Posts Tagged ‘extrajudicial killings’

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. ###


by Renato M. Reyes, Jr.

January 18, 2011


Last December 22, 2010, President Benigno Aquino III unveiled the new Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) that would replace the bloody Oplan Bantay Laya. The plan was called Oplan Bayanihan, and was touted as a “paradigm shift” for the AFP. As if to stress the shift, the AFP is no longer using the term “Internal Security Plan” or ISP. It has added the word “peace” to the concept, hence IPSP. The term IPSP is also often used instead of “counter-insurgency”.

What is Oplan Bayanihan?

Oplan Bayanihan is the new Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) that aims to “provide the strategic guidance in the performance of (the AFP’s) mandated functions of protecting the state and the people. It shall help AFP units in planning for and contributing to the attainment of internal peace and security.”

As with previous ISP’s like Bantay Laya, Oplan Bayanihan is the AFP framework in dealing with so-called armed “threat groups”. Bayanihan classifies “threat groups” into three:  “ideology-based groups” such as the CPP-NPA-NDF, the MILF and “rogue” MNLF factions; “terrorist” groups such as the Abu Sayyaf, JI and other Foreign Terrorist Organizations; and last, the “auxiliary threat groups” which include “partisan armed groups”, private armies and some criminal groups.

The new Oplan has eight main sections:  Purpose, Strategic Environment, National Strategic Guidance, National Defense Strategy, Strategic Assumptions, AFP Mission for Internal Peace and Security, AFP Strategy for Internal Peace and Security and Conclusion.

The AFP says that Oplan Bayanihan is a public document which aims to gather support from various stakeholders. We were able to request a copy of the document through the AFP’s Civil Relations Service. The “public” document of course does not include the implementing guidelines of the new Oplan.

What are its salient features?

Oplan Bayanihan claims to take its cue from the pronouncements of President Benigno Aquino III calling for a “multi-stakeholder approach to peace and security”.  It says that the current administration’s national security thrust involves four specific elements: governance, delivery of basic services, economic reconstruction and sustainable development, and security sector reform.

The new IPSP also claims to espouse a “whole-of-nation” and “people-centered” approach, implying that it is different from the previous ISP’s that espoused an “enemy-centric approach.”

Bayanihan says that it seeks the involvement of various stakeholders, “from the national and local government agencies, non-government entities and the entire citizenry, in addressing peace and security concerns”. It also claims to give “equal emphasis to combat and non-combat dimensions of military operations”. It claims to be a “departure from the old parameters and explores non-combat parameters of success in addressing the country’s peace and security problem.”

The AFP has been fighting a four-decade old armed rebellion led by the CPP-NPA-NDF. Despite the promise of every president since Marcos regarding the defeat of the revolutionary movement, no president has ever succeeded in delivering on this promise. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo attempted during her last three years and failed. This much was admitted by the AFP when it failed to meet its self-imposed deadline on defeating the revolutionary movement.

What is the ultimate objective of Oplan Bayanihan?

Bayanihan’s “end-state” or ultimate objective is the reduction of the “capabilities of internal armed threats…to a level that they can no longer threaten the stability of the state and civil authorities can ensure the safety and well-being of the Filipino people.”

The IPSP‘s objectives vary for the different armed groups. Bayanihan seeks the “defeat” of terrorist groups like the ASG, a negotiated settlement with the MILF, and the “rendering of the NPA irrelevant.”

Oplan Bayanihan is to be implemented from 2011-2016, with the first three years devoted to addressing the internal armed “threat groups”. The “substantial completion” of the objectives for the first three years will supposedly allow the AFP to “hand over the lead role in ensuring internal peace and security to appropriate government agencies and eventually allow the AFP to initiate its transition to a territorial defense-focused force. “ After the first three years, the plan says the AFP should be able to focus on external threats.

How does Oplan Bayanihan aim to achieve its goal?

