Since his ascension to the presidency in 1992, Gen. Fidel Ramos has projected the Philippines as on track towards peace and progress. He has done this through inaugurating the Medium Term Philippine Development Plan or Philippines 2000, and through brokering peace negotiations with the former military splittists, the Moro rebels and the National Democratic Front (NDF).
As president, Ramos has taken to the posturing that his government has undertaken basic reforms which would answer the problems of landlessness, working class misery and general poverty. Yet the continuing human rights violations in the country betray that the Ramos government's economic and peace agenda are not responding to the popular demands for social change and justice.
For the other side of the government's boisterous claim of a 6.8% GNP growth this first half of 1997 is the massive dislocation of the peasantry, including the national minorities; labor contractualization and the suppression of wages; rising abuses on Filipino OCWs; commercialization of education; the commodification and white slavery of women; and increasing abuses on children.
Inspite of the Filipino people's increasing poverty, the government continues to sell the country's natural resources to foreign monopoly capital for a pittance and provides various incentives to facilitate the entry of surplus goods and capital from imperialist countries through the three evils of deregulation, liberalization, and privatization. On the other hand, the Filipino people, who are made to suffer the brunt of the crisis of the world economic system, are being suppressed for struggling for their democratic rights, interests, and welfare.
Human rights violations are not mere dark stains on the white canvas. They expose that the common grievances of the people are being answered by brutal attacks, suppression, and the gradual constriction of civil liberties.
Over the past five years, there has been the distinctive pattern of continuing human rights violations. Civil and political rights violations remain unabated as the AFP intensifies its counter-insurgency operations as well as the suppression of people's organizations. Contrary to the claims of the Commission on Human Rights, the AFP is still the worst violator of human rights.
During the last five years, the AFP was involved in 753 cases of human rights violations. And its lapdog, the CAFGU, was involved in 99 cases. The PNP committed 533 cases of human rights violations. And the various intelligence agencies of both the AFP and PNP were involved in 48 cases.
Human rights violations are likewise being committed as the regime forcibly displaces the workers and peasants to give way to foreign investments, mining and IFMA (read: logging) concessions, eco-tourism projects, and industrial and commercial centers. Aside from utilizing the PNP and AFP in these operations, security guards and armed goons are mobilized to break picketlines and student protest actions. Security guards were involved in 20 cases and armed goons in seven cases of human rights violations. The direct involvement of government officials was documented in 68 cases.
There are increasing moves by the Ramos government to maintain itself in power, curtail institutionalized civil liberties, and strengthen its coercive powers.
State repression is made visible in the regions throughout the Philippines by the presence of the military, paramilitary, police and vigilante groups. They have remained constantly in place since the Marcos and Aquino administrations attempted to suppress by force the armed revolutionary struggle waged in the countryside by the National Democratic Front and its adherents. This, despite claims that insurgency is a peace and order problem that has supposedly been handed over to the PNP. There is also the grave militarization of Mindanao to combat the Moro people's struggle for self-determination.
There are nine army battalions in Cagayan Valley, with another battalion of the elite Regional Special Action Force. They are furthermore suppported with a police company for every district, as well as troops from the Air Force, Coast Guard and Navy.
"Overkill" was the catchword in Central Luzon when the government deployed as many as 50,000 military and police troops to provide "security" for the November 1996 APEC All LeadersF Summit. Since then, the still large number of troops remaining has confirmed that counter-insurgency was the second agenda in the post-APEC scenario.
Bicol has nine combat battalions from the army along with the PNP. These troops are also tapping civilians for counter-insurgency as well as creating a Barangay Intelligence Network.
The army has battalions in Panay and Negros islands. They are rapidly setting up formations of the notorious paramilitary Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit in alleged bastions of the NPA.
There are 4,000 army soldiers in Samar and a RSAF battalion in Leyte.
Troop deployment is heavy in Mindanao, not only because of counter-insurgency operations against the NPA, but also to chase after the Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas as well as to safeguard development projects which are strongly resisted by the people.
In the conduct of war against the New People's Army(NPA) and NDF, there are grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Over the past five years, there have been 218 summary executions/killings in the Philippines, most of them during military operations in the countryside.
For example, on April 12, 1996, Army soldiers riddled with 975 bullets three civilians, two of them college students, in Tagkawayan, Quezon province. On April 26, 1997, 8-year-old Cherry Fe Bustamante, a farmer's daughter, was killed when Army soldiers strafed her house which they believed to be occupied by NPA rebels.
