Independent human rights group KARAPATAN Alliance for People’s Rights released Tuesday, Dec. 8 its 2009 report. The report was made public two days before the International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10. In their press release, the group described Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program –Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) – as the “most brutal” in history. Since Arroyo became president in 2001, KARAPATAN has monitored a total of 1,118 victims of extrajudicial killings (EJK). That’s almost three civilians killed every week by suspected elements of the military and police.
Thus, even before the gruesome Ampatuan massacre last Nov. 23, political killings have been already happening on a massive scale. The alleged role of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in these killings is widely known. United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, for instance, noted this in his report on the Philippines. But very few of these cases have been solved. High ranking AFP officials directly linked to the killings remain untouched. The most notorious among them – Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. – even became a congressman. Civilian officials said to be behind the OBL also get promoted in the Arroyo bureaucracy. Former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales is now Secretary of National Defense. This created a climate of impunity and reign of terror, and obviously emboldened warlords close to Malacañang like the Ampatuans.
That such reign of terror by state-backed warlords has long been happening is slowly being confirmed today. New witnesses now with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) claim that the Ampatuans have killed at least 200 people in the last 10 years. That’s almost two people killed every month by one warlord alone. We could only imagine the number of helpless civilians killed by warlords all over the country. According to the AFP, there are at least 132 private armed groups linked to politicians nationwide. More than 10,000 men armed with powerful weapons that rival the military’s are enlisted in these groups.
These warlords and private armies are in fact extensions of the AFP and PNP under Mrs. Arroyo’s counterinsurgency plan. They have been armed and legitimized by Malacañang through Executive Order (EO) 546. This EO allowed local officials to convert their private armies into so-called Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs). They are supposed to be “force multipliers” in the fight against insurgents. But the world has seen in Ampatuan, Maguindanao the real picture. These CVOs instead became bringers of death and terrorism in the name of their patron warlord.
But who is the biggest patron warlord? Who gave the Ampatuans the arsenal of more than a thousand pieces of firearms including mortars, sniper rifles, machine guns, and anti-tank equipment? Where did the Ampatuans get the almost half a million rounds of assorted ammo? They even had armored cars and vehicles marked as police cars. Gen. Palparan has a simple explanation for this. The arms and ammo – the ones used to slaughter 57 people, including 31 journalists – were “pasasalamat” from government. Palparan said it is because the Ampatuans have been fighting alongside the military against the Moro rebels. But we also know about that fateful phone conversation in 2004 between ex-COMELEC Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and Mrs. Arroyo. Maguindanao will surely deliver the votes, Garci assured his anxious caller then.
Many sectors, including some journalist groups, have rightly pinned accountability on the Arroyo regime for the Ampatuan massacre. Justice is not realized even when all the Ampatuans are jailed and their private army dismantled. Justice means making Mrs. Arroyo liable and justice entails ousting her from power.
But we are being made to believe that justice is now swiftly being served, thanks to Proclamation 1959. Placing Maguindanao under martial law however has raised legal and constitutional issues. Various petitions are now filed before the Supreme Court. Congress as of this posting has also begun deliberating whether or not to revoke Proclamation 1959.
For human rights, Proclamation 1959 sends a chilling message. Since 2001, the extrajudicial killings, abduction, torture, etc. have been happening without martial law. With the atrocious human rights record of the regime, the terror sowed by Proclamation 1959 is not unfounded. But it is only in Maguindanao and it is only for 60 days, some may argue. But if Mrs. Arroyo can declare it in Maguindanao for dubious reasons, she can declare it anywhere, indefinitely. She has the motive (to stay in power beyond 2010) and she has the track record. The worsening economic decay and dwindling wealth to plunder make her even more desperate to cling to power.
The intention of political repression, warlordism, and martial law is to silence dissent. The only way to fight back and defend our human rights is to refuse to be silenced.