When I decided to become involved in politics in the Philippines, my parents expressed concern. Actually, concern is not really an appropriate word…outright fear is more accurate. And their fears are substantiated. The Philippines is notorious for its staggering number of “unexplained” extrajudicial killings, our own version of desaparecidos, whose main targets are journalists and left-identified activists.
The government, however, remains in a state of denial over the situation.
Case in point:
Last Thursday, June 28, 2007, Human Rights Watch released an extensive report regarding the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. In Scared Silent: Impunity for Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines, Human Rights Watch documents the involvement of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the killings, as well as the AFP and the government’s lack of involvement when it comes to investigating the killings and bringing the perpetrators to justice.
Human Rights Watch joins a number of international organizations that have expressed concern over extrajudicial killings in the Philippines and taken steps to conduct investigations, including the United Nations Human Rights Council (Feb. 21, 2007 statement) (March 22, 2007 statement), the European Union (June 14, 2007 press release) (June 29, 2007 press release), and Amnesty International (August 15, 2006 report).
While not all of these groups recognize direct involvement of military forces, they do find that 1) The reasoning and explanations given by the AFP regarding their investigating procedures, and their beliefs why and how the killings occur (If they occur at all; most killings are written off as propaganda. The killings that are recognized are mostly attributed to internal purging among the left and exclude any involvement of military officers.) are unsupported and difficult to believe, and 2) There seems to be a complete lack of desire on the part of the AFP and President Arroyo’s administration to effectively and accurately document, investigate, and prosecute the killings.
The Human Rights Watch Report echoes the findings of both the UN and the Amensty International Reports (the EU has not yet released a report) that there is strong evidence that in addition to being passive and ineffective in reacting to extrajudicial killings, military forces are directly responsible for a number of extrajudicial killings. According Sophie Richardson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, “There is strong evidence of a ‘dirty war’ by the armed forces against left-leaning activists and journalists. The failure to prosecute soldiers or police suspected in these killings shifts the spotlight of responsibility to the highest levels of the government.”
So what does the Philippine government think about all this? Are they alarmed? Embarrassed?
On Monday, July 2, 2007, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales began his first day as the temporary caretaker of the Department of National Defense.
In an impromptu speech after taking over as officer in charge, Gonzales stated that left militant groups have been successful in their propaganda campaign of blaming the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) of extrajudicial killings of journalists and especially leftist activists. In Gonzales’ words, “The enemies of our people, the enemies of the State have been very successful in showing as if we are the ones doing wrong when we’re offering our lives in the defense of what we know to be the best for our people, our freedom, our democracy,” Gonzales said. “We are accused of extrajudicial killings. This cannot be allowed to happen.”
So, basically, Gonzales is saying that Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and Amnesty International, three world-renown and highly respected organizations, have no idea how to conduct research. The time and resources these organizations have so generously spent on our nation, to try to better it, are in vain because for all the research and fieldwork that their so-called “experts” conducted, they simply reported left propaganda. Even the administration-appointed Melo Commission, which, of course, did not directly implicate the military but stressed the faults in military investigations, is simply succumbing to communist propaganda.
If I may diverge for a bit to point out yet another irony of Philippine politics, Gonzales is the chairman of the Partido Demokrato-Sosyalista ng Pilipinas. What, you didn’t quite get that? Let me repeat, SOSYALISTA. If I may further expand and include some choice excerpts from the PDSP website:
- The PDSP is a consultative member of the Socialist International. The latter is a worldwide association represented in one hundred and five countries by some one hundred and twenty six parties that share aims and aspirations like that of the PDSP, for their respective countries and for humankind.
- The common good embraces the sum of those conditions of social life whereby human individuals and groups may pursue their own perfection more adequately and readily. The aspects of the common good include respect for life, basic welfare, liberty, equality, participation, solidarity, and the integrity of the environment.
- The broad policies of sanlipunang demokrasya that guide the program of government of the PDSP include: a constitutional government that guarantees respect for human rights and civil liberties to all citizens and social ownership or control of certain strategic sectors of the economy
And now back to our program.
What’s even more funny (In Philippine political parlance, funny=so desperately sad all you can do is laugh about it) is that Gonzales’ reaction echoes these organizations’ findings that the government seems to be simply refuses to take responsibility on two fronts: responsibility for the killings themselves and the broader responsibility for the protection of its citizens (which any political theorist will tell you is among the most basic reasons for the existence of government at all.)
Let’s look at how the government reacted to the UN report:
In a March 28, 2007 Inquirer article, Professor Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings and author of the report, stated, “there is absolutely no evidence that the recent surge in killings of leftist activists is due to a communist purge. On the contrary, strong and consistent evidence leads to the conclusion that a significant number of these killings are due to the actions of the military.”
Alston stated that the military continues to “remain in a state of almost total denial” about the killings. “At the operational level, the allegations have too often been met with a response of incredulity, mixed with offence,” and “those government officials who must act decisively if the killings are to end still refuse to accept that there is even a problem.” Alston continues, “There is a passivity, bordering on an abdication of responsibility, which affects the way in which key institutions and actors approach their responsibilities in relation to such human rights concerns.”
How did top cabinet officials react? Reacting to Alston’s assessment that there was no sweeping internal communist purge Defense Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane said “Alston won’t pay attention. He is blind, mute, and deaf. We can’t do anything about that.” Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales said Alston was just a “muchacho” (servant boy) at the UN.
Judging by Norberto Gonzales’ statement, it seems that the government holds a similar attitude of contempt towards the Human Rights Watch report. Detailed documentation and insightful assessment by domestic and international organizations which all point to military responsibility are simply not enough to convince our self-appointed padrinos that something must be done.
De-Nile isn’t just a river in Egypt.