Dr. Carol P. Araullo, with Rep. Satur Ocampo, in a people's rally in Manila
by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.
One may call it a nearly Augustan “Dutch treat.” Except for what may appear to be a relatively minor investment of Dutch capital in the Philippines and the presence of 18,456 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the Netherlands, nothing really connects Filipinos with the land of fabled windmills. But the events of last week may presage a change. The much-touted bonanza of consumerist globalization may have produced its most hackneyed if repulsive scenario yet, this time in the land of state-approved prostitution, where a handful of Filipino political exiles have taken refuge from the brutal regimes back home. The personnel and offices of the National Democratic Front Philippines (NDFP), legally allowed in Utrecht since the late 1970s, were raided on August 27.
The assault evokes memories of the Nazi Gestapos in an early morning raid on the Dutch resistance, except the victims this time are Filipino national democrats and socialist intellectuals. The NDFP’s chief political consultant, Jose Maria Sison, was arrested by trickery and coercion. Behind the tulips now prowl the undercover sleuths of both the Dutch and Philippine governments who don’t seem to be hobbled by human-rights guarantees sanctified by the Constitution of the Netherlands and the European Convention of Human Rights. Jails and police brutality now await Filipino activists in the land of the atheist Spinoza (at least, of the Spinoza Museum), of free marijuana in Amsterdam and auctioned “sex work.”
Seizing on this sordid event, U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney volunteered the full force of the U.S. imperial state apparatus to persecute progressive Filipinos for imputed “terrorism.” Despite its catastrophic aggressions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington is not too busy to ignore this minor incident. Not everyone knows of the heavy and deep involvement of U.S. troops and clandestine agents in Mindanao and other regions in the Philippines since 2002. The Pentagon’s close supervision of the Philippine military dates back to the days of Col. Edward Lansdale, whose notorious “Phoenix program” of systematic assassination of suspected communists in Vietnam was first tried in the Philippines against the Huks in the 1950s. So the U.S. may turn out to be the effective “handlers” if not the chief accomplice in this August operation.
Ambassador Kenney told reporters that the U.S. is “willing to help” prosecute Sison and anyone supporting the New People’s Army (NPA), the communist-led guerilla force labeled “terrorist’ by the U.S. State Department immediately after Sept. 11, 2001 (Philippine Inquirer, August 31, 2007). The NPA has been a headache to the neocolonial regimes since its founding in 1969. It was proclaimed to have been defeated again and again by successive administrations since the dictatorship (1972-1986) of Ferdinand Marcos, aided by General Fidel Ramos (who allowed the return of U.S. troops after the closure of Clark and Subic bases in 1991) and business mogul Juan Ponce Enrile, sponsor of the dreaded anti-terror bill (ironically named “Human Security Act, Republic Act 9372).
Beware of Dutch Treats
Domiciled in that reputedly “tolerant” country since his release from prison in 1986, Sison has applied for political asylum—only to be put in the European listing of terrorists at the behest of Washington. Sison is the most well-known Filipino political refugee in Europe. He helped re-establish the moribund Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in 1968 as a spearhead of the socialist revolution in the Philippines. In the last decade, Sison has been serving as a political consultant to the NDFP in peace talks with the Philippine government.
Despite the patently weak evidence given to the court at The Hague last August 31, the Dutch judge extended Sison’s detention to 14 more days until a second hearing on Sept. 7. Meanwhile Sison is held incommunicado at the National Penitentiary in Schveningen where the Nazis used to imprison and torture Jews and Dutch resistance fighters during World War II. His wife Julie de Lima-Sison claims that her husband is being kept in solitary confinement and denied medicine, visits from his wife, and access to newspapers or TV. If true, this speaks volumes about Dutch liberalism. State prerogative trumps people’s human rights. As a Dutch activist W. Wijk noted after the hearing, “The persecution of Sison through the use of the judicial process exposes the rottenness and corruption of the Dutch justice and political system.”
The proverbial “Dutch treat” here so far has offered us only the dire spectacle of warrantless arrest, theft of personal belongings, and racist inferiorization of Filipinos. Not to be outdone by the Nazi Gestapos who terrorized Holland, hordes of Dutch police and security agents raided the offices and homes of NDFP staff, broke down apartment doors, ransacked and confiscated computers, records, and assorted private property in the hunt for evidence. In this instance, pious bourgeois law quickly translated into arbitrary fascist coercion. The NDFP International Information Office has been based in Utrecht since the seventies, legally representing the revolutionary forces in peace negotiations with the neocolonial government of the Philippines, talks sponsored by Norway and other states in the European community. Colluding with the corrupt, illegitimate Arroyo regime in the Philippines, Holland’s justice ministry revealed its fascist core by the deceitful method of Sison’s arrest and its violent mockery of the rights of political refugees.
What is Sison’s crime? He is alleged to be guilty—not presumed innocent, as legal niceties would have it—of ordering from his remote residence in Utrecht the killing of two former associates (Romulo Kintanar and Arturo Tabara) in 2003 and 2004. The leadership of the New People’s Army (NPA) had already publicly admitted that it was responsible for punishing the two for their counter-revolutionary crimes against the people. Whether Sison personally can order the collective leadership of the NPA or not for this specific act, is a pseudo-issue for anyone familiar with the praxis of Filipino insurgent solildarity and its time-honored tradition. Filipino jurists such as Prof. Raul Pangalangan and others have asked whether the Philipine government has given up its sovereignty by allowing Dutch jurisdiction over a case occurring on Philippine soil. What Dutch law has Sison violated?
Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark commented that “the Dutch can’t determine the facts. They can only rely on what the Arroyo government tells them, and what it wants is persecution for Sison….The demonization of Sison will destroy us if we permit it to continue” (News Release of the New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, August 31, 2007). Prosecutor Wim de Bruin was easily proved a liar by his Filipino counterparts when he claimed that his case was exclusively a “Dutch initiative.”
It has been public knowledge for some time that Sison’s former associates had been fully employed by the military in the persecution and murder of many underground activists. Sison has no court case on this matter in the Philippines. A similar concocted accusation against him, six Congresspersons, and other civilians (which includes the killing of Kintanar and Tabara) had already been dismissed by the Philippine Supreme Court last July 2, 2007, as politically malicious and without merit. Recently, journalist Kenneth Guda reminded us of the confession of police official Col. Reynaldo Berroya that in May 2000 Kintanar and Tabara, already salaried agents of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), were commissioned to assassinate Sison in the Netherlands (see Guda’s “Jailing Joma,” Aug. 31, 2007, in http://pangkulitan.motime.com). The project was botched, so Filipino security officials and their U.S. advisers had to wait until August 27.
Arroyo’s officials in Malacañan as well as AFP and Philipine National Police (PNP) officers have admitted furnishing documents, testimonials, forensic evidence, etc. to the Dutch government. They have also financed the travel and other living expenses of the two widows (Gloria Joy Kintanar and Veronica Tabara) together with various informers and accessories (Inquirer.net, August 29). Arroyo’s cabal of manipulators are thus the main sponsors of the two widows who filed an affidavit against Sison with the Philippine Department of Justice. This is the basis of the case that the Dutch are now saddled with (Newsbreak, 28 August 2007). Secretary Raul Gonzalez confessed that his office gave all kinds of assistance to the Dutch National Criminal Investigation Department, including names and data of NDFP personnel. In short, trumped-up charges, connivance of Dutch and Filipino officials, skullduggery and bureaucratic abuses all converged in the August 27 dragnet. The editor of the Philippine Tribune (August 30) predicted a shameful embarrassment awaiting the Dutch, “given the history of the Arroyo government’s practice of manufacturing evidence against its political foes.”
One theory why the Dutch and Filipino sleuths decided on this preemptive action is this: Sison won his case in the European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg last July 11. This is without doubt a landmark decision for all anti-imperialist refugees unduly stigmatized after 9/11 as “terrorists.” The Court annulled the May 29 decision of the Council of the European Union to include Sison in its “terrorist” blacklist. The Court condemned the European Union for violating Sison’s rights of defense and depriving him of judicial protection. This sent shivers to the Dutch reactionaries, exposing more legalistic fraud, thus their strategy of pre-empting any further erosion of their authority by fabricating this new accusation (the Dutch Embassy in Manila fallaciously claimed that the new “terrorist” listing of June 29 which contained no new evidence was exempted from the Court’s decision). As Julie de Lima, Sison’s wife, accurately noted, the raid is an element of global capital’s “dirty war” in the mode of psychological warfare and travesty of law and due process that Arroyo and her Dutch patrons are preoccupied with.
Evidently, this exercise in criminalizing the Filipino national-democratic struggle is meant to physically handicap Sison and distract his followers from the more urgent task of unseating Arroyo in Manila. It is meant to deflect attention from the obscene extra-judicial carnage, the seething anger at Jonas Burgos’ kidnapping, the “Hello Garci” imbroglio, worsening economic bankruptcy, and scandals of large-scale corruption involving the higher echelons. The International Committee of DEFEND is on target with its argument that Arroyo, Washington and the Dutch reactionaries “are using judicial proceedings to put political pressure on the NDFP to surrender to the Manila government” and thus score a “victory” amid the avalanche of disasters.
However, underneath these incidents we suspect a larger narrative or subtext of causality and historical determinations. To understand why this Filipino-Dutch “connection” is occurring at this specific conjuncture, we need to take into account three important developments that seem to triangulate the impending ruin of the Arroyo regime and its replacement by a new set of oligarchs who may have a more “populist” appeal to calm the turbulent masses. As I discussed in an earlier commentary (see “Seven Theses,” Bulatlat Online, April 29-May 5, 2007), the crisis and disintegration of the Arroyo clique cannot be eluded by Arroyo’s meretricious rhetoric of defeating the worker-peasant and Moro insurgencies by the end of her term in 2010. It can at best delay or diffuse the impact of the crash, but not permanently defer it.
So what are the parameters for understanding the August barbarism?
Contradiction No. 1
First, the brutal and corrupt Arroyo regime has been severely criticized by numerous human rights organizations, among them KARAPATAN, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Asian Commission on Human Rights, the World Council of Churches, the United Nations, and countless groups. Arroyo mindlessly shrugged off the criticisms lodged by the president of Finland and other international monitors. UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston’s visit last February gave a stamp of authority on the judgment that President Arroyo has command responsibility over the AFP and its paramilitary death-squads. State terrorism has been responsible for over 900 extrajudicial killings and 200 enforced disappearances or abductions of civilians since Arroyo assumed office in 2001. Belying her claim that she is concerned about these horrendous human-rights violations, Arroyo glorified one of the “butchers,” General Jovito Palparan, who is now being linked by two peasants to several abductions and murders. Arroyo, together with her chief patron George W. Bush, was indicted by the Permanent People’s Tribunal last March for “crimes against humanity” performed in the pursuit of the U.S.-led “war on terror” in the interests of predatory global capital’s profit-making.