Even human rights advocates are not spared. In February 1996, journalist and human rights lawyer Atty. Ferdinand Reyes was shot and killed for speaking out against the government's anti-terrorism bill and other anti-people policies.
There have been 144 victims of massacres as well. In August 1995, the military bombed a village of indigenous lumads in Agusan del Sur, killing eight civilians, four of them children.
There have been also 100 incidents of evacuations of civilians, resulting in 23 deaths. Eighteen hamletting incidents also occurred, as well as eight food blockade incidents and three economic blockades.
In the post-APEC scenario in Zambales, the continued military operations in the province resulted in six cases of harassments and one case each of physical assault, illegal search and divestment of property, hamletting, economic dislocation, and aerial attack directed against the people.
Since January 1997, the MILF areas in Mindanao have been under heavy militarization. The AFP's bombing that month in Buldon, Maguindanao resulted in the death of nine students and one teacher. This past June-July, as many as 65,000 civilians have been displaced in the said areas because of continuous military operations against the MILF.
Throughout the five years of the present regime, there were 808 incidents of arrests, affecting 1,754 individuals. Continuing political arrests and detention belie the faade of democracy in the Philippines.
The present 166 political prisoners nationwide are living symbols of political repression. The majority of these political prisoners were arrested without warrant and were charged or convicted of common crimes instead of political offenses.
Government's foot-dragging on the issue of the release of all political prisoners has been a sticky point in its ongoing peace negotiations with the NDF. That it is a matter of justice to have all political prisoners released eludes the government, which wants to drag them through a screening and judicial process that is filled with loopholes and marked by an insincere attempt to show it is addressing the issue.
There is a total of 15 disappearances for the past five years. The most recent disappearance is that of peasant organizer Romeo Cortez, who disappeared in Pampanga province on April 1, 1997. He is the 1,595th to disappear in the Philippines since the Marcos dictatorship.
The countryside is the arena of battle between the peasantry and the indigenous peoples, and the landlords, big businessmen and foreign monopoly capitalists. The former are struggling for their rights against forcible displacements and exploitation.
The military presence is often heavy wherever government or private development projects are ongoing. Mining and logging concessions in Nueva Vizacaya, Agusan del Sur and Davao del Sur covering an aggregate of tens of thousands of hectares are cleared for or supported with military presence and operations sorely affecting the indigenous peoples. Other areas with development projects and also suspected as rebel strongholds are specifically selected for heavy troop concentration, including Surigao, Davao, Cotabato and other provinces nationawide.
The peasantry's bitter struggle for land results in atrocities. In 1996, three peasants including a woman, Erlinda Pabalate, were killed when a peaceful assembly of disgruntled farmers were fired upon by the private armed group of their landlord, Manuel Chu IV. The farmers were struggling against Chu to have the land they tilled be subject to the government's land reform program. Chu was absolved and only his men are undergoing trial which is proceeding at a typical turtle's pace.
Meanwhile, urban areas are scenes of anti-urban poor demolitions and attacks on picket lines. In the first three months of 1996, 780 workers in 40 cases of picketline violence were injured or arrested when police or company-hired goons assaulted their picketlines. Those arrested were charged with common offenses. Women workers suffer as well from sexual discrimination and harassment especially in the export-processing zones where organizing and strikes are even forbidden.
There were also 37 cases of violent dispersals of protest actions over the past five years.
To beautify Manila for the November 1996 APEC summit, at least 10,000 urban poor families were monitored as having been displaced in often violent demolitions, in Damayang Lagi, Pasay Reclamation Area and other places. To date, many more are being displaced to pave the way for development projects. It is projected that about half a million will be displaced in 1997 onwards, including 400,000 families alone from Canlubang, Laguna to Clark Air Base, Pampanga because of a government railways improvement project.
Side by side with its strengthening of the old economic order by hewing along neoliberal and neocolonial lines, the Ramos government is trying to do away with the people's formal guarantees of their civil and political rights. It has at the same time retained previous repressive laws and decrees, which reveal that behind its mask of democracy it is still equipped with the same tooth and fang with which to suppress civil liberties .
The ruling system is there to advance and protect a decadent economic order which exploits and makes the people suffer. It at the same time tries to smash the revolutionary resistance movement by way of military suppression coupled with psychological warfare. To keep the people's democratic struggle at bay, it attempts to curtail civil liberties and stifle dissent.
