by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.
Philippines Cultural Studies Center
Patronized by the war-mongering Bush administration, the corrupt militarist Arroyo regime in the Philippines continues its systematic repression of journalists, writers and media personnel to preserve its brutal oppression of millions of workers, peasants, women, and professionals. Ten percent of 90 million Filipinos are forced to work abroad as domestics or contracted labor. Despite over a thousand extra-judicial murders and abductions of dissenters and activists, popular resistance remains strong and resolute. This dialectic will persist, given the profound class and sectoral contradictions dominating what William Blum calls the United States’ “oldest colony” (Killing Hope, 2004) a neocolonial formation typical of the plundered global South.
The Tagaytay Five: A Sample of the Carnage of Human Rights
Mass resistance recently won the freedom of Filipino writer Alex Pinpin, together with four other co-activists known as the “Tagaytay 5.” They were released last August 28 by order of Judge Edwin Larida of the Tagaytay City Regional Trial Court for lack of evidence. Arrested by police and army units on April 28, 2006, they were physically beaten up, interrogated without legal counsel, and threatened with electrocution and summary execution. Alleged to be “captured ” members of the marxist-led New People’s Army (NPA), the five civilians endured 859 days in a horrendous prison cell in Camp Vicente Lim. When asked to sum up his experience, Pinpin replied in a memorable understatement: Prison “will make your mind decompose.”
Pinpin’s companion, Aristides Sarmiento, commented on their plight: “The rebellion case against the Tagaytay 5 should have been dismissed as early as Nov. 26, had the Department of Justice through the Office of the City Prosecutor of Tagaytay City not persisted in its legal bamboozling and hoodwink tactics by using the non-criminal act of subversion to prove the criminal charge of rebellion to prolong our unlawful detention so as to convict unarmed militants. The Department of Justice’s tactic of trying to use subversion to prove rebellion smacks of Cold War rabid anti-communism and McCarthyite witch-hunting to cripple legitimate people’s organizations advocating for genuine social change…..This is Arroyo’s and the Philippine National Police’s ‘legal offensive’ in aid of the US “war on terror” which victimizes unarmed militants and activists by blurring the distinction between armed revolutionaries and the unarmed populace” (Noel Sales Barcelona, “Tagaytay 5: We’ll Continue the Fight,” Bulatlat, Aug. 31-Sept 6, 2008).
Under the brutal and corrupt regime of de facto president Gloria Arroyo, KARAPATAN, the local human-rights monitor, reported a total of 903 extra-judicial killings and 193 enforced or involuntary disappearances, from January 2001 to March 31, 2008. A terrifying climate of impunity prevails. The victims range from priests, lawyers, journalists, women, workers, peasants, teachers. students–Filipinos from all walks of life. In 2007 high-profile report, United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston confirmed a systemic pattern of politically-motivated killings and abductions committed by government forces (both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police) as part of ongoing counter-insurgency plans that have cracked down on legitimate dissent and militarized rural communities, causing havoc, displacement, torture, hunger and massive destruction of life and property.
Scholars in the Philippines and abroad characterize the situation as symptomatic of “fascist terrorism.” These unconscionable violations of human rights, including social and cultural rights, have been condemned by a sizeable world public represented by the World Council of Churches, International Parliamentary Union Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, and International Labor Rights, among others. Alston concluded that the Philippine military is “in a state of denial” regarding its complicity in the political killings, and that its claim of attributing them to the communists–continued Alston–is “a cynical attempt to displace resposibility” (Statement to UN Human Rights Council, 27 March 2007; see update, UN General Assembly document, A/62/265).
Outraged by such reports, a number of US lawmakers questioned the integrity of the Arroyo regime’s use of US military aid (the Philippines is the 4th largest recipient in the world). Consequently, restrictive language was added to the current US Appropriations Bill, withholding $2 million in aid contingent on Arroyo’s implementation of Alston’s recommendations. To date, however, not a single erring soldier or policeman as been charged or convicted. Recently Dr. Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, chairperson of BAYAN, pointed out that Arroyo’s servility to the US “war on terror” methods has pushed her “to rely mainly on a military solution to the [two insurgencies, the communist and the Moro peoples] rather than address the roots of the armed conflict by instituting basic social, political and economic reforms” (“Streetwise,” Business World, June 14, 2008).
Targetting Media Workers
Arroyo’s record of impunity in the murder of journalists and media people is also unprecedented. Since her assumption into office in 2001 uo to 2007, 60 journalists have been killed–9 every year. About 70 out of 82 journalists killed since 1986 perished in the early years of Arroyo’s rule.