All this is of no consequence to Arroyo were it not for the danger raised in the U.S. Congress of a drastic reduction, if not suspension, of U.S. military and economic assistance. Impelled by the crescendo of complaints, Senator Barbara Boxer and Rep. Ellen Tauscher in April and May urged Arroyo to “move quickly” against the murder and abduction of left-wing political activists. Last July, after lobbying by influential church groups, the U.S. Senate appropriations committee instructed the State Department to monitor U.S. military assistance so that it is not “misused by units of the security forces…against civilians…who are members of political opposition parties and human rights groups” (Inquirer.net, July 5, 2007).
Last month, the pressure climaxed with the highly publicized letter of 48 US lawmakers, initiated by Rep. James Overstar of Minnesota and Joseph Pitts of Pennsylvania, that expressed alarm over the atrocious human-rights situation and called on Arroyo “to prosecute the perpetrators” (Tribune Online, August 6, 2007). At last, the regime seems to be registering pain and anxiety over possible long-term damage. The recommended token cuts of over fifty million dollars in the Foreign Military Financing, the International Military Exchange Training for the AFP and funding for the Philippine National Police (PNP), if implemented, would demoralize Arroyo’s supporters, particularly the generals and hirelings dependent on their share. It would also prove that Arroyo cannot “deliver,” thus reinforcing the criticisms of her self-serving propaganda about economic progress and around-the-corner prosperity.
Contradiction No. 2
Second, the defeat of the Arroyo camp in the May elections despite the usual rampant cheating supervised by Arroyo flunkeys in the Commission of Elections (COMELEC) exposed the inherent fragility of the current bloc of the neocolonial elite. It revealed the flaws in the hegemonizing effort to unite the most backward, malefic oligarchs. Fearing that that the detained ex-president Joseph Estrada might rally his followers, many of whom got re-elected, to a repeat of “People Power 2”—the mass demonstrations in 2001 that unseated him and catapulted Arroyo to power—when a verdict of his case is handed down in the near future, Arroyo ordered thousands of troops to saturate Metro Manila and environs in addition to already militarized urban zones. This is an unequivocal symptom of panic and political bankruptcy.
Further, the election of Senator Antonio Trillanes, one of the officers who led the aborted “Oakwood mutiny,” is a clear repudiation of Arroyo’s illegitimate rule. As former president of the University of the Philippines Francisco Nemenzo observed, the presence of civic-minded honest officers inside and outside the Establishment who oppose Arroyo may not support her advisers’ view that the military is always politically neutral: “The military is either partisan for the elite or partisan for the people.” While the other maverick officer and elected Senator, former Col. Gregorio Honasan, may have been “pardoned” as a compromise by the Arroyo clique, Trillanes and other principled officers (beholden to other political factions of the elite, or nationalists in their own right) still pose a serious threat to Arroyo’s autocratic rule. The horrific slaughter of AFP troops in Basilan and scarcely suppressed criticism from the ranks are a forecast of further mutinous upheavals (on the Moro crisis, more below). A recent Social Weather Station survey revealed that 71% of Filipinos in Metro Manila and the surrounding provinces believe that Arroyo is thoroughly corrupt, while eight of ten believe her husband is also engaged in elaborate corruption. Could bribery, threats, and concessions allow Arroyo to complete her term?
Meanwhile, Arroyo’s favorite bureaucrat, COMELEC chair, Benjamin Abalos, Sr., is now implicated in one of the most outrageous bribery scandals in Philippine history. It involves the Chinese firm China ZTE Corp. which won a government contract for $1.6 billion without any rival bidding. Named accomplices are Arroyo’s appointees, among them Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, Trade Secretary Peter Favila, and the aforementioned Abalos, among others. But this is nothing new to Arroyo; it has been her modus operandi since she entered public service.
At this point, it would not be anticlimactic to mention that before Sison’s arrest, the Netherlands won a valuable multimillion dollar oil exploratioin contract from the Arroyo administratiion. Rep. Crispin Beltran revealed that an oil exploration company with significant Dutch participation, Premier Oil, was granted the right to drill for oil within a million hectares in the Ragay Gulf of the Bicol region. Aside from this, Dutch investments (from oil to banking, insurance, electronics, etc.) are expanding rapidly. It is now the Philippines’ third largest trading partner, and the second largest foreign investor in the country, hence its willingness to support the criminal Arroyo regime for the sake of profit and imperial self-aggrandizement. After all, Arroyo has turned over to the Dutch capitalists the gas reserves of Malampaya and the indigenous people’s ancestral lands, hence the quid pro quo.
The most worrisome development for Arroyo is the Supreme Court Justice Reynato Puno’s show of independence from the executive branch. Last July Puno initiated a summit on human rights to which civil-society activists and left-wing groups were invited. Like the Melo Commission and the government’s Human Rights Commission, this exercise in ritualized lip-service to “the rule of law” would have been just that, an inutile gesture, were it not for Puno’s courage in protecting two escaped peasants, the Manalo brothers, from testifying to their imprisonment and torture by the military, and their first-hand witnessing of military complicity in nefarious crimes of kidnapping and extra-judicial murder. Earlier, several top generals expressed willingness to testify and offer substantive evidence of such complicity in the process of Congressional or Supreme Court inquiries.
In addition, perhaps inspired by the global monitoring of the human-rights situation, various groups (aside from BAYAN and KARAPATAN) have finally gathered their forces to petition the Supreme Court to declare the reprehensible Human Security Act RA 9372 as unconstitutional. Aside from religious and church groups, lawyers and lawmakers (among them Senators Jamby Madrigal, Serge Osmena and former senator Bobby Tanada) have argued that the Act would give license for those temporarily in power, or in control of State apparatuses, to label any act as “terrorist” if it expresses “a demand deemed unlawful by the government.” Basically the Act would suppress the constitutional right to freedom of expression and of assembly for the redress of the people’s grievances. Authored by the atavistic Senator Enrile, who was a fanatical persecutor of critics of Marcos authoritarianism, the Act is modeled after the retrograde USA Patriot Act and similar measures aimed at warrantless arrests, surveillance, and repression of democratic rights and civil liberties.
