changing the economic conditions of the people. The aim is to change the people’s “perceptions” of government towards “winning their sentiments” while marginalizing the “insurgents”.  There is a common term for this. It’s called psy-war.
“Whole-of-nation approach”

Oplan Bayanihan professes a paradigm shift through its “whole of nation” and “people-centered” approach. These concepts are not entirely new and are lifted from the US Counter-Insurgency Guide of 2009.

The US Interagency COIN Initiative uses the “whole of government, whole of society” concept in carrying out counter-insurgency operations. It also distinguishes between an “enemy-centric approach” and a “people-centered approach”

The “whole of nation approach” aims to engage the different stakeholders who will share the concept, responsibility and burden of achieving peace and security. Bayanihan describes the stakeholders as the government, the non-government organizations and “civil society” groups and “the entire Filipino citizenry”. It aims to harmonize (shared concept) and mobilize (shared responsibility) both government and non-government assets for the counter-insurgency thrusts of the AFP.

The IPSP enumerated the different government agencies whose “function and roles directly impinge on internal peace and security”.

The DILG is said to take the lead in the matter of good governance. The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process or OPAPP helps in facilitating peace negotiations while the DFA gets foreign support for the counter-insurgency initiatives. The DSWD will assist internally displaced persons (IDPs) and other individuals affected by armed conflict. The DPWH will be involved for the construction of infrastructure while the DOH and DepEd will be involved in the delivery of other services.

Other government agencies that are considered important in achieving “peace and security” are the DAR, DA, NEDA, NCIP, NCMF, the CHR and the recently created Presidential Communications Group.

It would be interesting to see how the CHR will play a role, if any, in all of this. The CHR is supposed to be an independent commission and has no business being employed in AFP counter-insurgency operations.

Other government stakeholders are the LGU’s which are described as being “closes to the people and most critical actors in the attainment of internal peace and security”. They are said to be responsible for the “satisfaction or perception of deprivation of the local populace”. Again, here we note that it is merely the “perception of deprivation” that Bayanihan is concerned with, nothing more.

Lastly, there are the AFP and PNP, the main pillars in the counterinsurgency drive.

As for the non-government stakeholders, Bayanihan believes that NGO’s and CSO’s “fill the gaps in the dispensation of tasks and functions of the national government agencies and local governments”.  As such, they will be utilized in the counter-insurgency campaign for the “delivery of services” and “sustainable development” projects.

As for the third stakeholder, “the entire Filipino people”, Bayanihan considers them the ultimate beneficiaries of the internal peace and security efforts” and thus their participation is “imperative”.

“People-centered approach” and “human security”

Bayanihan claims to be “people-centered” , focusing their so-called “human security” which is broadly defined as “freedom from fear and freedom from want”. Bayanihan claims to put the people’s welfare “at the center of its operations”.

This concept is also derived from the US COIN Guide which uses the term “population-centric approach” as differentiated from the “enemy-centric approach”.  It defines enemy-centric to mean emphasis on the “defeat of the enemy as its primary task and other activities as supporting efforts.”

Meanwhile, a population-centric approach means “to shift the focus…from defeating the insurgent organization to maintaining or recovering the support of the population.”

However the US COIN guide says that in reality, counterinsurgency campaigns “are rarely purely enemy-centric or “population-centric” and will require a combination of both approaches.

Under the “whole of nation, people-centered approach”, programs such as the “conditional cash transfer” can be used as counter-insurgency tools given their palliative but ‘high-impact’ nature. Infrastructure projects, such as the US  MCC-funded road construction in Samar can also fall within the scope of counter-insurgency operations (as admitted by the local AFP themselves).

There is also the concern that Oplan Bayanihan will militarize the delivery of services and “development work” done by government agencies and non-government organizations. “Development work” in communities can also be used as a cover for intelligence gathering and profiling of residents. It would also be interesting to know the kind of NGO’s that will engage the AFP within the framework of Bayanihan.

This early, reports that the AFP’s “peace and development teams” implementing Oplan Bayanihan in Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley have been conducting ‘census’ activities in the community, extracting information from a local NGO. The local NGO Sildap cried harassment after they were repeatedly visited by fully-armed soldiers who were trying to extract information.

Combat and non-combat operations

Bayanihan claims that while it gives equal importance to non-military multi-stakeholder approach in the conduct of counter-insurgency operations, there will be “no diminution in the importance of combat operations”. However, these would be more “focused” and “tailored” to meet particular “threat groups”.