Oplan Bayanihan “emphasizes that the primary focus in the conduct of military operations is Winning the Peace and not just defeating the enemy. In order to win the peace, the AFP IPSP shall be anchored on two strategic approaches: The Whole of Nation Approach and the People-Centered Security/Human Security Approach.”

“The Whole of Nation Approach is the framework that shall guide how the AFP will implement this IPSP.” This means that the AFP intends to mobilize all the so-called “stakeholders”, both government and non-government, to meet its objectives.

The “People-Centered Approach” meanwhile uses the concept of “human security” which it says intends to meet the needs of the people, including economic development, human rights and so on.

Oplan Bayanihan calls the use of the “people-centered approach” a paradigm shift or a “new” strategy for the AFP.

To achieve its goal, the AFP says it will be guided by two “strategic imperatives” and four courses of action called “strategic concepts”. The two strategic imperatives are “Adherence to Human Rights/International Humanitarian Law and the Rule of Law and Involvement of all Stakeholders”.

The four strategic concepts or courses of action are “Contribute to the Permanent and Peaceful Closure of all Armed Conflict” which stresses the “primacy of the peace process”; “Conduct of Focused Military Operations” against threat groups; Support Community-based Peace and Development Efforts” and lastly, “Security Sector Reform (SSR)”.

Grand deception and continuing violence

Oplan Bayanihan is a grand psy-war scheme that aims to continue state-sponsored violence against the people, this time with more reliance on deception and cooptation.

Bayanihan is a tacit admission of the failures of the previous Oplan Bantay Laya, especially in terms of its military objectives of defeating the armed rebellion in the country.

Bantay Laya has also been exposed as the framework by which extrajudicial killings and abductions of unarmed activists have been carried out in the name of internal security operations. The previous ISP was responsible for the bloody human rights record of the AFP under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The so-called paradigm shift however is not entirely new, nor is it an innovation of the AFP. Bayanihan uses concepts lifted from the US Counter-Insurgency Guide of 2009 formulated by the US Inter-agency Counter-Insurgency Initiative which includes the US Department of Defense, US State Department and the USAID.

The US COIN Guide of 2009 defines counter-insurgency as the “comprehensive civilian and military efforts taken to simultaneously defeat and contain insurgency and address its root causes”.

“Best practice COIN integrates and synchronizes political, security, economic, and informational components that reinforce governmental legitimacy and effectiveness while reducing insurgent influence over the population”.

“COIN strategies should be designed to simultaneously protect the population from insurgent violence; strengthen the legitimacy and capacity of government institutions to govern responsibly and marginalize insurgents politically, socially, and economically”.

The use of a multi-stakeholder approach supposedly to “win the peace” and promote “human security” only means the AFP will more frequently employ non-combat military operations alongside combat operations as well as non-government efforts alongside government efforts. The end goal is control over the population and environment through deception and suppression. By embarking on so-called “developmental work”, the AFP hopes to “win the sentiments” of the people and “leverage” them against the revolutionary forces.

The so-called thrusts and “strategic guidance” made by the commander-in-chief namely good governance, delivery of services, sustainable development, and security sector reform; are also inspired by the US COIN guide. These fall under the counterinsurgency model’s “functional components”:   economic function, political function, security function and information function. The end goal is the “control of the environment”.

The US COIN guide describes these elements as follows:

The political function is the key function, providing a framework of political reconciliation, and reform of governance around which all other COIN activities are organized.

The economic function seeks to provide essential services and stimulate long-term economic growth, thereby generating confidence in the government while at the same time reducing the pool of frustrated, unemployed young men and women from which insurgents can readily recruit.

The security function is an enabler for the other functions and involves development not just of the affected nation’s military force, but its whole security sector, including the related legal framework, civilian oversight mechanisms and judicial system.

The information function comprises intelligence (required to gain understanding), and influence (to promote the affected government’s cause).

(to be continued)