Not to be neglected is the recent passage in the Philippine Congress of a bill penalizing State agents for forcible “disappearances” and abductions. This may exert pressure on the Senate and Arroyo to ratify and sign the United Nations International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (so far Arroyo has withheld her endorsement). In the light of the revelations over the abduction and torture of Pastor Berlin Guerrero and the military kidnapping of Jonas Burgos, two college students, and other highly esteemed civic leaders, the well-organized campaign against extra-judicial killings, torture and kidnapping is gearing up with renewed force, mobilizing millions not only in the Philipines but in the shifting diaspora of about 10 million OFWs around the world. Indeed, given the fact that their annual remittance of $12 to $14 billion to the government treasury is the single reason why Arroyo can meet the government’s huge foreign debt payments—a virtual blackmail by the U.S.-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund, the OFWs can deliver crippling blows on U.S. imperialism and its local subalterns if they can be fully organized and mobilized for national-democratic liberation.
The splits within the Filipino ruling classes have undermined any claim of Arroyo to moral or ideological leadership of the U.S.-subservient oligarchy. The formation of such a broad consensus critical of Arroyo’s attempts to suppress any public protest against her corruption and cheating, threatens her monopoly of State power. With a possible revival of impeachment moves coinciding with the coming out of military officials involved in the “Hello Garci” affair (the secret taping of Arroyo’s manipulation of votes during the presidential election of 2004), Arroyo cannot rally the legislative branch to support her failed policies concerning the economy (the Philipines has regressed to a status well behind Malaysia and Thailand) and the two militarily undefeatable insurgencies. Whether impeachment proceeds or not, the investigation of corruption scandals, the final judgment over the Estrada case, the challenge to the Human Security Act and other schemes, plus the Moro and peasant-worker rebellions exploding everywhere--all these trends, exacerbated by a severely eroded agricultural-industrial base and the pervasive, truly incorrigible moral decay in the entire machinery of governance, are bound to result in the panicked exhaustion and collapse of the Arroyo presidency.
Contradiction No. 3
Finally, the third fatal blow to Arroyo’s dominance will come (at least for now) not from the New People’s Army, nor from Sison and the CPP—although one should not underestimate their ideological elan as a catalyzing impulse and emergent hegemonic force—but from the Bangsa Moro nation, arguably the most victimized group in Philippine history. I am referring not to any particular group, either the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), both of which have provided formidable if uneven leadership to the Moro struggle for cultural dignity, political self-determination and communal justice. I have in mind the quite ethnically diverse communities of more than six to ten million people of Islamic faith who, given their heroic resistance to Spanish, American and chauvinist neocolonial oppression, have collectively embodied the spirit of liberation and justice in our region of the world (see my chapter on the Moro struggle in U.S. Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
All Filipinos (if we might claim to speak editorially here) owe the Moro people a long overdue homage for their sacrifices, endurance, and collective solidarity in the fight against imperialism and corporate globalization. This giant is yet to fully flex its muscles; it is capable of overcoming U.S. Special Forces together with its mercenary AFP/PNP helots.
U.S. military intervention heightened after 9/11 when Bush sent thousands of U.S. Special Forces to the Philippines in early 2002 under the pretext of joint war exercises called “Balikatan.” Both Marcos and Estrada vowed to crush the Moro aspiration for self-determination in their “total war” policy, but to no avail. Spellbound by the same imbecilic or addlebrained experts on “law and order” from the military and comprador intelligentsia, Arroyo has fallen into the same path of ignominious debacle. In the last four years of Arroyo’s tenure, ruthless “pacification” drives--reminiscent of U.S. “scorched-earth” campaigns in the Filipino-American War of 1899-1903--have characterized the government’s barbarism toward the Moro struggle for independence (often deplored as Muslim “separatism”). This has resulted in thousands of innocent civilians driven from their homes and farms, turned into famished refugees or killed outright in hide-and-seek engagements with the ubiquitous Abu Sayyaf (ABS) bandits. The recurrent turmoil in Basilan island, southern Philippines, is a symptom of the larger cynicism and hypocrisy of various neocolonial administrations toward the plight of the Moros (see the insightful article of Carlos Conde, “Abu Sayyaf in Basilan: A Deadly Redux,” in Bulatlat Online, Aug. 26-Sept. 1, 2007).
How do we explain this chaotic situation? Arroyo’s militarist-chauvinist method of stopping what she calls “mayhem and bloodsport” cannot be prettified by tawdry humanitarian gestures. Arroyo’s impromptu gifts and opportunistic philanthrophy only prove her utter cynicism in resolving historically rooted structural problems that underlie the deprivation and desperation of the Moro communities, not to speak of the ethnic Lumads and other indigenous peoples in Mindanao and Sulu. The same applies to the repeated amnesty program for NPA surrenderees, a scheme to siphon off government funds for regional clientele. While hypocritically claiming to be committed to peaceful negotiations with the MILF, monitored by Malaysia and the Organization of Islamic Conference, the Arroyo regime clearly has no coherent, long-range strategy of solving the social, economic and cultural demands and needs of the Moro nation. Its only approach to this most crucial problem in Philippine society is military-technocratic violence, aided by U.S. Special Forces, the CIA and FBI, and the diplomatic sorcery of US State Department officials such as John Negroponte and Admiral Timothy Keating of the US Pacific Command, both recent visitors praising Arroyo’s savage onslaught on the Moro resistance in Jolo and Basilan. Right now, the imperative of preserving the iniquitous order and the class-exclusivist monopoly of power is paramount for the Arroyo clique.