Last month, two journalists engaged in denouncing government corruption were assassinated: Dennis Cuesta, program director of radio-station DXMD-RMN in General Santos City, Cotabato; and Martin Roxas of DyVR station, Roxas City, Capiz. International protests, from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and France-based Reporters Without Borders, reinforced that of the Philippine group, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP); its secretary-general, Rowena Carranza-Paraan, accused the Arroyo government of inaction, fostering the “culture of impunity” that is universally cited as Arroyo’s signature claim to notoriety. It is a culture, Carranza-Paraan insists, nurtured by the government’s “inaction, apathy and its outright attempts to stifle press freedom” (Bulatlat August 10-16, 2008).
This scandalous record of atrocities is difficult to downplay. When journalist Bonifacio Gregorio of the weekly Dyaryo Banat of Tarlac was shot on July 8, 2003 just after the murder of radio broadcasers Sonnu Alcantara and Edgar Damalerio in 2002, , the IFJ called on Arroyo to stop these attacks on media workers. IFJ member Gerard Noonan wrote of the case of Eleazar Binoya, radio commentator in General Santos City, Cotabato, who was gunned down for criticizing the local mayor (“Silencing the critics,” http: //www.abs- cbnnews.com/ storypage.aspx?SoryId=2518). The 66 murders documented by the IFJ Mission in 2005 concluded that the journalists were killed because “they rubbed up local strongmen, politicians and police chiefs the wrong way.” However, it was the culture of violence and impunity, and the failed judicial system under the Arroyo regime, that fostered and condoned these crimes, despite the bureaucrat’s refrain that “neutralizing” critics was not official policy.
One case dating back to 2005 may be cited: the murder of Mr. Ricardo Uy, a businessman and chair of BAYAN MUNA party-list chapter in Sorsogon City. (Most victims of Arroyo are affiliated with the nationalist party BAYAN-MUNA, which has been stigmatized by the regime as a front for communist “terrorists,” following U.S. State Department policy.) Uy anchored a radio program at DZRS Sorsogon which strongly criticized the militarization of the province. For that reason, he was labeled by the military as a “communist supporter and recruiter of the NPA”; he was demonized in leaflets and propaganda materials of the Philippine Army in their radio programs and other civic activities.
“Most Murderous Country” At Last
In the same year, UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura condemned the murder of journalists Romeo Sanchez and Arnulfo Villanueva by para-military agents. World Association of Newspapers noted that such killings resulted from media people “exercising their profession” (http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=26425). Confronting this phenomenon, the New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) identified the Philippines as “the most murderous country for journalists since 2000, followed by Iraq, Colombia, Bangladesh and Russia.” They are silenced “in retaliation for reporting on government corruption, crime, drug trafficking, or the activities of rebel groups” (Harry Roque, “The Proposed Philippine Anti-Terror Bill,” 2007).
CPJ executive director Ann Cooper urged governments in those countries to “exercise the will to solve these crimes” not only in the name of justice but also of “the collective right of society to be informed” (CPJ Press Statement, 2 May 2005; open letter to President Arroyo, 15 May 2006; http://www.cpj.org/protests/asia/phil15may06pl.html>). Likewise, Reporters Without Borders, a European group, exhorted Arroyo to give attention to the unsolved murders of ten journalists, among them Edgar Amoro, Rolly Canete, Marlene Experat,George Benaojan, Rolando Morales, Armando Pace, George Vigo, Maricel Vigo, and Ely Binoya. Andrew Marshall noted that the murder rate of journalists in the Philippines is second only to Iraq (“A Philippine Shame,” Time Asia, Nov. 27, 2006 <http://www.time.com/time/asia/magazine/article /0.13673.501061127-1561201.html>)
One can cite here several attempts by the Arroyo fascist state to intimidate journalists. In 2005, the state-run National Telecommunications Commission and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (Association of Brodcasters of the Philippines) tried to curtail press freedom through the denial of airtime to views critical of the Arroyo regime. The Philippine Center of the International PEN, through its national scretary Dr. Isagani Cruz, protested the censorship even after the lifting of emergency proclamation 1017.
During the contrived “emergency,” police raided the office of oppositional newspaper The Daily Tribune, harassed the broadsheet Malaya, and suspended non-conformist programs in television and radio. Seth Mydans of the New York Times observed that Arroyo was waging “a campaign of intimidation against journalists” through various pressures involving “warnings, watch lists, surveillance, court cases, harassment lawsuits and threats of arrest on charges of sedition” (New York Times, April 3, 2006).
In July 2007, the Justice Secretary Gonzalez warned media people that they were subject to wiretapping and surveillance for “co-mingling with terror suspects.” The NUJP blasted this as a “serious threat to press freedom and the people’s right to know,” and added: “We still remember Gonzalez’s “snide dismissal of the murder of journalists as the probable offshoot of drunken sprees or extramarital affairs” (Bulatlat July 8-14, 2007).
