Philippines: Arroyo turns the "war on terrorism"
into war on the left
by Eduardo R.C. Capulong in Manila
International Socialist Review, September/ October
Washington and Manila could not have more shamelessly scripted
the escalation of their "war on terror." Secretary of
State Colin Powell concluded his eight-country tour of Southeast
Asia here August 3 to coincide with what was to be the end of
"Balikatan," the military operation launched by the
two countries against the kidnap for ransom group Abu Sayyaf in
February. Yet days after his overnight stay, government officials
announced that U.S. combat troops-about 1,160 of them-would be
staying after all. Their new targets: "communists" and
The move was as deceptive as it was predictable. When Balikatan
began, few believed that a small group of bandits-one report said
they numbered no more than 60-could provoke such a huge military
mobilization. All told, some 1,200 U.S. and 6,000 Filipino troops-11
battalions-backed by $100 million in ordnance, were unleashed
on the Abu Sayyaf. The results have been dismal. Three weeks after
officials claimed that the group was finished, it resurfaced and
kidnapped six Christian preachers, beheading two. Earlier, the
elite troops botched the rescue of three hostages, leading to
the deaths of two- American Martin Burnham and Filipina Ediborah
Yap-and wounding of the third, Burnharn's spouse, Gracia.
The incompetence matters little as the Abu Sayyaf has always
been a pretext. The real goals, officials now admit, are the eradication
of forces deemed more "destabilizing" and, with it,
ratification of the Mutual Logistics Security Agreement (MLSA),
a multi-year pact that would provide the U.S. permanent basing
rights in the country-a key demand since the ouster of its military
bases in 1991. As Admiral Thomas Fargo, the highest ranking U.S.
military official in Asia-Pacific said at the Balikatan closing
ceremony, "Our efforts to help the Armed Forces of the Philippines
develop an enduring, self-sustaining counter-terror and counter-insurgency
capability did not end with this exercise." The U.S. has
made the signing of the MLSA a precondition for new war exercises
set for October, said Philippine Representative Gerry Salapuddin.
It is likely to be signed within the next three months.
"Those who terrorize factories that provide jobs"
On cue, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo made clear exactly
who their new enemies are. "The war on terrorism does not
distinguish between ordinary terrorists and those espousing a
political ideology," she said. "We will wage war against
criminals, terrorists, drug addicts, kidnappers, smugglers, and
those who terrorize factories that provide jobs." Oblivious
to the dozens of progressive activists who have been killed in
the past year, Arroyo warned, "We shall not relent in the
fight against terrorists and criminals hiding behind the veil
of human rights advocacies or other seemingly deceptively legitimate
political advocacies." She even charged some with committing
human rights violations themselves, an apparent reference to her
main target, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and
its New People's Army (NPA), which have been waging a guerrilla
war since 1969. In short, she is attempting to expand the "war
on terrorism" into a war on the left.
U.S. and Philippine officials have followed up their threat
with the redeployment of troops to areas where the NPA operates.
With $55 million more in military aid recently approved by the
U.S. Congress, Manila plans to recruit 7,000 new soldiers and
15,000 militiamen, raising the specter of the dreaded Civilian
Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs), which operated with
impunity in the countryside during the Marcos dictatorship. The
Philippines is now the fourth highest recipient of U.S. military
aid globally and the highest in Asia. Arroyo also revived 13-year-old
gun charges against two prominent leftists, one of whom is now
For his part, Powell announced the inclusion of the CPP and
NPA on the U.S. list of "foreign terrorist organizations
(FTO)," allowing him to freeze their assets and ask other
governments to do the same. Britain and the Netherlands, where
the CPP leadership is based, have already complied. Inclusion
on the FTO list, Powell warned, also barred sympathizers from
materially supporting these organizations, a likely precursor
to the targeting of solidarity groups in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Unity in the left
Despite confusing responses from the CPP-leader Jose Ma. Sison
first called for adventurist attacks on power facilities then
pressed for the resumption of peace talks-key figures on the left
have united in denouncing the attacks. Arroyo tried to split the
opposition and isolate the CPP after her initial pronouncement,
saying "communism is not contrary to law... what is against
the law is armed struggle to overthrow the government." Other
"communist groups" like Akbayan, Sanlakas, the Partido
Komunista ng Pilipinas may be "irritating," she said,
but they are not illegal.
The tactic has not worked. "Who's next?" asked Akbayan
president Ric Reyes. Patricio Ramirez, a spokesman for the underground
Partido ng Manggagawang Pilipino (PMP), also expressed his group's
"openness to link up arms with the CPPNPA and other groups
in the fight against the common enemy." The armed struggle
being waged by revolutionary groups against the "institutionalized
violence exercised by the reactionary state is legitimate and
justifiable," he said. "Today it is the CPP-NPA that
U.S. imperialism and the Arroyo regime misrepresent as a terrorist
organization. Tomorrow it will be the turn of other revolutionary
groups, whose primary form of struggle may be unarmed and legal
but are just as resolute and militant in fighting globalization
and the reactionary system.
Opposition has also come from Arroyo's own quarters. In a
recent speech, Vice President Teofisto Guingona, who resigned
his post as foreign secretary after Balikatan, criticized the
administration's new policy. He also cautioned against dragging
the Philippines into the U.S. war on Iraq.
In response to accusations that he was a "communist lover,"
Guingona invoked similar attacks on Abraham Lincoln as a "Negro
lover." "He (Lincoln) said, 'I am not a Negro lover
but I look upon him as a human being. I am fighting to preserve
the union for all Americans which include the whites of New York
and the Negroes of Alabama."
"When I speak out for the protection of the nation, that
includes Filipinos of whatever creed or conviction," he continued.
"When I fought for human rights during martial law, I stood
for all Filipinos, regardless of ideology."
Just as the equation of terrorism with Muslims, Arabs, political
dissidents, and others is a prelude to the sweeping abrogation
of civil rights in the U.S., so too is Arroyo's equation of terrorism
with "communism" in the Philippines. Her sagging popularity-she
placed third in a recent poll, behind her former education secretary
Raul Roco and predecessor Joseph Estrada-ensures that she will
pursue this new U.S.-dictated policy with zeal. Only a broad movement
with clear revolutionary leadership can defeat the escalation
of war and Arroyo's witchhunt. The thousands who demonstrated
against Powell's visit provides a good start.
Eduardo R C. Capulong is a member of the International Socialist
Organization in the San Francisco Bay Area.