Undeclared Martial Law: The Violation
of Fundamental Human Rights in the Philippines
by Marya Salamat
Human-rights violations in 2009 are "numerous
and varied and no sector of society is exempted," belying
the Arroyo government's claim that steps have been taken to improve
the Philippine government's human-rights record, according to
Karapatan. And with Oplan Bantay Laya 2's deadline in 2010 fast
approaching, more abuses are certain to occur, it said._
Human rights took a beating from the Arroyo
regime in 2009, a period that saw the continuation of violations
of basic rights that began to worsen ever since President Gloria
Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in 2001.
In its annual report on the human-rights
situation in the Philippines between 2001 to 2009, Karapatan not
only called attention to the myth of democracy in the Philippines
- it also pointed to the myth of Philippine sovereignty, the myth
of the rule of law under Arroyo and the myth of the existence
of a government that is supposedly for the people.
Examining the Ampatuan massacre for example,
except for the large number of victims extrajudicially killed
all in one day, what happened in Maguindanao last November 23
had been happening all over the Philippines for nine years now.
Under Arroyo's undeclared martial law , the Ampatuan massacre
was actually a "carnage waiting to happen," Karapatan
said in its report. _
As with the other human-rights atrocities
recorded in the country, the Ampatuan massacre is directly traceable
to the Arroyo government's "blueprint for terror and impunity"
called Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL). A national policy that "unleashes
state terrorism on the people," the Arroyo government's OBL
shrouded the entire country under an undeclared martial law from
2002 up to now, Karapatan said.
Under the Arroyo government's undeclared
martial law, human-rights atrocities continuously occurred, victimizing
thousands of Filipinos particularly those who are critical of
Arroyo's " neoliberal policies favoring big business and
foreign capital" and of her government's corruption, said
Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chairperson of Karapatan.
The Philippines is supposedly a sovereign
and democratic country, but in the nine years Arroyo has been
its president, Karapatan was able to document how the "US-backed
Arroyo regime is trying to silence her most vocal critics and
political opponents with Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2."
OBL aims to militarily eliminate the "enemies
of the state" whom Arroyo and her security forces identified
as not just the armed resistance movement but also the unarmed
protest movement. It resulted in the government, its security
forces and agencies accusing activists and protesters as members
of "front organizations" or sympathizers of "communists
or rebel groups." The labelling usually exposes to violence
and rights abuses those who were labeled, Enriquez said.
"Oplan Bantay Laya is by far the
bloodiest and most brutal counterinsurgency campaign unleashed
on the Filipino people by any president," Enriquez said.
She said Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo "fosters a reign of terror
and climate of impunity that encourages her warlord minions to
massacre scores of men and women, including journalists, broadcasters
and two women lawyers in a gruesome carnage" in broad daylight
Under OBL, the Arroyo government has not
only relied on the police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines
(AFP) but also on paramilitary groups such as the Cafgu (Civilian
Armed Forces Geographical Unit) and CVOs (Civilian Volunteers
Organizations) in an attempt to end the insurgency by 2010. These
paramilitary groups are placed under the supervision and control
of the military. Indeed, they are "being used by government
forces," said the police in the recent Senate hearing on
disarming CVOs and paramilitary groups.
From 2001 up to this year, Karapatan said
these paramilitary groups, the police and the military have been
repeatedly tagged as "responsible for various human-rights
violations happening around the country."
Undeclared Martial Law and the Resulting
Impunity in the Philippines
"From the time Arroyo assumed the
presidency through People Power II in 2001 and up to October 2009,
there are a total of 1,118 victims of extrajudicial killings (EJK)
and 204 who have been forcibly disappeared (desap) and are still
missing. With the 57 victims of the Ampatuan massacre in November
23, the 2009 EJK total has surpassed those in all the years of
Arroyo's rule except in 2005 and 2006," Karapatan noted in
its 2009 report.
The years 2005 to 2006 recorded the highest
number of rights violations in the decade because, as Karapatan
pointed out, these were the years leading to the deadline of Oplan
Bantay Laya 1. Under pressure then to meet its targets toward
crushing the insurgency, the US-Arroyo regime committed the highest
number of EJK, disappearances and other human-rights violations.
This bodes ill for Filipinos this year and next, said Enriquez,
as the OBL2's 2010 deadline looms.
The high number of Filipinos extrajudicially
killed and abducted in 2005 to 2006 is also partly explained by
the fact that since 2007 when OBL 2 took off where the OBL 1 had
failed, Enriquez said the "US-Arroyo regime had to temporarily
de-escalate extrajudicial executions and involuntary disappearances
because of strong national and international condemnation."
