Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. V,    No. 14      May 15- 21, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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A Reign of Silence by GMA
Last of two parts

The fact that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has kept mum on the killings has bolstered accusations that either she has unleashed an undeclared war against progressive leaders and activists - or that she has lost her grip on the military.


Streamer demonizing Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo in Cubao, Quezon City

Photo by Dabet Castañeda

Based on Bulatlat’s own investigation, the cases of killings and disappearances looked into appear to have been perpetrated not in isolation. They occurred in the midst of nationwide violence that particularly targeted cause-oriented organizations, party-list groups as well as human rights lawyers, Church members and others. All incidents took place in the provinces.

Documentation by human rights groups also shows that the concentration of terror and violence has been in territories where there are huge economic stakes and a high incidence of what the government calls insurgency.

In an interview, party-list group Bayan Muna (BM or people first) deputy secretary general Roberto de Castro, noted that many cases of politically-motivated killings have taken place in Central Luzon and Eastern Visayas where BM and its allied progressive party-list groups scored high in the 2004 elections. BM in particular topped the 2001 and 2004 party-list elections for Congress.

The killings in Central Luzon, for example, have been associated with the six-month old strike in the region’s largest sugar estate, Hacienda Luisita, which is owned and operated by the family of former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino. These included the daylight highway killings of Tarlac City Councilor Abelardo Ladera and Aglipayan Fr. William Tadena. Before these, peasant leader and retired army man Marcelino Beltran was killed night of Dec. 8 or two days before International Human Rights Day. On Nov. 16, seven striking workers and their supporters were massacred outside the main gate of the estate’s sugar central 120 kms north of Manila.

In this region alone, 13 killings and six disappearances have been documented since January.

Eastern Visayas

Meanwhile, in Eastern Visayas, particularly the island-province of Samar - host to several mining areas - killings and involuntary disappearances have also taken place. Human rights violations in the region have escalated since February when Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. took over as the commanding general of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division.

In his inaugural speech on Feb. 10, Palparan cited Samar as the “staging ground for cadres of the communist terrorist movement before being deployed to other areas…(T)his is where the communist terrorist (sic) will take their last stand.” In a media forum March 5, the general declared war against the open mass movement in the area vowing to “end up anti-government rallies in Samar Island within six months.”

The recent series of killings and disappearances in Samar have alarmed provincial and town officials that resolutions have been filed calling for an investigation into reports of military involvement. At least 900 villagers have deserted their communities following intense military operations including aerial bombings and strafing.

Palparan had previously been put under fire when he commanded the 204th Infantry Brigade in another island-province, Mindoro Oriental - a rich source of gold and copper where mining sites are to be reopened. In this province, 41 killings occurred in three years. 

Biggest number

Both in Mindoro Oriental and in the recent spate of killings, it is the party-list BM that has suffered the biggest number of casualties. Nationwide since 2001 – the year BM first took part in legislative elections - 51of its leaders and members have been killed and four have disappeared. Twenty-one of the victims come from Mindoro Oriental.

Since January this year, the most celebrated killings and disappearances have BM leaders as victims – Romy Sanchez (Ilocos), Ladera (Tarlac), Danilo Macapagal (Nueva Ecija) and lawyer Felidito Dacut (Samar). Another BM lawyer, Charles Juloya, also of Ilocos, survived an assassination attempt.

BM’s allied party-list groups have been attacked as well. Two coordinators of Anakpawis (toiling masses) Party, Ben Concepcion (Pampanga) and Beltran (Tarlac) were gunned down in front of their houses. Another Anakpawis activist, 21-year-old Marvin Montabo, was shot inside his home in Samar and was scorched to death when the gunmen burned down his house on March 7. In Mindoro, Isaias Manano was killed in the thick of the campaign during the 2004 election period.

Members of the Left-leaning women’s party-list group Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) have not been spared, either. On March 1, four of its members in Quezon province were accosted and arrested by army soldiers. They were released later without any charges filed against them.

War on terror

The current spate of violence and disappearances may be reminiscent of the Marcos years which saw the killing and torture of tens of thousands of activists and the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of people as well as the total war policy of the succeeding administrations. Today the brutal killings, abductions and assassination attempts have included targets in the progressive party-list groups and have taken place under government’s war on terror policy.

While ostensibly targeting the Abu Sayyaf bandit group because of its alleged terrorist links, the gears of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s war on terror have shifted more and more against the armed Left – tagged by the military as the country’s top national security threat.

Macapagal-Arroyo’s security and defense officials have waged a campaign to demonize as terrorist not only the underground Communist Party of the Philippines, which leads the New People’s Army (NPA), but also its alleged “support system” – legal mass organizations. Apparently, this demonization campaign has made these “communist terrorists” a fair game for the military, police, vigilante squads and other paramilitary units.

Before they were silenced, many victims of politically-motivated killings particularly in Mindoro and Eastern Visayas, were reportedly on the military watchlist and had in fact been warned by authorities to mend their ways or else. For instance, before he died Councilor Ladera was reportedly named in a news briefing as the New People’s Army’s (NPA) contact person in Tarlac.

Part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) psywar campaign against the Left is the circulation of a powerpoint presentation (PPT), “Knowing the Enemy,” and propaganda books where several legitimate organizations – including from the church and media – are described as “communist front organizations.” Following protests however “Knowing the Enemy” was pulled out by no less than Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz.

But there have also been reports that some of the politically-motivated killings might have also been committed in cahoots with some “rebel returnees” and armed groups who in the early 1990s had bolted out from the mainstream underground Left. In Negros, central Philippines, military authorities have confirmed the participation of a “rebel group,” the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB) in counter-insurgency operations. Local human rights groups have singled out the RPA-ABB as behind the recent summary execution of some peasant and labor leaders.

The murder of Sanchez in Baguio has also been attributed by the police to the same group.

The case of the missing brothers in the coastal village of Sapang Kawayan in Masantol, Pampanga could be linked to another splinter group, the Rebolusyonarong Hukbong Bayan (RHB), a village resident told Bulatlat. Roger Viray, one of those abducted in February and who has been missing since, is a local leader of the fisherfolk group Pamalakaya.

In statements sent to the media, the CPP-NPA named the RHB as conducting operations jointly with the military in the coastal areas of Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan.

In Nueva Ecija, another province in Central Luzon, a number of attacks have been linked to the Red Vigilante Group (RVG). RVG, according to some media reports, is a group of former communist guerrillas-turned gun-for-hire. Reportedly, its latest victims are peasant lawyer and Anakpawis municipal coordinator in Llanera town, Ambrosio Matias and his son, Leonard, a law student at the Saint Louis University in Baguio City.

Without let-up

The series of politically-motivated killings, abductions and other atrocities have been vicious and, as of presstime, without let-up. Military authorities have consistently denied involvement in the killings claiming that it was the New People’s Army (NPA) that should be blamed because it aims to generate public outrage and recruit more members to its fold.

What shocks the victims’ families and friends even more however is the massive reign of silence by President Macapagal-Arroyo. Statements of protests and calls for investigation into the killings by concerned groups including legislators, lawyers, Church leaders and others here and abroad have poured into the presidential office. Still – save for the routine police probes which in the main have dismissed the cases as the handiwork of the Left themselves - no formal investigation has been directed by the President.

This attitude has bolstered accusations that the finger of accountability in connection with the killings points to the doorsteps of Malacañang itself. Some have suggested that Macapagal-Arroyo – who is supposed to be the commander-in-chief of the armed forces - has become a lameduck president with the military outside of her grip.

Meanwhile, the killings go on. Bulatlat

Who Are Behind the Violence and Disappearances? First of two parts



© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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