Doing Wrong To Do Right
On Feb. 19, 2007, the Arroyo-dominated Philippine Congress passed the Human Security Act, also known as the “anti-terror law.” Jacqueline Park, Asia-Pacific Director of the IFJ, called for its repeal because it poses a serious threat to “the safety of journalists and their right to freedom of expression…enshrined in the Philippine constitution” (Inquirer.net, July 25, 2007). Given the regime’s hostility to the press, the Act is bound to target media workers, as well as activists from legal organizations whom the military and police have tagged as “fronts” of the NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines, both stigmatized by the U.S. State Department as terrorist organizations. Aside from the Tagaytay 5, a woman community teacher Angie Ipon, 62 years old, fell victim to this state policy when she was kidnapped on March 8, 2005, and subjected to toture, sexual assault, and isolation.
Another incident of state repression involves the mutilation of a mural to celebrate press freedom designed for the National Press Club building. Jose Torres Jr., the chair of the NUJP, said that the alterations were “not only an aesthetic outrage, they constituted censorship, an act that should have been anathema” to the National Press Club,” the main association of Filipino journalists and media professionals (Nestor Burgos Jr., “Breaking News,” Inquirer.net, Nov. 8, 2007). In December 2007, government censors of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) gave an X rating (that is, “not fit for public viewing”) to three films critical of the Arroyo regime. Representatives Lisa Maza and Luzviminda Ilagan noted that the MTRCB decision continues the repressive climate of the Marcos’ iron-fisted regime when the board was established (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Dec. 19, 2007). National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera linked the censorship of the films Mendiola and A Day in the Life of Gloria Arroyo to the defacement of the mural made by the Neo-Angono Artists Collective, revealing the true marks of “state fascism” (Noel Sales Barcelona, “National Artist Condemns Censorship,” Bulatlat, Dec. 2-8, 2007). The imbecilic fatuity of the MTRCB has become infamous among Filipino media experts, as Nathan Lee attests to in his article “Censoring Documentaries” in PJR Reports (September 2006).
Is the Pen truly Mightier than the Sword?
The dialectic of challenge and response continues unfolding in this part of southeast Asia. In response to the unmitigated repression, the progressive officers of the Amado V. Hernandez Resource Center based in Quezon City, Philippines, drew up a “Manifesto of Unity on Freedom of Expression.” The Manifesto has quickly gathered wide support throughout the country and abroad. The Manifesto reads in part: “Writers now are troubled by the suppression of the freedom of the press along with the freedom of assembly and speech. We maintain that our commitment to writing is our right as an individual that must never be violated by any entity. We believe that our right to write corresponds with the people’s right to know. With the people, we fight all forms of harassment, surveillance, confiscation of materials, arrest, detention, and killings done in the name of protecting whatever interests that run opposed to the writer’s freedom to express” (News release, April 28, 2006). Other groups active in defense of the constitutionally mandated freedom of speech and assembly are Artists for Democracy and the Immediate Ouster of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Sine Patriyotiko, Southern Tagalog Exposure Multi-Media Collective, Art for the People, People’s Chorale, Concerned Artists of the Philippines, BAYAN, Contend, and the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, among others.
Despite the release of Pinpin and the Tagaytay 5, as well as the vigorous civil-society refusal to acquiesce to state violence against writers, journalists and media persons, the ethos and milieu of impunity persists, with the support of the Bush administration and its neoconservative ideologues. Journalist Alexander Martin Remollino noted recently the dismissal of four widely-publicized amparo petitions by the Court of Appeals as a sign of moribund regression. This followed the court’s insistence that the arrest and interrogation of media practitioners who covered the Manila Peninsula incident were justified.
Atty. Harry Roque, legal counsel for the journalists, observed that the police arrests violated not only the Philippine Constitution but also Article 19 of the UN International Convention on Civil and Political Rights which the Philippines has ratified (Bulatlat, July 160-12, 2008). He was backed by several groups, among them the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, and the College Editor’s Guild of the Philippines, who argued that the court ruling not only confirmed the “methodical and conspiratorial nature” of press censorship but also the corruption of the judiciary in conniving with the executive branch to violate the civil, political and human rights of citizens.
Last April, the CPJ announced that the Philippines earned a top ranking honor in its Impunity Index, a standard that measures the safety and protection of journalists worldwide. The Philippines was competing with conflict-torn Iraq, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Colombia (Joel Simon and Sheila Coronel, “Impunity Inhibits Journalism in the Philippines,” <http://www.pinoypress.net /2008/04/30/ impunity-in-the-philippines/>).
What is to be done? Renewed vigilance, popular mobilization, and world-wide democratic resistance in multifarious forms are needed if we want the UN Charter of Human Rights and the universal principles of civil, political and social rights embodied in various UNConventions to prevail not only in the global North but also in the global South, as well as in what Bush considered the second battlefront in the U.S.-led war on terrorism after Aghanistan, the Philippines. –##