Gen. Ramos has long had a hand in the perpetration of human rights violations against the Filipino people. He was the chief implementor of martial law as head of the Philippine Constabulary and then deputy armed forces chief during the Marcos fascist dictatorship. The PC was responsible for many of the grossest human rights atrocities of the martial law regime. As armed forces chief and later defense secretary of the Aquino regime, Ramos helped sabotage the peace negotiations with the NDF and then directed the carrying out of the "total war policy" - ruthless and systematic military assaults on alleged NDF mass bases in the countryside, which resulted in widepread human rights violations on a scale often surpassing the brutality of Marcos's martial law.
Thus, despite its current peace negotiations with the NDF the Ramos government is still hell-bent on militarily overrunning the NDF-led revolutionary movement. It is also intent on defeating the MILF. Meanwhile, the government has successfully coopted the RAM-SFP-YOU, as well as induced the capitulation of the Misuari-led Moro National Liberation Front.
Meanwhile, the Ramos government also continues to try revising the Constitution. It also persists in political maneuvers to remove the obstacles against RamosF perpetuation in power, accumulate more power as well as attempts to legislate repressive decrees like the bills on anti-terrorism, anti-racketeering, crime control, national security and a national identification system. It has in fact succeeded with implementing the national ID system by issuing it as an executive decree instead of having it pass through the legislature.
And the same old set of draconian edicts remain in place. These includePD 1866 (making illegal possession of firearms in furtherance of rebellion a capital offense), Government Orders 66 and 67 legalizing checkpoints and warrantless searches, Memorandum Circular 139 authorizing military food blockades during counter-insurgency operations, Umil vs. Ramos Supreme Court ruling legalizing warrantless arrests, and so on and so forth.
The presence of a military cabal in government is also alarming. There are more than 60 former AFP officers in government. The fact that they hold top cabinet posts and other sensitive positions show that an old boysF network of former military officers is actually running the country.
In sum, the government's moves towards authoritarianism show an ailing political system that must clamp down on militant resistance to remain in power. Yet the strengthening people's struggle show that the government must beware in reimposing martial rule, for it may be digging its own grave.
The unabated cases of attacks on people's organizations, communities, and the suppression of protest actions, as well as the gradual constriction of civil liberties are mere symptoms. Militarization, intensifying counter-insurgency operations, and the maneuvers of the Ramos regime to maintain itself and accumulate more power are acts of desperation.
Peace and democracy, economic development and prosperity for the Filipino people under Philippines 2000 are mere illusions. On the contrary, the MTPDP which conforms to the Structural Adjustment Program of the IMF-WB and the GATT-WTO agreements will only lead to the increasing misery and poverty of the Filipino people.
Displacements, landlessness, economic dislocation, unemployment and wage slavery will continuously be the reality. These social abuses stem from the Ramos regime's continued subservience to the dictates of foreign monopoly capital which is suffering from a crisis of overproduction. Paradoxically, the rapid rate of technological development which further expedites the accumulation of capital and the overproduction of goods in industrialized countries also brings about the destruction of the national economies of semi-colonies, as in the Philippines, to pave the way for the entry of surplus goods and capital from the former.
Gen. Ramos is the chief hatchetman today of elite interests and the foreign monopoly capitalists led by the United States. He has received praises from industrialized countries such as the US, Canada, Japan, and the IMF-WB for kowtowing to all their demands. Likewise, the local ruling elite composed of the local bureaucrats who accumulate money from bribes and corruption; the big Filipino businessmen, who benefits from joint partnerships with MNCs and export-import transactions; and the local landlords, who thrive on the production of raw materials and their monopoly of prime lands being converted to golf courses, resorts, and "industrial centers" push for his retention to power.
And increasingly, these social cancers will be accompanied by intensifying oppression, suppression and brutal attacks on the people as they struggle against the pro-imperialist and anti-people policies and programs of the regime.
In the final analysis, the more than 100 years of nationalist and democratic struggle bears out the truth that the people's enjoyment of their human rights in all its dimensions - civil, political, economic, social, and cultural - can only be possible under conditions of national liberation and social emancipation.
08 July 1997
KARAPATAN (Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights)
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines
43 Masikap St., Central District, Diliman, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES
Telephone No. +63(2) 922-5864
Fax +63(2) 434-1865