Human-rights violations in 2009 are “numerous and varied and no sector of society is exempted,” belying the Arroyo government’s claim that steps have been taken to improve the Philippine government’s human-rights record, according to Karapatan. And with Oplan Bantay Laya 2’s deadline in 2010 fast approaching, more abuses are certain to occur, it said.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — Human rights took a beating from the Arroyo regime in 2009, a period that saw the continuation of violations of basic rights that began to worsen ever since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in 2001.
In its annual report on the human-rights situation in the Philippines between 2001 to 2009, Karapatan not only called attention to the myth of democracy in the Philippines — it also pointed to the myth of Philippine sovereignty, the myth of the rule of law under Arroyo and the myth of the existence of a government that is supposedly for the people.
Examining the Ampatuan massacre for example, except for the large number of victims extrajudicially killed all in one day, what happened in Maguindanao last November 23 had been happening all over the Philippines for nine years now. Under Arroyo’s undeclared martial law , the Ampatuan massacre was actually a “carnage waiting to happen,” Karapatan said in its report.
As with the other human-rights atrocities recorded in the country, the Ampatuan massacre is directly traceable to the Arroyo government’s “blueprint for terror and impunity” called Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL). A national policy that “unleashes state terrorism on the people,” the Arroyo government’s OBL shrouded the entire country under an undeclared martial law from 2002 up to now, Karapatan said.
Under the Arroyo government’s undeclared martial law, human-rights atrocities continuously occurred, victimizing thousands of Filipinos particularly those who are critical of Arroyo’s “ neoliberal policies favoring big business and foreign capital” and of her government’s corruption, said Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chairperson of Karapatan.
The Philippines is supposedly a sovereign and democratic country, but in the nine years Arroyo has been its president, Karapatan was able to document how the “US-backed Arroyo regime is trying to silence her most vocal critics and political opponents with Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2.”
OBL aims to militarily eliminate the “enemies of the state” whom Arroyo and her security forces identified as not just the armed resistance movement but also the unarmed protest movement. It resulted in the government, its security forces and agencies accusing activists and protesters as members of “front organizations” or sympathizers of “communists or rebel groups.” The labelling usually exposes to violence and rights abuses those who were labeled, Enriquez said.
“Oplan Bantay Laya is by far the bloodiest and most brutal counterinsurgency campaign unleashed on the Filipino people by any president,” Enriquez said. She said Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo “fosters a reign of terror and climate of impunity that encourages her warlord minions to massacre scores of men and women, including journalists, broadcasters and two women lawyers in a gruesome carnage” in broad daylight in Maguindanao.
Under OBL, the Arroyo government has not only relied on the police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) but also on paramilitary groups such as the Cafgu (Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit) and CVOs (Civilian Volunteers Organizations) in an attempt to end the insurgency by 2010. These paramilitary groups are placed under the supervision and control of the military. Indeed, they are “being used by government forces,” said the police in the recent Senate hearing on disarming CVOs and paramilitary groups.
From 2001 up to this year, Karapatan said these paramilitary groups, the police and the military have been repeatedly tagged as “responsible for various human-rights violations happening around the country.”
Undeclared Martial Law and the Resulting Impunity in the Philippines
“From the time Arroyo assumed the presidency through People Power II in 2001 and up to October 2009, there are a total of 1,118 victims of extrajudicial killings (EJK) and 204 who have been forcibly disappeared (desap) and are still missing. With the 57 victims of the Ampatuan massacre in November 23, the 2009 EJK total has surpassed those in all the years of Arroyo’s rule except in 2005 and 2006,” Karapatan noted in its 2009 report.
The years 2005 to 2006 recorded the highest number of rights violations in the decade because, as Karapatan pointed out, these were the years leading to the deadline of Oplan Bantay Laya 1. Under pressure then to meet its targets toward crushing the insurgency, the US-Arroyo regime committed the highest number of EJK, disappearances and other human-rights violations. This bodes ill for Filipinos this year and next, said Enriquez, as the OBL2’s 2010 deadline looms.
The high number of Filipinos extrajudicially killed and abducted in 2005 to 2006 is also partly explained by the fact that since 2007 when OBL 2 took off where the OBL 1 had failed, Enriquez said the “US-Arroyo regime had to temporarily de-escalate extrajudicial executions and involuntary disappearances because of strong national and international condemnation.”