The crimes and other atrocities stemming from the implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya are directly instigated by the so-called “war on terror,” which the Bush regime exported to and imposed on the Philippines. The Obama government is faced with the challenge of stopping the war begun by its predecessor – a war that has caused countless human-rights violations in the Philippines and its other “fronts.”
By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Human Rights Watch
SACRAMENTO, California — When Barack Obama was inaugurated on Jan. 20 as the 44th president of the United States, he said: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
One of the major challenges that now lie before Obama to translate his apparently progressive statements on human rights into concrete actions toward the elimination of human-rights violations throughout the world, including the Philippines. Obama has expressed support for the government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whose regime has been accused of corruption, deceit and of silencing dissent.
That an American citizen, Melissa Roxas, has fallen victim to these atrocities when she was abducted and tortured by Philippine soldiers in Tarlac underscores the need for Obama to put his money where his mouth is.
The Philippines is among several “fronts”in the US-led “war on terror,” which the Bush government instigated in 2001, using as a springboard the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. In January 2002, more than 1,200 members of the US military’s Special Operations Command, Pacific (Socpac) were deployed as Joint Task Force 510 to support Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines.
US military presence in the Philippines has since been continuous, with US troops operating in a number of “cooperative security locations” throughout the country, most controversial of which is the virtual basing facility within the Philippine military’s Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City.
The US troops’ mission in the Philippines is to “assist” the Philippine military in its “counter-terrorist operations.”
These operations have led to human-rights atrocities, including the loss of innocent civilian lives.
Extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture have particularly been rampant under the Arroyo regime.
Based on data from Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), there have been more than a thousand victims of extrajudicial killings since January 2001, when Arroyo rose to power through a popular uprising. Karapatan has also recorded hundreds of victims of enforced disappearances and more than a thousand cases of torture for the same period.
In a number of the high-profile cases of extrajudicial killings, the perpetrators were usually military men who were either in uniform but without nametags, or were in plain clothes but wearing bonnets or ski masks, and riding on motorcycles or other vehicles without license plates.
The extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances have targeted people from all sectors, including church leaders, journalists, and human rights workers themselves.
The killings and disappearances occur on a national scope, but are particularly frequent in regions designated as “priority areas” under the Arroyo government’s national security program Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL or Operation Freedom Watch). Among these “priority areas” are Southern Tagalog, Eastern Visayas, Central Luzon, the Bicol Region, and, recently, the Southern Mindanao Region.
The killings and disappearances take place within the context of the Arroyo government’s National Internal Security Plan (NISP). The NISP aims to neutralize or destroy by military means both the armed groups fighting the government and the legal, progressive organizations – with virtually no distinction made between the two types of organizations. Legal and progressive organizations, which advocate the interests of the poor majority, are branded as front organizations of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
OBL lumps together guerrillas of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed component of the CPP, and unarmed activists working within the legal framework.