Invincible Bangsa Moro Nation
Here I can only speculate briefly on two reasons that have bedeviled Arroyo and her advisers on the Moro revolution. First, Mindanao is not only the last remaining undeveloped economic frontier of the country, incalculably rich with untapped natural resources, minerals, and human labor. It also provides the ideal forward staging ground for U.S. military forces intervening in the “hot spots” of the Middle East and Asia as a whole. Aside from an impending confrontation with Iran or North Korea, U.S. strategic interests (always impelled by profit-driven corporate gangsterism) dictate their scrutiny of what is happening in Indonesia and IndoChina as part of a long-range strategy to circumscribe China’s power, China (allied with a revitalized Russia) being the real contender for U.S. global hegemony in this new millennium. Reports of huge U.S. investments in military infrastructure in Mindanao, as well as experiments in unconventional warfare, reinforce the theory of prolonged U.S. intervention in the Philippines.
The second reason is the need to sustain the myth of the Abu Sayyaf (and by extension the Jemiaah Islamiyah chiefly based in Indonesia) as the main rationale for continued U.S. military “exercises” and permanent training of Filipino officers and soldiers for atrocious genocide, for unconscionable exploitation of the natural environment and its inhabitants.
In the annals of neocolonial history in the Philippines, and perhaps for third world countries in the region, perhaps the ABS will remain one of the more perverse and hilarious hoaxes of the epoch, if it were not a monstrous and hellish affliction for millions of Moros as well as for Filipinos as a whole. It is public knowledge that this group was formed by a collusion of military officers, public officials, and businessmen to divide the Moro National Liberation Front that was leading the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship from 1972 up to 1996. It was also a lucrative business deal. While some of its members may have been trained in Indonesia or Afghanistan during the Reagan period as potential manpower for the anti-Soviet mujahedin, the majority were and continue to be disaffected, lumpen elements (with a handful of religious teachers or mentors) egged on by local politicians or warlords, and tolerated or encouraged by regional military officials who have benefited from its kidnapping-for-ransom business. In short, the ABS is distinctly a local problem with a historically specific provenance in the highly disaggregated, mutable Philippine economic, political and cultural terrain.
It is really remarkable how the dead in the southern Philippines can resurrect after periodic intervals. From the administrations of Ramos to Estrada and Arroyo, the government has announced repeatedly that the ABS has been decimated, neutralized, and finally wiped out for good. Everyone can now engage in business as usual. This ritualized alibi persists ad nauseam. Arroyo and her security watchdogs are quick to grab the opportunity to boast of their definitive extirpation of the ABS. But like the mythical hydra-headed monster, the ABS rears its head everytime, as it supposedly did last July 10 when it killed 14 Marines as a result of a mistake—the soldiers failed to heed the warnings of the MILF not to venture into their territory in Basilan. Originally, the troops were reported to be in pursuit of ABS members who kidnapped an Italian missionary priest. However, the truth is that Arroyo and her clique pulled a publicity stunt in time for the State-of-the-Nation address. Moreover, the regime has long planned to instigate hostilities with the MILF, labelling its encounters as attempts to suppress “terrorists.” This also applies to the heavy fighting in Jolo and other areas of Sulu islands which has been raging since February 2005 when over 100 soldiers, including two colonels, were killed by fierce MNLF resistance to AFP encroachments into their territory. Arroyo has to shore up her credential as a bonafide leader of the U.S.-sponsored global war on terror, thus deserving material and political support from Washington/Pentagon.
The AFP in the last two months has suffered the largest number of casualties so far, gutting the rank and file and despoiling hundreds of widows and orphans of the dead on both sides. Veteran observers believe that Basilan is not the real target. Rather, it is Jolo and the Sulu island chain where MNLF forces are entrenched and whose geopolitical reach encompasses the strategic region of Davao and Cotabato. That is where the issue of autonomy will ultimately be decided. While its former leader Nur Musuari earlier compromised with the government in 1996 when he signed the final papers of the agreement to join the government (the negotiation began in Tripoli during the Marcos dictatorship, with Libyan strongman Khadaffy’s sponsorship), significant units of the MNLF bypassed Misuari in order to continue the Bangsa Moro struggle for independence.
Meanwhile, during the MNLF’s decline, the MILF, with a more openly religious orientation compared to Misuari’s secular leaning, took up the leadership of the armed and legal opposition against the Manila government. It is with the leadership of the MILF that Arroyo is now negotiating, even though a dual policy of fighting and talking seems to have been adopted and practiced by both sides. Even if a truce or treaty is signed, this will not solve the profound systemic problem of exploitation, oppression, and lack of any dignified viable future for millions of Moros and indigenous communities in the southern Philippines, not to speak of hundreds of thousands of impoverished Christian peasants and workers inhabiting the same region.
The Abu Sayyaf is surely bound to outlast Arroyo and her tutors. So long as Arroyo and her warmongering generals, as well as their Washington mentors, persist in judging the ABS as a military game, or an isolated syndrome characterized by anomie or loss of identity and cultural status, as some American social scientists believe, the ABS will thrive and even become a real nightmare. After all, so many of its handlers are benefiting from the kidnappings and plunder. This is in addition to the U.S. and Arroyo’s need for an enemy as vicious as these “terrorists” who allegedly behead their dead enemies. The people who live in Basilan, Jolo or any part of Mindanao know why the ABS persists: the misery of everyday life from exploitation of land and other resources by transnational corporations, the immense poverty and desperation of the thousands who feel there is no alternative, no future. That is why U.S. officials find it expedient for them to say that their heavily armed Special Forces are not just fighting the ABS, that they are also “winning hearts and minds” (the old tired formula from the Vietnam carnage) by digging wells, building bridges, curing the sick, etc. Stop-gap solutions, charitable prophylaxis, with no participation on the part of the communities or their traditional institutions—such is Arroyo’s formula for thwarting “terrorists” and securing the peace—of the graveyard.
