Today, Sept. 21, we commemorate the anniversary of the Dictator Marcos’ declaration of martial law and say “Never again!” This constitutes our collective denunciation of the evils spawned by 14 years of the brutally repressive, thieving and lying US-backed Marcos dictatorship. It is also a call to action to resist any attempts to reimpose martial rule under whatever guise and for whatever manufactured justification.
Unfortunately, the underlying problems of Philippine society that have given rise to social unrest, armed conflicts and, eventually, to authoritarian rule, have not at all been decisively addressed. One clear-cut sign is the blackened human rights record of all the supposedly democratic post-Marcos regimes that correlates with the series of counterinsurgency (COIN) programs that have failed to quell the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA).
Oplan Bantay Laya I and II, the Arroyo regime’s COIN programs, ran for nine years. Arroyo declared “total war” against the revolutionary forces; touted it as her regime’s contribution to the US-led “war against terror” after 9-11; sanctioned the Palparan model of unbridled state terror against those the regime painted as its “enemies”; and in the process racked up a bloody record of human rights violations that rivaled that of the open, fascist rule of Marcos.
Bantay Laya’s hallmark was the policy and practice of targeting and “neutralizing” militarily unarmed civilians who are suspected to be key personalities in what the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) calls the “political infrastructure” that needs to be dismantled in order to defeat the NPA. At the barangay, town and provincial levels, the AFP “order of battle” was a veritable hit list against peasant and indigenous peoples’ leaders, trade unionists, student activists and human rights advocates including church people, health workers, lawyers and even local government officials deemed sympathetic to the NPA.
The Benigno S. C. Aquino III regime unveiled its own COIN program, Oplan Bayanihan, and dubbed it an “internal peace and security plan.” Patterned after the 2009 US Counterinsurgency Guide, Bayanihan boasted of a “paradigm shift”. Its objective — “winning the peace” instead of just “defeating the enemy” — implied that government would give primacy to socioeconomic development rather than military means to bring about peace in areas of armed conflict.
But Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan is just the new signboard of Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya.
Politically, it is more insidious in that the Aquino regime paints itself as the complete opposite of its discredited predecessor, the purported champion of government reform, economic development and peace and reconciliation. Bayanihan is more deceptive in that it pretends to give importance to upholding human rights; highlights livelihood projects and rehabilitation of poverty-stricken, conflict-ridden areas; and drumbeats the objective of achieving a just and lasting peace.
Bayanihan attempts to overcome the weaknesses of previous COIN programs that led to their failure but it cannot change the elitist, anti-people, militarist and rabidly anti-communist orientation of all COIN programs. Despite its peace and development rhetoric, Bayanihan reverts back to the basic COIN tandem of force and deception, implementing the Triad Operations concept of simultaneous conduct of combat, intelligence and civil-military operations.
While there has been a relative decline in extrajudicial killings (EJKs) under Bayanihan compared to the peak years (2005-2006) under Bantay Laya, the number of EJKs, torture, illegal arrests and detention and mass civilian displacement is not insignificant.
To illustrate, according to human rights group, Karapatan, as of end year 2014, there were 229 EJKs, 225 attempted EJKs and 26 enforced disappearances. For the first seven months of the current year, 58 have been killed.
What is noteworthy and at the same time alarming is that 73 of those killed under Aquino’s watch are from indigenous peoples’ (IP) communities, with 57 of them Lumad from Mindanao. Simply put, one out of four EJK victims is an IP, and one out of five is Lumad.
Clearly, this cannot be easily dismissed as a case of Lumad vs. Lumad, or tribal wars, which the AFP would want us to believe. Organizing and arming home-grown mercenaries — “civilian volunteer organizations” in current COIN parlance — as surrogate force multipliers is a counterinsurgency tactic as old as war itself, its whys and how-tos described in detail and constantly updated in US and AFP field manuals. Similarly selective assassination of unarmed local leaders to instill terror continues to be the favorite, if most effective, COIN psychological-war tool. As a US Army general infamously quipped during the Vietnam war, “Grab them by the balls, and the hearts and minds will follow.”
Why the IPs and the Lumad in particular? The real reasons are not lost on the loved ones of the most recent Lumad EJK victims: “The people in power do not want the Lumad to prosper, to become educated so that they will further their capacity to protect their ancestral land. They do not want this to happen, because if this happens, their mining conglomerates will never be allowed,” says Michelle Campos, daughter of Dionel Campos.
“He was a leader in our community… Is it a crime to serve our fellow people and to fight for our ancestral land? Is that really why they took his life so easily?” added Jocelyn Campos, wife of Dionel Campos.
According to Josie Samarca, wife of Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, Inc. Executive Director Emerito “Emok” Samarca, “The school is strong, his leadership is strong, and it was strong against mining. He was defending the ancestral domain and the environment there because the land there is rich and fertile. They have interest in that land and that is why I think they really want to wipe out all those who oppose the foreign, the big mining companies…”
It all boils down to the US-backed Aquino regime continuing the policy of opening up Philippine patrimony to foreign capital, including environmentally destructive mining companies, and escalating the use of state forces — the AFP, Philippine National Police, Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit and other paramilitary forces — to clear the area and suppress all opposition to these foreign incursions.
Ironically to some, the Lumad who are still erroneously and chauvinistically perceived by many to be less educated, unsophisticated, and passively compliant, have long been awakened to this reality and are collectively rising to uphold and protect their rights.
Moreover, the Lumad, more than many still living relatively more comfortable lives in the cities, have realized that they can only be assured of preserving their individual and collective rights, their ancestral lands and indigenous culture, by joining the rest of the Filipino people’s struggle for genuine freedom, democracy, progress and peace.
carol_araullo [at] yahoo [dot] com