Still, the killings and disappearances
persisted. According to a report by Special Rapporteur Philip
Alston in April to the UN Human Rights Council, the AFP has not,
to his knowledge, "changed its counterinsurgency techniques
in such a way as to eliminate the likelihood that leftist activists
will be killed. Moreover, forced disappearances and illegal detentions
remain all too common, as does the bringing up of trumped charges
against Filipino activists and human rights abuse victims."
Karapatan condemned the boast of Arroyo
and its "killing machine AFP" that there was an "improvement"
in its human-rights record "when the trend in political killings
had been reduced to once a week in 2007 and 2008 from once every
other day in 2006," while enforced disappearance occurred
"only" twice a month in 2007 compared to the six cases
per month in 2006.
To make up for "de-escalating"
the killings and disappearances, the US-backed Arroyo regime seems
to have "shifted to illegal arrests which increased by 109
incidents (by 48%) in 2007 and 94 (by 42%) in 2008 compared to
2006," Karapatan said.
While some public statements have been
made, reported Philip Alston in April, he said he has not received
"evidence of any institutional reforms by the Government
designed to prevent the targeting and execution of civil society
activists. Deeper reforms thus remain essential in order to pull
back the curtain of impunity that has existed for many years,
and to prevent a return to those policies."
Gloria Arroyo's Many Firsts and Worst
Countless atrocities happened to the Filipinos'
rights and welfare, many of which occurred in 2009, the year leading
to the 2010 deadline of OBL2.
Human-rights violations in 2009 are "numerous
and varied and no sector of society is exempted," belying
the Arroyo government's claim, echoed by the US state department
secretary Hillary Clinton, that steps have been taken to improve
the Philippine government's human rights record.
In fact, it was this year when an "unparalleled
massacre happened in Ampatuan, Maguindanao." Far from just
a simple election-related violence that went overboard, the massacre
is clearly a direct result of the government's "zealous implementation
of OBL" because all the actors of OBL's counter-insurgency
campaign, including the paramilitary groups which act as auxiliary
units of the military and the police, have been tagged by witnesses
as perpetrators," Karapatan said in their report.
A first, too, in post-martial law years,
a Roman Catholic priest, Father Cecilio Lucero, 48, parish priest
of a Samar town, was summarily killed. Fr. Lucero "had taken
up the cudgels for victims of military abuses in the province."
It was in 2009, too, when unidentified
armed men believed to be members of the military committed the
seven-day abduction and torture of Filipino-American writer and
activist Melissa Roxas. Despite her trauma and the threats of
her erstwhile captors to her life and family, Roxas appeared in
court and affirmed her testimony about her torture and how her
captors had tried to force her to admit she was a member of the
New People's Army.
In 2009, a 20-year-old teacher, Rebelyn
Pitao, was "killed for her father's revolutionary zeal."
Rebelyn was the daughter of Leoncio Pitao, a top NPA commander
in the Davao region. Her death, according to Karapatan in Davao,
signaled a shift in the military's counter-insurgency campaign,
this time targeting relatives of NPA guerrillas even if they were
not guerrillas themselves. There are other cases similar to Rebelyn's.
A national artist, Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera,
was harassed when his address was given to a member of the Philippine
Marines for supposed "surveillance exercises," along
with a storyline that his house is being "frequented by communist
Two pregnant women and a child - "collateral
damages" in military parlance and an excuse devised by US
troops who "inadvertently" killed unarmed civilians
in other countries --lost their lives in 2009 as a result of separate
In 2009, two activist doctors, Dr. Rogelio
Penera and Dr. Bartolome Resuello, were assassinated by masked
armed men in separate incidents in Davao City and Northern Samar.
No thanks to OBL coupled with Arroyo's
insistence on her neoliberal economic programs that allow almost
unhampered exploitation of the country's resources by foreign
multinationals, Karapatan reported that the indigenous peoples
opposed to mining have also become military targets in 2009.
According to Karapatan, the Lumads of
Agusan in 2009 saw some of their leaders gunned down by paramilitary
units formed by the military among their fellow Lumads as well
as by forces from CAFGU. The Lumads of Surigao, meanwhile, saw
the schools they built from non-governmental assistance destroyed
because they were accused of being an "NPA school."
The Ata-Manobos' local school in Davao del Norte, set up by the
Rural Missionaries, was likewise occupied at one time and labeled
by the military as a "communist school."
Entire communities in the Philippines
fell prey to various military operations which included food restriction,
forced evacuation, conscription to the CVO to help the soldiers
monitor the NPA, and "clearing operations" for RP-US
Balikatan exercises such as the one held in Sorsogon in 2009.