Self-Determination is the Key
Due to lack of space, suffice it to invoke here the conviction of Abhoud Syed Lingga, the executive director of the Institute for BangsaMoro Studies, a non-profit research group devoted to Filipino Muslims, concerning the present situation: “The problem in Basilan or Sulu cannot be isolated from the overall problem of the Bangsamoro people….I have doubt on the effectiveness of the government strategy….because it does not address the grievances and aspirations of the people. The best way to fight terrorism is to address people’s grievances and to open democratic avenues where people can pursue peacefully their political aspirations. Self-determination for Muslims will open the windows of opportunity to resolve the long-drawn conflict peacefully” (quoted by Conde in article cited earlier).
In the context of this wider perspective, Sison’s arrest will not stop the National Democratic Front nor the New People’s Army from the protracted, tortuous struggle for national democracy and genuine sovereignty. Neither a picnic nor a dinner party, as the old adage goes, the progress of the revolution does not depend on individual leaders or heroes, however important their contribution might be. Circumstances and institutions in the last analysis determine the efficacy of individual roles and inputs. The torture or “neutralization” of Sison will not lead to the capitulation of the CPP or NPA, as Arroyo’s advisers expect; nor will it diminish their powerful appeal and enduring impact. It will certainly dampen if not halt the peace negotiations. It surely will not postpone Arroyo’s downfall. BAYAN chairperson Dr. Carol Araullo concisely summed up the thrust of these events in a news release during a protest in front of the Netherlands Embassy in MetroManila last August 30: “It is clear that the Arroyo regime really has no intention of talking peace. It is only interested in waging all-out war. This is not just about Joma now. This is an attack on the Filipino people and their aspirations for a just and lasting peace.” Given her distinguished leadership of BAYAN, one of the largest coalition of progressive groups in the Philippines today, and her vital role in the united front against the state terrorism of Arroyo, the U.S. and the Dutch reactionaries, Araullo’s commentary in her column “Streetwise” in the Business World magazine (August 31-September 1, 2007) deserves to be quoted at length:
“The Arroyo regime is blinded by its denial of that great lesson of history—that revolutions bred by social injustice and oppression cannot be defeated, much less be eradicated by the state’s iron hand and that brutal suppression of revolutionary leaders only constitute temporary setbacks. Many more invariably stand up to take their place in the frontlines of the struggle. The Netherlands government thinks that by colluding with the Philippine and U.S. governments to politically persecute Mr. Sison and the NDFP and to scuttle the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines)-NDFP peace negotiations, it has done away with a big thorn in its throat, a political embarrassment as well as a pesky obstacle to Dutch multinational corporations’ unbridled profit-making in the country…. The Dutch has clearly interfered in the matter of the sovereign right of the Filipino people, the right to determine its political affairs including the political settlement of internal armed conflicts. Its shameful role in this outrageous episode shall, in due time, be thoroughly exposed and it shall consequently be held accountable.”
INTERVENTION FROM THE BOOONDOCKS:
An Interview with DR. CAROL P. ARAULLO by Dr. RAINER WERNING
Leading in the defense of Sison and other persecuted Filipino refugees/exiles today is the militant coalition of civic organizations, BAYAN (New Patriotic Alliance) in the Philippines, with affiliates around the world. Its chairperson is Dr. Carol P. Araullo, an exemplary Filipino progressive intellectual and nationalist organizer. She has a long brilliant record of political activism, dating back from her student days at the University of the Philippines and as a doctor engaged in community medicine while opposing the bloody Marcos dictatorship. As former executive director of the Philippines Peace Center, she promoted the peace negotiations between the Manila government and the NDF. She acts as global vice chair for external affairs of the International League of People’s Struggle, co-convenor of the Gloria-Step-Down-Movement, and other broad popular alliances. Her regular column, “Streetwise” in the Manila journal, Business World, has provided lucid, insightful analysis of current developments (I recommend in particular her two articles in its August issue on the recent fighting in Mindanao-Sulu, “The crux of the Moro problem” and “Tell that to the Marines,” accessible from her Website and from Bulatlat). Her commentaries may be taken to represent one of the most provocative and sophisticated trends in current progressive circles in the Philippines today.
The following is a transcript of an interview of Dr. Araullo (CPA) conducted by Dr. Rainer Werning (RW) during her attendance at the Permanent People’s Tribunal Session 2 on the Philippines held at The Hague, the Netherlands, last March 2007. Dr. Werning is a distinguished political scientist and journalist teaching at the Internationale Weiterbildung und Entwicklung of Bad Honnef, Germany. He has lectured in various countries, UK, Japan and recently in the Philippines sponsored by the Goethe Institute and local universities. He interviewed Jose Maria Sison in a notable book, The Philippine Revolution: The Leader’s View (1989), and co-edited with Nicklas Reese the highly useful Handbuch Philippinen (2006). This interview (slightly edited here for readability) was recently aired over German public radio and published here for the first time.
(For other articles about Dr. Araullo, see among others: and )
RW: It is now more than 30 years ago since the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship (1972-86). What, in your viewpoint, constitutes the chief differences between Marcos’s rule and the GMA administration?
