Posts Tagged ‘wikileaks cablegate’

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. ###


An August 2008 cable from the US Embassy in Manila showed the US government’s concern over the human rights situation in the Philippines and its implications on US funding for the country. Mr. Keith Luse, Senior Professional Staff of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited the Philippines from August 14-18 as part of a three-nation Asian visit that also included Indonesia and Mongolia.

According to the cable, “the purpose of Mr. Luse’s visit was to conduct a field-based study on bilateral U.S. foreign assistance, and also gather information about the human rights situation in the Philippines, particularly the issue of extra-judicial killings”.

It said that various forms of assistance were being provided by the US to “transform the Philippines into a more democratic, prosperous and stronger sustaining partner of the United States”.

From the discussion of the cable, Luse himself conveyed to the Philippine government the “perception, whether correct or not, that the Philippines was on a downward trend in terms of the rule of law and human rights”.

On the side of the Philippine government, Luse met with Senior State Prosecutor and Head of the Presidential Task Force Against Media Harassment of the Philippine Department of Justice, Undersecretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy National Security Adviser, and Vice Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.  Mr. Luse also attended a briefing by the Philippine National Police’s “Task Force Usig,” which is charged with investigating human rights abuses.

“In several meetings with senior Philippine officials, Luse conveyed serious Congressional concern about extrajudicial killings and explained that his trip was essentially a fact-finding visit to learn first-hand about the issue.  He added that he hoped to obtain the Philippine government’s perspective on the nature of the problem and possible solutions,” the cable said.

According to the cable, the Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary tried to explain the context of the extrajudicial killings as well as the steps taken by the Philippine government to address the problem. .He said that the Philippine government “took extrajudicial killings seriously and had recently taken a number of steps to address the issue, such as designating 99 special courts to hear such cases and providing additional funding to the Commission on Human Rights”.  He also explained that “the killings did not occur in a vacuum, but resulted partly from the Philippine government’s concurrent fight against three insurgencies (communist, Muslim, and terrorist).”

However, the glaring proof that the Philippine government was not serious in addressing the problem was when the Usec claimed that “many of the killings were actually perpetrated by the Communist National (sic) People’s Army, which was currently purging its ranks of disloyal members as it had done in previous years”.

This was echoed by the Philippine National Deputy Security Adviser’s who heavily emphasized the role of the National People’s Army in the killings. However, he noted that to the extent the Philippine military was involved, it was “rogue elements” within it, as the Melo Commission had concluded.

For his part,the Deputy Director underscored of Task Force Usig also said the cases of extrajudicial killings  were not politically motivated, but the result of personal squabbles, armed conflict, escape attempts, and many other non-political reasons.

These statements show deceit and cover-up by the Philippine government of the real causes of the extrajudicial killings which claimed the lives of hundreds of activists during the time of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. While one Philippine official cited the Melo Commission’s finding that “rogue elements” within the Philippine government may be involved in the killings, Philippine officials completely ignored the most important finding of the Melo Commission. The fact-finding body actually demolished the theory that an NPA internal purge was behind the extrajudicial killings. This was in fact discussed extensively in the Melo report. The officials were either ignorant of the Melo findings or were simply lying.

Different agencies like the USAID, the MCC and JUSMAG were providing various forms of assistance to the Philippine government in relation to the rule of law and human rights. It said that the “Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group’s support to Philippine Defense Reform is helping build a more professional and accountable Philippine military”.

We don’t know what they mean by a “professional and accountable Philippine military, but it is a well known fact that the AFP’s counter-insurgency program is under the guidance and direction of the US military through the JUSMAG. The reality is that there has been no accountability in the AFP on the issue of extrajudicial killings.

What was the reaction of Luse after the briefing? “Luse was grateful for the perspective he gained from the briefing and requested that the Task Force continue regularly to brief Embassy officials,” the cable said. Despite the obvious efforts of the PH government officials to cover-up or downplay the issue of extrajudicial killings, the US embassy saw the visit of Luse as affording “excellent opportunities for substantive discussions of these challenges and opportunities in the Philippines and for U.S. bilateral assistance”.

Eventually the US Congress would make the release of some $2 million in foreign military assistance contingent on the Philippine government’s compliance with the UN special rapporteur Philip Alston’s recommendations for addressing human rights issues in the Philippines. Some $30 million in annual US military aid continued to be channeled to the Philippines despite its dismal human rights record. ###