Global War On Terror: The Philippines
by Luis H. Francia
www.thenation.com/, December 31,
Politically motivated killings in the
Philippines--the United States' former colony and staunchest ally
in Asia--have swelled since 9/11. According to Karapatan, an umbrella
group for various Philippine human rights organizations, close
to 900 men and women have been summarily executed since Gloria
Macapagal Arroyo took over in 2001 from disgraced President Joseph
Estrada. Continuing to support Bush's "global war on terror,"
President Arroyo has ratcheted up her government's pressure on
the Philippine left, reviving memories of the Marcos dictatorship
and its dirty war against the opposition. Manila knows that as
long as it supports the Bush Administration, thereby obtaining
economic and military assistance from the United States, it can
get away with murder--literally.
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International
and Human Rights First have criticized the Arroyo government for
failing to prevent--and even abetting--such killings. A report
to the United Nations by Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, based
on a fact-finding visit in February, echoes such criticism. Alston
points to two underlying causes for the unchecked murders: the
indiscriminate labeling of left-wing groups as "front organizations"
for "armed groups whose aim is to destroy democracy"
and a government "counter-insurgency strategy" that
encourages "the extrajudicial killings of activists and other
'enemies' in certain circumstances." Even the 2006 government-appointed
Melo Commission blamed rogue elements in the military for these
Those assassinated include pastors, labor
leaders, student activists, farmers, workers and journalists--at
least thirty-two of the last have been killed for reasons directly
related to their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists,
which ranks the Philippines as one of the most dangerous places
for its profession. As veteran Manila columnist Luis Teodoro writes,
"The killings are an integral part of the policy to dismantle
whatever else remains of the democratic and populist legacies"
brought about by the 1986 overthrow of the Marcos regime.
Last February the Philippine Congress
passed the Human Security Act (HSA)--a virtual copy of the US
Homeland Security Act--and many expect even more human rights
abuses in its wake. By broadening the government's arrest and
detention powers, the law seriously undermines civil liberties.
With its vague definition of what constitutes terrorism, HSA criminalizes
dissent; thus, burning an effigy could be seen as a terrorist
Last August, in one of the first instances
of the law's application, three visiting women's rights activists
who are members of the US-based Gabriela Network (an affiliate
of Gabriela Philippines, the nation's largest militant feminist
group) were initially prevented from leaving Manila: Annaliza
Enrile, a US citizen and professor at the University of Southern
California; Judy Mirkinson, also a US citizen; and novelist Ninotchka
Rosca, a US permanent resident. Having attended the tenth Women's
International Solidarity Affair in the Philippines, the three
found themselves on a government watch list because of suspected
ties to the Taliban.
Liza Maza, Gabriela's elected representative
to the Philippine Congress, calls the charge "utterly preposterous,"
given Gabriela's politics and the Taliban's medieval, misogynistic
bent. Rosca, a political detainee under Marcos, describes such
tactics as part of a larger strategy by President Arroyo, whose
2004 re-election was tainted by charges of cheating, to "crush...the
left and other advocates of dissent before 2010, which is when
her term ends." According to Rosca, Arroyo intends to "push
through a constitutional amendment...to enable her to remain in
office." In what was perhaps a dry run, Arroyo declared a
monthlong state of emergency in early 2006. Arroyo might also
be turning a blind eye to the military's excesses to ensure its
loyalty, which is tenuous--as demonstrated by a failed coup in
Not coincidentally, this dirty war was
revived shortly before US Special Operations Forces landed in
Mindanao in January 2002--the first time American troops have
been in the Philippines since US bases were shut down in 1992.
Even though the Philippine Constitution forbids the basing of
foreign troops on native soil, the US military has kept between
100 and 500 personnel in the Philippines for the past five years.
Their presence is justified under the bilateral 1998 Visiting
Forces Agreement, which allows for joint military exercises and
permits the US military to advise and train Filipino troops. The
arrangement is supposed to be provisional, but neither government
has set an end date.
According to Focus on the Global South,
a Bangkok-based think tank that monitors US military activities,
US soldiers have been more active than their technical roles allow.
They've been photographed, by Agence France-Presse and Reuters,
accompanying Philippine troops in their hunt for the Abu Sayyaf
Group (ASG), alleged to have ties with the Southeast Asian terrorist
organization Jemaah Islamiyah. Lee McClenny, US Embassy spokesman
in Manila, states that the troops "are not involved in any
combat roles but will fire back if fired upon.... Our role is
to advise and assist the Philippine military."
Oddly, Philippine military units vastly
outnumber the ASG, a small, violent and essentially criminal gang.
Besides, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) knows the terrain
much better than its US counterparts, having battled the Maoist
New People's Army, the Moro National Liberation Front and the
Moro Islamic Liberation Front for decades without any US advisers
on hand. The command structure, however, is corrupt and plagued
by persistent accusations that the ASG has paid off higher-ups
in the past. It isn't tactical intelligence or foreign advisers
that the AFP needs but sweeping reforms.
Equally disturbing, the United States
is building installations for its troops, recently awarding a
$14.4 million contract to Global Contingency Services of Irving,
Texas, to construct these "temporary" structures. In
the context of Philippine-US relations, "temporary"
is a word fraught with irony. In 1898, during the Spanish-American
War, the US naval fleet steamed into Manila Bay, ostensibly to
aid the Filipinos in their revolution against Spain. Instead,
the brutal 1899 Philippine-American War ensued when it became
clear that the bluecoats were taking over the archipelago. Except
for a brief hiatus in the 1990s, they have never left.
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