Progressive Groups Urge Aquino to Scrap Oplan Bantay Laya and Its Operating Principles


By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

Human rights groups and UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston have long established that the former Arroyo government’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya is one of the main reasons for the spike in extrajudicial killings because it did not distinguish between “combatants and non-combatants.” However, President Benigno Aquino III refuses to acknowledge this.

In the past two weeks, five activists have already been killed. Fernando Baldomero, 61, a municipal councilor in Lezo, Aklan and Bayan Muna provincial chairperson, was shot dead in front of his son July 5. Pascual Guevarra, 78, was killed by a lone gunman inside his house in Bgy. San Isidro, Laur, Nueva Ecija. His grandson was also wounded. Three days after, on July 9, public school teachers in Masbate, Mark Francisco, 27 and Edgar Fernandez, 44, were gunned down in separate incidents.

After the elections, the killings never stopped. On May 19, Jim Galez, a member of Bayan Muna in Panabo City in Davao was shot dead. On June 2, union leader Edward Panganiban was killed on his way to work in Sta. Cruz, Laguna. On June 14, Karapatan member Benjamin Bayles was also killed in Himaymalayan City, Negros Occidental. On June 22, human rights lawyer Ernesto Salunat was slain.

Except for the case of Bayles, no perpetrators have been identified and arrested.

Human rights group Karapatan criticized President Benigno S. Aquino III for not issuing a categorical statement to the Armed Forced of the Philippines (AFP) to put a stop to the extrajudicial killings.

Aquino recently said that “this is not a policy of our administration but in general, we can’t say that this is an abuse because of a state policy in the past.”

“President Aquino said we do not have a policy on extrajudicial killings, we do not tolerate that—that’s plain and simple,” Edwin Lacierda, palace spokesperson, also said.

“By accepting that evaluation [by the military and police], Aquino practically sanctioned the killings,” Satur Ocampo, president of Makabayan coalition, said in a press conference Thursday.

“By saying that many of the killings are motivated by personal reasons and not by a state policy of the past, Aquino is effectively turning a blind eye to the gross and systematic human rights abuses started by the Arroyo regime and continuing under his watch. Is Aquino now implying that the killings of hundreds of activists are unrelated and merely coincidental since there was and is no state policy?” Renato Reyes, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said in a separate statement.

Former Gabriela Women’s Rep. and Makabayan vice president Liza Maza said Aquino, without the benefit of any investigation, has already absolved the military of any culpability to the killings.

Counterinsurgency Policy

“It is unthinkable that Aquino is unaware of the military’s policy on extrajudicial killings of activists. The recent killings bore the DNA of Gen. Jovito Palparan’s shock and terror tactics,” Anakpawis party-list Representative Rafael Mariano said.

Palparan, the favorite general of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has been branded as “The Butcher” for the trail of blood he left behind in areas where he was assigned. Palparan was vocal in maligning leaders and members of people’s organizations and party list groups as “enemies of the state,” a key feature of Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL).

Mariano noted that the areas where the recent killings occurred, Panay, Central Luzon, and Bicol, are among OBL’s priority areas.

“All these, coupled by AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Ricardo David’s renewed three-year deadline to end the insurgency are strong indications that Oplan Bantay Laya is still being implemented,” Mariano said. The OBL has 13 priority areas in seven regions.

According to Karapatan, Arroyo’s OBL has taken the lives of 1,205 unarmed individuals, mostly activists and members of progressive people’s organizations, in its bloody campaign to end the insurgency.

“Oplan Bantay Laya is the worst and most brutal of these campaigns as it specifically targets legal organizations and personages resulting to a staggering body count and brazen impunity in nine years of the Arroyo regime and it is still in place,” Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chairperson of the human rights group Karapatan, said.

Ocampo said until Aquino orders a stop to the OBL or the operating principles behind the OBL, the killings would continue. Under the OBL, the state bears no distinction between the armed revolutionary groups and leaders and members of people’s organizations and party list groups. Ocampo noted that Aquino did not issue any categorical statement whether to uphold the OBL or not.

“The way he dismisses the issue,” said the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in a statement sent through email, “Aquino seems not to have read or comprehend the report prepared by Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings Philip Alston, which clearly points to the military as the perpetrator of the killings in accordance with policies of the ruling state and orders from those in authority.”

Alston, who visited the country in February 2007, identified the counterinsurgency program as the culprit behind the killings. Alston said in his initial report dated April 18, 2008:

“One response has been counter-insurgency operations that result in the extrajudicial execution of leftist activists. In some areas, the leaders of leftist organizations are systematically hunted down by interrogating and torturing those who may know their whereabouts, and they are often killed following a campaign of individual vilification designed to instill fear into the community.”

Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino said Aquino should first acknowledge that there is a state policy. Casino likened Aquino’s statement to the AFP’s theory of personal grudges and so-called “internal purges” within the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Alston also dismissed the AFP’s theory. “The military is in a state of denial concerning the numerous extrajudicial executions in which its soldiers are implicated. The military’s insistence that the “purge theory” is correct can only be viewed as a cynical attempt to displace responsibility,” he wrote in 2008.

“Now, Aquino himself is also in denial,” said the CPP.
“It is still the same military in denial mode speaking on the current spate of extrajudicial killings going on in the country,” Enriquez said of AFP spokesman Brigadier General Jose Mabanta’s blanket denial of the AFP’s involvement in the recent cases of extrajudicial killings.

Urgent Recommendations

Mariano urged Aquino to implement Alston’s recommendations, including the elimination of extrajudicial executions from counterinsurgency operations. Alston also said: “as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, the President must take concrete steps to put an end to those aspects of counterinsurgency operations, which have led to the targeting and execution of many individuals working with civil society organizations.”

Makabayan coalition called on Aquino to put a stop to the practice of AFP and PNP of tagging and vilifying legal progressive organizations as communist fronts and state enemies; implement administrative measures and sanctions that will enforce command responsibility and ensure the policy of “no harassment, abduction and killings” of activists; stop political persecution, through the filing of fabricated chargers, against leaders and members of legal progressive parties and organizations and instead focus on prosecuting and arresting masterminds and perpetrators of extrajudicial killings of activists including former Defense secretary Norberto Gonzales and former Major Gen. Jovito Palparan; and, strongly support the passage of proposed laws on command responsibility, enforced disappearances, and Marcos and Arroyo human rights victims compensation bills.

The coalition also said that the Truth Commission should include in its investigation human rights violations committed during the previous administration.

But the CPP noted that Aquino, by absolving the military, “is setting the stage for a coverup of grand proportions”, said the CPP. “The fascist masterminds of these killings, including Gloria Arroyo, her top military and security officials, those now in command, and their US advisers, are being let off the hook.” “Aquino is even now showing how dependent and afraid he is of the military forces under his jurisdiction. He worries that if he would seriously pursue the demand for justice for the victims of gross human rights violations, he will be on a collision course with the AFP. He will thus be incapable of pursuing justice for the more than one thousand victims of extrajudicial killings in the past, and the growing number of victims under his rule,” added the CPP.

In a letter to Aquino dated July 12, Civicus (World Alliance for Citizen Participation), called on Aquino to release the 43 health workers or the Morong 43; to investigate the AFP’s conduct in the arrest, detention, interrogation, and general treatment of the 43 health workers; to end impunity for state authorities who commit human rights violations by bringing those guilty of torture and other abuse to justice according to Philippine and international law, among others.

“CIVICUS urges you to heed the warning signs for a perilous future should the state of Philippines’ human rights continue down its current path,” the group told Aquino. “The Philippine people have demanded an end to the corruption and abuses by electing you as their leader and your promises give hope for a brighter future of human rights protections. CIVICUS encourages you to demonstrate your commitment to rule of law and human rights by bringing justice to victims of human rights violations to their families and showing that the new Philippines is no longer a place for such abuses.”

US Role

“If indeed President Noynoy Aquino says that extrajudicial killing is not a policy of his administration, then he must scrap the OBL and desist from embarking on a counter-insurgency program to supposedly defeat the insurgency, as what his predecessors did, only to end up fueling more fire into the problem they vowed to end. I hope he learns his lessons well and heed our calls for him to disallow the penchant for embarking on counter-insurgency programs that only victimize the poorest sections of the Filipino people who need most the government’s protection and nurturing,” Enriquez said.

Enriquez said it is their bitter experience that once counter-insurgency programs are implemented, violations of human rights occur. “Civilians are the ones who bear the brunt of human rights violations,” she said.

Ocampo said the central issue in the spate of killings is the culture of impunity which started during the Marcos dictatorship and carried over by the succeeding administrations.

Enriquez also noted that the Philippine government’s counterinsurgency programs were directly imposed by the US Government since its aggression in the country in the early 1900’s. “All counterinsurgency programs of all administrations are thus recycled programs meant to silence the people’s resistance to break free from poverty resulting from government policies that benefit not the Filipino people but those of foreign, especially American, interests,” Enriquez said.

Enriquez noted that the OBL is anchored on the ‘war on terror’ by the US Bush government. “Thus, the victims of OBL are now labeled as “terrorists or communist-terrorists” or supposed supporters of such.”

Bayan also assailed the continuing US support for the counter-insurgency policy. “What is even alarming is that the AFP, despite its numerous human rights abuses, continues to receive huge military aid from the US government. This is another reason why the counter-insurgency policy remains unchanged. Not only does it have domestic support, it enjoys support from Washington,” Bayan’s Reyes said.

Recently, the Philippine Army received a $8.9 million grant from the US, under the US Excess Defense Articles Program. The Philippines is one of the biggest recipients of US military aid. (Bulatlat.com)

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