Even legitimate political exercises such
as an electoral consultation in Cagayan Valley were raided by
suspected military men, who, armed with M16 rifles and .45 caliber
pistols, barged into the sleeping quarters of representatives
of peoples' organizations and partylist groups. They reportedly
threatened to kill the victims and took all of their personal
belongings including laptop computers, personal documents and
As if these were not enough, Karapatan
called attention to attacks on human rights defenders who, in
2009, increasingly became prey to "wholesale filing of trumped
up charges." _
Bayan Muna partylist representative and
aspiring senator Satur Ocampo said it is precisely the Arroyo
government's emphasis on military victory over dissent and armed
rebellion, as devised and implemented by OBL, that is behind the
sorry human-rights record of the Arroyo government.
Arroyo had personally announced the OBL
phase 2 and its target to "finish off all enemies of the
state by 2010," Ocampo said. But by all indicators, "
their targets are unattainable," he said. This much had been
revealed by the defense secretary at the time, Gilbert Teodoro,
who justified the high budget of the defense department in past
congressional hearings as needed for increasing battalions of
Scout Rangers and companies of CAFGUs. Teodoro had claimed that
AFP lacks manpower and arms to decisively defeat armed opponent.
"Despite the huge armed forces and
undetermined number of paramilitary troops, they cannot finish
off the NPA which they have constantly belittled," Ocampo
Arroyo's security forces and their OBL
cannot defeat the insurgency and protest movement because they're
not "addressing the basic problems that beset the Philippine
society," Karapatan said. Instead, the Arroyo government
has only worsened the poverty and iniquity in the country. "The
socio-economic component of OBL includes clearing the way for
'economic projects' which are actually multinational mining ventures,
agro-industrial and other foreign and big business interest,"
Karapatan further traced the worsening
poverty of the people to Arroyo's commitment to globalization,
which has driven the country into heavy debt, huge deficit and
the financial crisis. "Her government resorted to increasing
tax burdens and drastic budget cuts on health, education and other
social services while increasing debt servicing and military spending.
It also further opened up the country's mineral resources to multinational
corporations and accelerated the program of exporting cheap labor."
Given all that, "there will always
be protest and resistance especially from the most economically
deprived and politically marginalized sectors," Karapatan
said. Thus, they concluded, OBL is "doomed to fail just like
any program that goes against the people."
Indicting Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
The year 2009 "further proves that
president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, as Commander-in-Chief of the
Armed Forces of the Philippines, knowingly and willfully leads
the implementation of OBL and has repeatedly exhorted the military
and related government agencies to meet the brutish targets set
for 2010 despite the loss of lives, liberty and security of the
victims of OBL," Karapatan said in its year-end report.
"Arroyo is a most prolific Frankenstein,"
journalist Carlos Conde said, because Arroyo has bred a lot of
monsters such as the likes of the notorious Jovito Palparan ,
the Ampatuans and the resulting culture of impunity. Conde was
invited to the launching of the report by Karapatan to present
the media's perspective on human rights abuses.
Even CHR chairperson Leila de Lima agreed
that "nobody would surely dispute" the "state-sponsorship"
of the Ampatuans.
Karapatan and its member organizations,
on behalf of the victims of human rights violations and their
families, indicted Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the AFP, PNP and their
officers like Palparan and operatives involved in cases of human-rights
violations for the following charges:
o Extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances,
illegal arrests, arbitrary detention and tortures;
o Vilification campaign and filing of
trumped up and politically motivated charges against leaders and
activists of the democratic movement;
o Indiscriminate firing, forced evacuation,
militarization and other human rights violations directed at communities;
o Denial of justice through circumvention
of the judicial system, cover-up and whitewashing;
o Persecution of human rights defenders;
o Repressive policies and legislation;
o Abetting U.S. military intervention.
Karapatan recommends the filing of a class
suit against Arroyo here and in other countries for human rights
violations and crimes against humanity. "We call for investigation
of human rights violations especially extra-judicial killing,
enforced disappearances and torture, and prosecution of those
found accountable," said Enriquez.
Aside from pushing for indemnification
of the victims of human-rights violations by the Arroyo government
and their families, Karapatan also calls for promotion and protection
of the rights of human rights defenders.
Enact and strictly implement laws "that
will deter would-be perpetrators and punish those guilty of human
rights violations," they also said.
To pave the way to achieving just and
lasting peace, Karapatan urges the resumption of "peace negotiations
between parties (GRP and NDFP; GRP and MILF) to the armed conflict
in the Philippines."
Karapatan also requested the international
community to "continue to monitor the human rights situation
in the Philippines," saying the government's record in it
should be made a requirement in granting foreign aid, especially
funds allocated for military purposes.
Of all post Marcos regimes, Arroyo's is
the most discredited and detested, Karapatan noted as it cited
the surveys that consistently showed the people's rejection of
Arroyo's reign. Even international surveys had noted the pretense
of democracy in the Philippines and downgraded the country's status
as a "democracy."
Under Arroyo, the Philippines has also
been rated near or at the top of the most dangerous countries
for journalists and activists. The country has likewise been rated
as the most corrupt in Asia and one of the most corrupt in the