As the US COIN guide says, “COIN functions… include informational, security, political and economic components, all of which are designed to support the overall objective of establishing and consolidating control over the environment.”

The IPSP calls for the use of “focused military operations against armed threat groups”. The military operations take on the form of combat operations complemented by a wide array of non-combat initiatives aimed at establishing control over the environment.

Make no mistake, the AFP will continue to use force and state violence, but this time couched in concepts such as “sustainable development”. It vows the “intensified and relentless pursuit of the NPA”.

The AFP’s Special Operations Teams “shall transition to peace and development teams (PDT)” and will be at the “forefront” of Bayanihan. The AFP will also continue to implement the Triad Operations concept of simultaneous conduct of combat, intelligence and civil-military operations (CMO).

Bayanihan defines CMO’s as “planned activities undertaken independently or in coordination with civilian entities in support to(sic) the accomplishment of AFP mission to gain popular support and weaken the will of the enemy to fight. It is characterized by activities that influence the beliefs, emotion, behaviors, attitudes and opinions of selected target audience; it establishes and maintains good relations between military forces, civil authorities and the civilian populace to facilitate military operations in support to the accomplishment of the AFP mission”.

Bayanihan aims to apply “social pressure” on the NPA, for them to abandon armed struggle. The AFP invokes a patently ahistorical assertion that “the use of armed struggle to attain political ends is not acceptable to the Filipino people and to any civilized society”.

In relation to the NPA, the IPSP recommends the use of non-combat military activates involving “public information campaigns, civic action programs, development related projects and collaborative activities with government and non-government stakeholders, among others.”

We have seen how these programs were implemented during the urban militarization of Metro Manila in 2007. The AFP CMO’s conducted an aggressive vilification (information) campaign against legal progressive groups while conducting civic action programs like school repairs and roadworks. The presence of fully-armed soldiers was intended to intimidate residents. Civic projects were also used to gather intelligence info on the community residents.

Peace negotiations

The AFP says that the internal security operations “shall be within the national government’s peace framework” and that the military will subscribe to the “primacy of the peace process”.

In the context of Bayanihan, the peace process is viewed as the only viable option for the NPA when it realizes the “futility of their armed struggle”. The goal is to “pressure” the NPA into engaging the peace negotiations and into accepting a framework of surrender or capitulation.

Conversely, Oplan Bantay Laya also raises questions as to the sincerity of the national government when it engages in peace negotiations with the NDF. It appears that the government peace efforts are only aimed at getting the NDF and the revolutionary forces to capitulate, and not at seriously addressing the root causes of the armed conflict.

The AFP vows to pursue its primary role in the peace process, that of ensuring that “the group with whom the government is talking peace with will not use force or the threat of force as leverage at the negotiating table”. The AFP will continue to employ armed force as a necessary means for the Philippine government to gain the upper hand in the peace talks.

Human Rights

Oplan Bayanihan makes repeated reference to the observance of human rights and international humanitarian law, calling them “imperatives” in the pursuit of internal peace and security. It claims that its use of force “will always be within the bounds… of IHL, HR and the rule of law”. It calls for the establishment of Human Rights Offices or desks down to the battalion level. The AFP also vows to use of “deliberate, accurate and precise” military operations aimed “only against armed insurgents”.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Take the case of, the 19th IB’s less-than-accurate operations in Kanangga, Leyte that led to the killing of top botanist Leonard Co and two companions last November 15, 2010. The case has not been resolved and the AFP has since claimed that the death was the result of an alleged crossfire with the NPA even if testimonies and evidence point otherwise. There has been no result in the internal investigation of the AFP, if any was conducted at all. No official has been made accountable.

There also appears to be no change in the way the AFP views the legal progressive organizations as being “communist fronts”. There is no explicit “paradigm shift” in this regard. This lays the conditions for the continued attacks on unarmed activists. Even under the Aquino government, attacks against legal and unarmed activists have continued in the form of extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests and the filing of trumped up charges.

Further studies

U.S. Army General Samuel Sumner meets with the Sultans of Bayang and Oato, Philippines, 1902 (US COIN Guide 2009)What is disturbing and dangerous with the US COIN guide is that it allows a wide range of US intervention in the internal affairs of a country. Oplan Bayanihan, being inspired by the US COIN Guide, allows such forms of intervention whether as advisory roles, civil-military assistance or direct intervention. Foreign development aid can be poured into the country to boost the counterinsurgency thrusts of the Aquino government.

Another interesting area of study and research would be on the types of NGO’s that engage the AFP in the framework of Bayanihan.  How independent are they to the national government? What type of foreign funding do they receive? How do they conduct their “development work”?

