Youth Under Siege


Youth organizations have been targets of the government’s counter-insurgency campaign. Besides killings and enforced disappearances, other forms of political repression are hurled against young activists.

BY JEFFREY OCAMPO
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Contributed to Bulatlat
Volume VIII, Number 32, September 14-20, 2008

Youth organizations have been targets of the government’s counter-insurgency campaign. Besides being targets of killings and enforced disappearances, youth activists also suffer from other forms of political repression.

According to the human rights group Karapatan, out of the 910 killings, 23 victims come from the youth sector.

In 2006, Karapatan documented the most number of cases of extrajudicial killings. Three of its most distressing cases had young activists as victims.  Students Rei Mon Guran and Cris Hugo, both from Sorsogon, Bicol, were victims of summary execution during that year. Guran and Hugo were both regional coordinators of the League of Filipino Students (LFS) when they were shot by their assailants in separate incidents. Guran sustained four gunshot wounds after a gunman fired at him inside a bus, which had a stopover at Bulan, while Hugo was shot dead by two motorcycle-riding men while walking home with his professor. In Negros Occidental, Anakbayan organizer Peter Angcon was killed allegedly by military agents.

These young activists were youth leaders known for their sharp criticisms of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration. The national leadership of Anakbayan and LFS held Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the military directly responsible for the killings. The groups say that all evidences point to the military as the perpetrators, and Arroyo is the commander-in-chief.

Recent reports of various youth groups indicate that the efforts of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration in quelling dissent among the people, including the youth, have not ceased. State agents are employing surveillance, harassment and other tactics against young activists.

Executive order 731: of “hideous intentions”

Last June 10, an executive order (EO) was publicly announced by the Macapagal-Arroyo administration but only after the president had signed it three days earlier. Entitled “Activating and Reorganizing the Energy Operations Board into a Contingency Task Force Under the National Food and Energy Council”, EO 731 aims to monitor the national security situation amid continuous oil price surges within the past months and the people’s active response against it.

The task force has Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita as its head and Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes as its operations officer. Both retired military men are close allies of the president. Meanwhile, the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) is directed to “issue timely intelligence assessments of political and security developments” and “provide advice on matters affecting national security.” Its current commander Brigadier General Romeo Prestoza is known to be a former member of Military Intelligence Group (MIG21), a special military unit for technical intelligence.

Critics of the administration point out the “hideous intentions” behind the EO 731. For the members of progressive youth organizations, this is but a camouflage that legitimizes military intelligence operations within academic institutions. The ulterior motive is to spy on student activities, instill fear among the youth and discourage students’ active involvement in national affairs.  Further, they question the inclusion of the Commission on Higher Education in the task force.

Anakbayan National Chairperson Ken Ramos links recent cases of military presence in school premises and the series of political harassments experienced by students to the issuance of EO 731.

Military presence

Ramos added that youth activists are also being singled out and harassed during  “educational forums” held by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in different schools. During the said forums, progressive student organizations are branded by the AFP as “front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).”

The AFP singles out the LFS, Student Christian Movement (SCM) and Anakbayan.  The AFP, through the Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) in universities, has conducted these forums at the Philippine Normal University (PNU), Centro Escolar University (CEU), Jose Rizal University (JRU) and University of the Philippines, Diliman (UPD).

Part of these educational forums is a film-showing of a documentary, which tackles the stories of young people “deceived by the CPP-NPA-NDF.” A “former NPA member” in the documentary named Ka May pinpoints the LFS and Anakbayan as legal fronts of the NPA. She then discourages students from joining these organizations saying that her life has been destroyed because she joined these groups, which led her to join the NPA. The documentary ends with a slide show of names and information about “other student-victims of the deceptions of the CPP-NPA-NDF.”

SCM counters this accusation by saying that red baiting has been the “dirty tactic” of the AFP to prevent youth and students from joining their organizations. This ploy, however, will not stop their organizations from moving on with their tasks of exposing the realities of the times and presenting alternatives to the current system, they say. “If the AFP thinks that they can fool youth and students with this forum and documentary, they are wrong,” the group adds.

Meanwhile, these youth groups attest to the presence of military in schools and universities. Their claim is confirmed by a recent incident at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), Sta. Mesa. Four identified members of the Philippine Army were cornered by a mob of enraged students last August 29 after they were caught in the act of spying on the activity being organized by student groups. The messages stored in the cellular phone recovered from the military agents confirmed the intelligence operations the four men were carrying out.

In a statement released by PUP Student Regent Sophia Prado and Ramos, they said that “the presence of military units are meant to monitor student actions, pinpoint the organizations and sow fear inside the campus and ultimately disrupt the student movement.”

Cases of harassment escalate

Recent reports from different youth groups show that there have been alarming cases of harassment among their members. On July 13, TANGGULAN Youth Network for Civil Liberties and Human Rights convened a meeting to gather these reports.

One of the most alarming cases of harassment was experienced by a student of Jose Rizal University (JRU). Ella, a freshman Hotel and Restaurant Management student was reportedly harassed last July allegedly by a military agent who enfolded her in his arms and pointed a knife at her stomach. The incident happened twice, first at Damca in Sta. Mesa and then along Shaw Boulevard. In the second incident, the victim screamed, making her assailant run away.

Meanwhile, a LFS UPD chapter member was discussing national issues with a student she was recruiting when the student asked if they could go somewhere far so they could talk about the matter well. As soon as they were away, the student called “a friend” and said that the person on the line was from ISAFP.

Another case happened to a UP Manila student who, aboard a bus, was threatened allegedly by a military agent who sat beside her. Shaken, the student was not able to do or say anything except “‘Wag po” (Please, don’t).

TANGGULAN along with the victims of political harassments and different youth groups would file a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights on Sept. 15.

Silencing voices, killing “the hope”

In the provinces, repression experienced by youth and students is more blatant and often includes grave harassments and killings.

Last year, Criselda Josena of Tandem, the official student publication of the University of Northern Philippines (UNP), was charged with robbery and subsequently with theft by the publication’s adviser without sufficient evidences. According to her colleagues, she is now suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome after she was continuously summoned by the university’s administration.

Meanwhile, a student of Polytechnic University of the Philippines branch in Lopez, Quezon was recently charged with rebellion without enough evidence to justify the charge.

Resistance

Anakbayan, LFS and SCM along with various student councils, student publications, student organizations and individuals condemn the “fascistic means of the Mrs. Arroyo” in silencing groups and individuals critical of her administration. In her “desperate attempt to stay in power, she makes no qualms in using extra legal means to control the people,” the groups said.

The youth groups are to mount protest actions in the following weeks to counter the “heightened political repression.”  Bulatlat

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