by CAROL PAGADUAN-ARAULLO
Streetwise / Businessworld
Last week we were shocked and dismayed by two violent deaths, three days apart, in seemingly unconnected and quite distinct circumstances.
Willem Geertman, a 67-year-old Dutch lay missionary and development worker – after decades of living and working with indigenous peoples such as the Alta-Manobos in Quezon, peasants such as the Hacienda Luisita farm workers, victims of natural and man-made disasters, and many other communities of the “poor, deprived and oppressed” all over Central Luzon – was attacked inside his office in a gated subdivision in Pampanga; shot in the back while on his hands and knees; by a hit team that consisted of at least four men; using as getaway vehicles, a motorcycle and a van.
The police, after a cursory investigation, conclude that Mr. Geertman is a victim of robbery. His co-workers and family members are convinced he is a victim of extrajudicial killing; in the past he had been shadowed, harassed and vilified by military men as a supporter of the New People’s Army (NPA). Thus, they demand an independent and thoroughgoing investigation.
Days earlier, 34-year-old Arman Albarillo, former Secretary-General of the national democratic umbrella formation, BAYAN-Southern Tagalog was reported killed in an encounter with the military in Quezon.
Ka Arman had joined the NPA in 2008 after realizing that justice for the extrajudicial killings of his parents and many others, more so, the people’s emancipation from a rotten and unjust social system that underlie such human rights violations, was near impossible to attain under the constraints of that same system. He had transcended any personal desire for retribution with his awakening to Philippine society’s ills turning his grief into an unshakeable commitment to reform society in a fundamental way.
After being in the forefront of the protest movement in Southern Tagalog, Ka Arman was forced to go underground to avoid being arrested and detained on trumped-up charges of murder filed by the military. Consequently, he decided to join the NPA so as not to be a sitting duck for the shadowy death squads responsible for hundreds of killings. He was already on the military’s “order of battle” and had been on the receiving end of numerous death threats.
Ka Arman died fighting. His killing is legitimized by the government’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan with its avowed objective of crushing the communist-led rebellion.
Willem Geertman and Arman Albarillo’s deaths highlight the fact that there is an ongoing armed conflict in this country.
On the one hand armed revolutionaries led by the CPP-NPA-NDFP have been fighting for more than four decades to overthrow a social system they deem to be intolerably unjust and retrogressive. On the other the state, controlled by the same political and economic elites that have ruled this country since independence, defends the system, utilizing all its coercive instrumentalities, but primarily the armed forces, to defeat this armed challenge through a series of counterinsurgency programs.
With endemic poverty and landlessness, a chronically anemic economy, worsening joblessness, high cost of living and perpetually inadequate if not absent basic social services, social discontent and restiveness is a given. The stark inequalities in socio-economic power give rise to and are reinforced by parallel inequities in political power with the ruling elite historically given to consolidating their hold on society by resorting to deceptive programs and suppression of all forms of dissent and protest, even unarmed. To complicate matters further, foreign big business and big power interests are at play with the former colonizer, the US of A, leading the pack in intervening to perpetuate the elite-dominated system.
Hence the ingredients for a boiling cauldron of revolution and counterrevolution in the Philippine setting are ever present.
And despite the “Pnoy” Aquino administration’s denunciations of the extrajudicial killings of unarmed social reformers and political activists during the Arroyo regime and promises to put a stop to these, human rights violators have not been punished. With impunity further reinforced under Mr. Aquino, there has been an alarming rise in incidents of EJKs and enforced disappearances alongside intensifying militarization of the countryside with concomitant displacement, intimidation and other violations of human rights inflicted en mass on hapless barrio folk.
Evidently, the killings of Geertman and Albarillo are not isolated cases but rather indicate not just a continuation but an escalation of the Arroyo regime’s murderous counterinsurgency policy and practice as carried out by the AFP, PNP and other state security forces. Last June 30, the Chairperson of the Justice and Peace Action Group in Maria Aurora, Aurora Province, Romualdo “Waldo” Palispis, who is a Bayan Muna member, was slain with a .45 cal bullet by two motorcycle-riding men. Just last Tuesday night, another pair riding in tandem strafed the office of Bayan Muna Party List in Northern Samar.
All the pious claims of the PNoy regime that the AFP and PNP shall henceforth pay attention to respect for human rights in carrying out their counterinsurgency campaigns now appears to be all bluff and bluster intended to cosmeticize the image of the military and police forces.
What has emboldened the PNoy regime to more openly rely on a military solution to suppress dissent and resolve the armed conflict with the CPP-NPA-NDFP? There is reason to believe that the regime, especially the AFP, are counting on their added military capabilities as a result of the increasing US military presence and activities in the country (in line with the shift in US military deployments from the Middle East to Asia-Pacific), not to mention US political backing for the PNoy regime as the latter welcomes greater US presence and kowtows to US economic and geopolitical interests.
The 2009 US Counterinsurgency Manual, from which the PNoy regime crafted its own “Internal Peace, Human Rights and Security Program” claims to give primacy to non-military over military means, but US “war on terror” and counterinsurgency practice worldwide is based on employing to the hilt its military superiority, unmindful of heavy civilian casualties, gross human rights violations, violations of international law and riding roughshod over the sovereignty of nations.
No doubt, the US has a direct hand in running the PNoy regime’s counterinsurgency campaign and is providing a wide range of planning, logistical intelligence and other operational support, including combat operations. Recent joint military exercises include simulation of combat and intelligence operations against the NPA.
Interestingly, PNoy’s Oplan Bayanihan, also differs from Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya in the inclusion of the peace negotiations as part of its counterinsurgency program. But this only betrays the fact that the PNoy regime considers the peace talks not as the key to resolving the armed conflict by addressing its roots but rather as secondary to the military goal of “reducing the CPP-NPA-NDFP to irrelevance” in two to three years.
It is no surprise then that the Philippine government (GPH) has openly backtracked, if not reneged outright, from its prior agreements with both the NDFP and the MILF on how the peace talks could proceed towards substantive agreements. In the case of the MILF, the GPH has reportedly reverted to offering the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as the form of self-government for the Moro people, something the MILF had long rejected and is eons behind the Bangsa-Moro Juridical Authority stipulated in the 2008 draft MoA on Ancestral Domain, and the substate being proposed by the MILF. In the case of the NDFP, the GPH reportedly prefers to hold non-formal talks and non-meetings with the NDFP to discuss “matters of mutual concern” regarding the talks, rather than proceed with the formal discussion of social and economic reforms on the basis of The Hague Joint Declaration and other bilateral agreements.
Neither the CPP-NPA-NDF nor the MILF-BILF are about to lay down their arms and sign an accord on a negotiated political settlement. With the talks in danger of sliding backward rather than moving forward, and with worsening conditions of crisis rather than fundamental reforms in sight, the armed resistance can be expected to further intensify.
The current oppressive regime, now presided over by Mr. Benigno Aquino III, escalates its senseless, bloody counterinsurgency campaigns in a futile attempt to suppress the people’s protest. Yet Oplan Bayanihan now, like others before it, has only served to strengthen resistance, both armed and unarmed, as many others step forward to pick up the cause of each fallen martyr, enlightened by their work and inspired by their example.