CPA: The fall of the Marcos dictatorship was supposed to have restored democratic processes and institutions in my country. We did not expect it to overhaul radically the social stratification, the wide gap between the rich and the poor, the stranglehold of the elite on economic and political power. But at least there were high hopes then that civil political liberties and human rights would be upheld and promoted under a so-called democratic regime.
But under the current government of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which ironically came to power on the heels of a people’s uprising that toppled a corrupt and oppressive government (that of former President Joseph Estrada), the hope did not materialize. Arroyo’s regime is proving itself to be as brutal, as vicious, as terribly fascist as that of the former dictator. What is exceptional is that it does not have the honesty and decency to call “a spade a spade.” It engages in oppressive policies and in political repression under the guise of democratic processes, under the guise of a rule of law. Mr. Marcos at least declared “martial law” and made clear that he was an authoritarian leader who had control of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and would utilize the AFP to impose his will. Mrs. Arroyo pretends to be a democratic leader.
RW: I understand there were several executive orders and laws passed under the Arroyo administration that turned out to be quite oppressive. Could you name such orders and laws and tell us what the essentials of these laws are?
CPA: There is a law that was carried over by the previous Marcos dictatorship. It is a law that purports to uphold free speech and assembly--it dates back to Marcos’ martial law era—but instead it is used consistently and persistently by the Arroyo administration to curtail freedom of assembly. It is used in a very conscious effort to preempt the massing up of people in protest against her policies and against her government in general. It is deployed to preempt a wave of mass demonstrations and protests that could culminate in an armed uprising in the cities that could topple her government.
As you know, the Arroyo regime is undergoing a crisis of legitimacy. It is under a cloud of having engaged in massive and systematic fraud in the last presidential election. Now this law, while guaranteeing the fundamental right to freedom of assembly and to seek redress from government, has an obnoxious provision: it states that a permit is required to be applied for and gotten from local government officials purportedly to insure that traffic inconvenience and other forms of disorder are avoided. Now this provision has been misinterpreted by all governments after Marcos--much more so by Arroyo’s government--as a no-permit no-rally policy. Consequently, the arbitrary refusal of a mayor to give demonstrators a permit has in actuality curtailed the basic freedom of assembly.
Mrs. Arroyo carried this repressive policy a step further by proclaiming by executive fiat the so-called “calibrated pre-emptive response” decree which she announced on Sept. 21, 2005, the anniversary of the declaration of Marcos’ “Martial Law.” This decree essentially magnified the maximum intolerance policy of government to any form of street protest, workers’ strikes, or any kind of democratic expression of opposition by citizens to government policies. Essentially, it was a way of cutting short any attempt to mass people up and to stage a mass demonstration.
By Feb. 2006, this reached its height during Arroyo’s proclamation of Emergency Rule, Proclamation 1017, which was bodily lifted from Marcos’ dictatorial Proclamation 1021. Arroyo’s proclamation essentially mimicked the provisions of Marcos’ “Martial Law,” but stopped short of calling itself “Martial Law.” When this was announced by the Arroyo government, a big, big demonstration scheduled on that day was violently dispersed and for one week, no demonstrations were allowed at all.
Now, these are, shall we say, bits and pieces of discreet laws that attempt to undercut the fundamental rights of citizens, but now an anti-terrorism bill has just recently been passed by Congress. It is ironically or euphemistically titled “Human Security Act.” It is a compilation of oppressive provisions that is patterned after other anti-terrorist legislations such as the USA Patriot Act. It was lobbied for by the US embassy and the main authors were architects of the Marcos’ martial-law regime. It permits warrantless arrests, it allows being held under police custody and interrogations for three days without any charges being filed. Even if a person has been able to avail of bail, and despite the fact the current law itself says that a person can not be detained if there is no sufficient evidence against him, under this “Human Security Act,” the person accused could be put under house arrest and prevented from using any form of communication, whether internet, telephone or whatsoever.
Worse, it sets up an anti-terrorism council which is essentially composed of the current members of the Cabinet Oversight Committee On National Security, the heads of the AFP and of the Philippine National Police, the National Security Adviser, the head of the Local Government , Cabinet Secretary--persons who have a military mindset. These people will now compose the anti-terrorism council headed by the president. And they will have the power to apply to any court to call for the illegalization or proscription of any organization on the basis of whatever they say, and so these organizations are deemed “terrorists.”
As you know, there is no anti-subversion law anymore in the Philippines--it was repealed during the presidency of Fidel Ramos. The intent was to allow the Left--Communists if you will--to enter into the legal parliamentary arena, no longer to be illegalized. Of course, armed rebels are still illegal and can be punished as rebels. But with the anti-terrorism bill, we expect that the New People’s Army and its leadership, the Communist Party of the Philippines, will be proscribed as terrorist organizations. And legal organizations or progressive organizations that are being smeared, up to this day, as front organizations of the CPP will be in practice treated as guilty by association. Or eventually, under the anti-terrorism bill, they will be proscribed as terrorist organizations.
So we are anticipating a massive crackdown after the election in May when the bill comes into effect. In addition, the president has issued Executive Order 464 which basically requires all government officials to get permission from the office of the president …
RW: (Mic problem) We start again …
CPA: Executive Order 464 was issued by Arroyo in September 2005 about the same time that the policy called “Calibrated Pre-emptive Response” was announced. Basically, Order 464 disallows any official in the executive department at any level to appear before any congressional investigation on any subject matter without getting prior explicit approval from the Office of the President. This includes military officials, police officials, officials of any of the departments under the Executive. What is the rationale for this Executive Order?
