A Reign of Silence by GMA
Last of two
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
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA AND
ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Streamer demonizing Bayan Muna Rep. Satur
Ocampo in Cubao, Quezon City
Photo by Dabet
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
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Behind the Violence and Disappearances?
First of two parts
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© 2004 Bulatlat
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