Conclusions

The AFP’s Oplan Bayanihan is a reflection of the socio-economic and socio-political thrusts of the current Aquino administration. It is only as effective as the framework of governance being offered by the ruling regime. Since Aquino has not addressed the basic issues at the root of the armed conflict, such as land reform, national industrialization, national sovereignty, social justice and genuine democracy, the counterinsurgency program will continue to fail in meeting its objectives. Aquino’s adherence to neo-liberal policies and subservience to foreign dictates will only worsen the domestic crisis and provide basis for the persistence of the armed conflict.

With the new IPSP, deception will go hand in hand with state-sponsored violence. Bayanihan will use combat and non-combat operations as well as government and non-government efforts to achieve the end goal of containing armed rebellion. Bayanihan denies the historical root causes of the armed conflict, treating them as a mere problems of “perception of relative deprivation”. Whatever “development” that the IPSP advances will only be superficial and aimed at deceiving the people in order to control and suppress them. ###

 

DOWNLOAD PDF COPY OF AFP IPSP BAYANIHAN

With the recent Supreme Court decision dismissing all six petitions assailing the 2007 Human Security Act,  it’s important we go back and review our opposition to this draconian measure. Below is the link to a powerpoint presentation we prepared in 2007.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/39071008/Presentation-on-the-HSA-of-2007-by-BAYAN

It is unfortunate that the SC was waiting for an actual injury from the anti-terror law before it decided on the merits of the petition. The petitioners have been on the receiving end of many repressive policies of the previous regime, including illegal arrests, surveillance, torture and other abuses. The track record of repression against the petitioners was there. It was under this repressive context that the terror law was passed.
The SC’s failure to rule on the merits of the petitions may embolden the human rights violators among the state security forces to carry out more abuses using the anti-terror law. We have seen both the deliberate acts of repression and the sheer incompetence of many state security forces.

Our apprehension over the anti-terror law has not changed even under the new administration of Benigno Aquino III.

The political climate has not really changed dramatically. Repression still exists in many parts of the country. There have been 16 cases of extrajudicial killings, 2 enforced disappearances and at least 3 cases of illegal arrests under the new regime. Under this climate of impunity, the HSA will be a very dangerous tool for repression.

Just imagine PNP officials like Supt.Binayug who is adept at torture being given so much leeway to commit abuses.

Bayan condemns in the strongest terms the extrajudcial killing of peasant leader Rene “Toto” Quirante of Negros Oriental. According to human rights groups, he is the 14th victim killed under the nearly 100-day old Aquino administration. This means that on the average, one victim is killed every week since Aquino took power.

The fact that these killings continue shows that the Aquino government is not doing enough to stop them. Aquino’s boast that 50% of the extrajudicial killings under his term have been solved is a hollow and misleading claim.
The number of victims has increased and no government action has proven to deter the perpetrators. The 50% claim also conveniently glosses over the hundreds of victims under the previous fascist Arroyo regime that remain unresolved.

Why do the killings continue?

1. The state policy for extrajudicial killings and the targeting of activists continues. This policy is embodied in the counter-insurgency program known as Oplan Bantay Laya. Legal organizations and unarmed activists are still considered targets of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Activists are still considered ‘enemies of the state’. This has not changed and there have been many alarming accounts from various provinces on on the harassment and demonization of legal activists. The AFP continues to deny any responsibility despite overwhelming proof and widespread belief that they are involved. A policy from the preivious regime exists. Aquino cannot solve the problem if he does not recognize this basic fact that has been articulated by many rights advocates, including foreign observers and groups. Aquino has gone on record to deny that a policy did exist.

2. No high-ranking official, military or civilian, has been made to account for the killings. Hardly any of the perpetrators have faced conviction for the hundreds of deaths during the past nine years. This has contributed to the culture of impunity within the AFP. A study by human rights lawyer Atty. Al Parreno shows that from 2001-2010, only 1.05% of a more than 300 cases resulted in the conviction of the perpetrators. The Aquino government does not seem to be doing anything to change this dismal trend. Justice remains elusive.

Aquino must rein in his generals, abandon the US-directed counter-insurgency program Bantay Laya and create the mechanisms needed to prosecute the perpetrators, both from the past and present regimes. We support the proposal for the formation of a dedicated team of prosecutors that will address the problem of extrajudicial kilings. But more than this, it is the state-sponsored counter-insurgency policy that needs to end. The State’s failure to act on the killings will mean that the blood will be on Aquino’s hands as well. ###

P.S. – During the first two weeks of November 2010, two more activists were killed: Caloy Rodriguez, a government employee and union leader in Laguna and peasant leader Ireneo Rodriguez of Batangas.