We believe-- and it has been proven that it was used--it is being used by Mrs. Arroyo to prevent any kind of investigation by Congress of any corruption, scam, any illegal use of government funds, any involvement of high government officials in election fraud, or any act of entering into any kind of agreement that undermines national sovereignty--like the agreement entered into by the national security adviser with a US private company to lobby Congress in a campaign to change the constitution of the Republic of the Philippines.
In other words, this order is designed not just to stifle but prevent from the outset any kind of relatively independent investigation into the shenanigans of the government. And the idea here is to deprive the opposition and the progressive movement from being able to utilize any issue that can spark public disaffection with government and possibly spark public outrage and massive protests against the government.
RW: Carol, what’s your analysis of the ongoing counter-insurgency plan…Oplan Bantay Laya. I understand there are two phases.
CPA: No…the government recently announced Oplan 2-- Operation Plan Bantay Laya 2-- which is actually not a phase but a new Oplan along the same lines. Basically, Oplan Bantay Laya 1, which started in 2002 if I am not mistaken, the period for the implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya 1 just ended, and they have not been able to achieve the objectives of that counter-insurgency program…That is why they have re-issued it under Oplan Bantay Laya 2. It is essentially the same, it has the same objectives and features as previous counter-insurgency programs; they are patterned after the counter-insurgency programs of the US military that were tried out in Vietnam, for example. And in Latin American countries, dubbed as the secret “dirty war” in Latin American countries.
These counterinsurgency schemes are simple to understand. They basically utilize military forces to clear an area of guerilla activity and then to hold that area by means of destroying the political infrastructure and support of the guerillas in that area and introducing socio-economic alleviation programs and basically turning the population away from supporting the guerillas. But this model of counter-insurgency has failed and it has been proven incapable of achieving its objectives in destroying the armed revolutionary movement and the support of its mass base. However, it is now being re-cycled by the current government with a distinct and very brutal, very vicious component and that is the systematic targeting of progressive groups and activists for the purpose of intelligence gathering, harassment, surveillance and eventual filing of trump-up charges of rebellion and other criminal activities. Or worse, these concerned citizens or groups are set up as targets for death squads that are under the direction and control of the military.
This is the most reprehensible, the most terrible, aspect of this new counter-insurgency program in that it fails to stem the tide of armed guerilla activity. It is being turned against non-combatants, civilian populations and mass organizations of the poor and exploited, who by means of the legal arena, by means of the protest movement and by entering into Congress through the elections, are pushing a progressive agenda. The Arroyo regime’s objective is to annihilate this kind of legal progressive opposition to the government--to incapacitate it by basically killing people or putting them in jail.
RW: From what we gather, the influence of the military is quite pronounced. Would you have any figures how many military people are currently placed in strategically high positions in the government?
CPA: There are figures but, sometimes, we stop counting. The trend is clear. For example, there was supposed to be a clamor to put civilians at the head of the national defense department, but now it is occupied by an ex-general. The telecommunications portfolio is held by an ex-general, also the department of--many generals are now serving as consultants or undersecretaries in the Office of the National Security adviser. Many of them are also in the Department of Interior and Local Government, they are spread out. And Mrs. Arroyo clearly is employing retired generals who, after retirement, are immediately assigned to civilian positions-- either as sinecures or as strategic locations--to put them into strategic control for the administration.
Because it is a beleaguered government, an illegitimate government, the Arroyo regime is reviled by a majority of the people. All the surveys show that people want Arroyo either to resign or be removed from power. We have a government that is more and more relying on the military and police to stay in power as well as the support of the United States, the business community. And as it holds on to power, it becomes more and more tenuous. It will rely more and more on the armed forces, that is why she is giving them all the money and all the leeway... Arroyo has clearly made a policy of impunity for any kind of infraction of the generals… not only with respect to violations of human rights but also massive corruption in the military. In other words, Mrs. Arroyo is being propped up by the military that may soon devour her if she does not watch out.
RW: Do you feel harrassed in your daily activities?
CPA: Yes, even during the time of Marcos, especially in the later years of the Marcos dictatorship when the mass movement, the guerilla movement and the international public opinion had turned against the Marcos dictatorship, if you have the support of the church, or if you are a professional…let us say you are known in the international human rights community, you have some kind of mantel of protection. But now the government appears to be …very defiant of all of these considerations in making its decisions about implementing a counterinsurgency program that is bound to generate a lot of protests, and a lot of …there would be lot of political fall-out on the basis of this program. So that makes us very, very vulnerable. Either you would be taken out by a death squad, a death squad that is not necessarily politically sensitive or even mindful of political consideration before they pull the trigger. Or else, you are set up for criminal charges, a situation that can keep you in jail until you are old and grey and are hardly a political threat to the government. So we feel insecure, we are threatened and we try to find ways to minimize the risks but, yes, we are very, very vulnerable.--###
E. SAN JUAN, Jr. was recently a fellow at the Rockefeller Study Center in Bellagio, Italy, and Fulbright Professor of American Studies at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium. He was also a fellow of the Center for Humanities, Wesleyan University, and a visiting scholar of the Academic Sinica, Republic of China, Taiwan. His recent books are Filipinos Everywhere (IBON), In the Wake of Terror: Class, Race, Nation, Ethnicity in the Postmodern World (Lexington Books), US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines (Palgrave Macmillan), and BALIKBAYANG SINTA: An E. San Juan Reader (Ateneo de Manila University Press). He is on the editorial board of Atlantic Studies, Left Curve, Amerasia, Nature Society & Thought, Cultural Logic, KritikaKultura, and other international scholarly journals. He is a member of American PEN Center, American Civil Liberties Union, and the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.