Arroyo’s ‘End-Game’ Strategy Spells Disaster to Civil Liberties and the Peace Process — IID

Jun. 21, 2006

All avenues to the peaceful resolution of the armed conflicts that are now raging throughout the country must be pursued relentlessly more particularly by a government that pledged to root out the problems of insurgency by socio-economic means, a non-government organization based in Davao City today said as it calls on the Arroyo regime to effectively rein on the growing list of extrajudicial killings around the country.

The Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) is increasingly alarmed over the unabated extrajudicial killings apparently directed against Left activists or militants since Arroyo’s ascendacy to power in 2001. The recent of which was the killings of the Vigos couple, who were NGO workers, in Kidapawan City and of one Tito Marata, a provincial officer of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and member of the Farmers for Agrarian Reform Movement, in Oroquieta City. According to an independent tally, the total number of activists or militants killed under Arroyo’s watch is now 233.

According to a newspaper account, an unidentified gunman was overheard by a witness telling Marata Giingnan na bitaw ka nga hunong na sa imong trabaho (I already warned you to stop your work) before he shot him four times to the head and face. The 26-year-old Marata was riding a tricycle when the gunman flagged it down, told the driver to get off and then fired at the church worker. The lone gunman fled on a blue Honda motorcycle, in the pattern of previous assassinations of activists who were gunned down by motorcycle-riding killers.

Just barely two days after the Oroquieta City killing, in Kidapawan City, two motorcycle-riding men shot dead a couple actively involved in NGO work. According to MindaNews, killed were George Vigo, 33, project officer of the Mindanao Youth Leadership Program of the Community and Family Services, International (CFSI), a Cotabato City-based NGO dealing with rehabilitation of internally displaced persons; and his wife, Maricel, 36, part-time media relations officer of Rep. Lala Talino of North Cotabatos first district and since early this year was area coordinator of an NGO delivering solar services to villagers in remote areas.

The Vigos couple, both former journalists and co-founders of the Federation of Reporters for Empowerment and Equality (FREE), did part-time media work prior to their killing. The couple left behind four children, three sons aged 13, 9 and 7, and an adopted daughter, aged 20. George hosted Tingog sa Kabatan-unan (Voice of the Youth), a program of the CFSI aired over DXND-AM of the Notre Dame Broadcasting Corporation every Monday noon while Mazel hosted every Sunday noon, Kalihukan sa Kongreso (Congress Affairs), a program of Rep. Talinio also aired over DXND-AM.

As the crack of assassins’ gunshots reverberate louder everyday, the Arroyo regime has stepped up the campaign against so-called communist front organizations by allocating an additional P1-billion for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to fund its expanded war against communists with the end-view to break the backbone of the Asia’s longest-running communist insurgency. Obviously, the extrajudicial killings victimizing activists or militants may be part of a furtive security plan allegedly called Oplan Bantay Laya, which aims to stamp out the insurgency during Arroyos term.

The killings have been going on with blatant impunity that even the government-based Commission on Human Rights called on the Arroyo government to put a stop to the killings saying that the government is ultimately accountable for these murders because it has a duty to protect its citizens. Earlier, the prestigious London-based Amnesty International made a similar call for the government to disband the armed groups operating with (official) acquiescence. Both calls has apparently fell on deaf ears on a government so calloused and insensitive to the people’s cry for respect of civil liberties as it instead attempted to narrow further our democratic space with all imaginable instruments like the so-called calibrated pre-emptive response policy, the issuance of Presidential Proclamation 1017, and a unabashed crackdown, both legally and physically, on key figures and personalities associated with militant groups and the Left.

This clearly indicates that the Arroyo regime has finally embraced the traditional military doctrine of solving worsening socio-economic problems of the country with an iron fist. That as the Arroyo regime is hounded by an unresolved question of legitimacy, it has constantly veered towards right-wing elements for salvation. We are seeing the triumph of the reactionary strain in the armed services eclipsing the march of the soldiers who had put much faith in the party-list innovation and battles within the confines of the parliament in the atmosphere of freedom.

By doing so, the Arroyo regime is like a falling star that has been sucked into the black hole of traditional militarist solutions to the country’s run-away problems. The regime appears to be incorrigible in believing that the fight against the Left is the glue that binds for Arroyo to stay in power at all cost.

Reading the public mood and temperament, there is no mistaking of a growing unease among the people over the Arroyo regime’s authoritarian tendencies with right-wing underpinnings. Clearly, the Arroyo regime wants to silence all critical segments in the society by equating protest actions and opposition with political extremism and fanning the old anti-communist scare. The game plan is to prevent the people from returning to the streets, which might lead to another Edsa, by increasing the risk in one’s reputation as being labeled leftist or communist or to be silenced by the barrel of the gun.

Under this climate of repression, the Initiatives for International Dialogue joins the mounting calls on the Arroyo regime to put a halt to these alarming and growing number of killings systematically directed towards activists, NGO workers, militants, and those perceived to be communists. The pattern of all these killings has left an indelible mark of blood right at the very doorstep of Malacanang. This chilling pattern of deaths directed against so-called enemies of the State will practically close all avenues for the peaceful settlement of the armed conflict and peace talks. We are of the view that by doing nothing, the Arroyo regime stands to be instrumental in closing the option of the poor classes to use Congress and an arena and vehicle to effect social, political, and economic reforms through their party-list representatives. It also closes the parliament of the streets as an avenue for the people to seek redress of their grievances as provided for in the 1987 Constitution.

And if we ourselves do not rail against these brazen atrocities, there may be no one left to protest when we become the next victim.

Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID)
Davao City, Philippines.
June 20, 2006

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