The People’s State of the Nation and the road to change
Today, President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III delivers his first State of the Nation Address (SONA). It will be his first major policy pronouncement since taking office on June 30. His first SONA should be an indicator of how his administration will differ from previous regimes.

Because it is his first SONA, it should define his programs for the next six years, as well as his plans for addressing the problems left by the Arroyo regime.

And the Arroyo regime left numerous grave problems that cannot be addressed simply through anti-corruption slogans, with anti-“wangwang” peroration. The problems are in fact systemic and have worsened from one regime to the next.

The country is mired in a fiscal crisis of unsurpassed proportions. Unemployment and underemployment are at their worst in half a century. Much-needed social services are severely lacking. Landlessness continues to plague most of the peasantry, who comprise the majority of the Filipino people. Human rights continue to be wantonly violated. Foreign impositions impinge on the country’s sovereignty – or what is left of it.

• The budget deficit shot up to an all-time high of P298.5 billion last year. The deficit for the first half of 2010 has gone beyond initial projections. Meanwhile, government spending for health, education, and housing continues to shrink while 42.7 percent of the budget is allocated for debt servicing.

• By conservative estimates, more than 4 million Filipinos are unemployed, while over 7 million are underemployed. Those who are employed have to put up with extremely low wages.

• Power and water rates regularly increase while 30 percent of all barangays have no access to electricity and 17 percent of families throughout the country have no access to safe drinking water.

• Seventy percent of the peasantry – who comprise the majority of the Filipino people – are landless. Poverty is most prevalent in the countryside. Many big landholdings like the Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac and Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco’s plantations in Negros remain untouched by land reform.

• The extrajudicial killings that became rampant during the Arroyo regime, and claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people, continue; no less than five people have fallen prey to extrajudicial killings in the first two weeks of the Aquino administrations. Meanwhile more than 200 victims of enforced disappearances remain missing and more than 300 continue to languish in detention on account of their political beliefs. The counter-“insurgency” plan Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), which targets unarmed activists and other civilians, has not been abandoned.

• Foreign military presence on Philippine soil continues under the auspices of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), with US troops permanently deployed in Mindanao in violation of the Constitution.

• The country remains tied to unequal trade agreements through the World Trade Organization and the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).
With these, Bayan challenges President Aquino to undertake the following urgent measures:

1. Prosecute Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her henchmen for their crimes.
2. Immediately address the problems of joblessness and poverty.
3. Increase wages and provide other forms of economic relief for the people
4. Increase the budget for social services.
5. Implement genuine land reform.
6. Stop extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations, and end the OBL.
7. Uphold national sovereignty, abrogate the VFA and scrap the GATT and the JPEPA.

Institutions for accountability have been damaged and undermined by the previous government.The prosecution of Arroyo and her cabal of corrupt officials remains a pressing concern for a people who have long been denied of justice. Expose’ are good only insofar as they will lead to accountability.
We note with great concern President Aquino’s apparent continuation of the failed economic policies of hs predecessors. His economic managers continue to push for new or higher taxes as a way of raising revenues – in effect passing on the government’s fiscal burden to the people. The VAT on toll fees and the drive to have even small vendors issue receipts are some examples. The current government appears to be taking the same neo-liberal path as previous regimes.

While he has made statements against human rights abuses like extrajudicial killings, there has been no concrete action to punish the perpetrators, including the masterminds. The current government has also been non-committal about calls for the distribution of Hacienda Luisita and has not spoken about land reform in general. President Aquino is also silent about even reviewing the VFA, the GATT, and the JPEPA. We note also the current administration’s silence in the face of continuing US military presence in the country and the violation of our national sovereignty.

While Aquino has high approval ratings based on the latest Social Weather Station (SWS) survey, these approval ratings rest on shaky ground. While the survey shows Aquino having an 88-percent approval rating, it also shows that 53 percent of respondents believe he can fulfill only some of his promises, while only 14 percent believe he can fulfill all his promises.

As far as majority of the people are concerned, there are no illusions President Aquino will bring about fundamental changes. President Aquino should take this as a sign that he must immediately address the most basic peoples issues and demands. His approval ratings will ultimately be eroded if no meaningful reforms take place.

At this juncture in our history is important for the people to exercise vigilance and to continue engaging in collective action as the only proven means to achieve social change.

BAGONG ALYANSANG MAKABAYAN
July 26, 2010

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