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Blood on Aquino’s hands

(My first article for blogwatch.ph)

Given the grim human rights situation under the preceding administration, it was demanded of president Noynoy Aquino to make an immediate and categorical denouncement of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, human rights violations and a scrapping of Marcos-type policies implemented by Gloria Arroyo.

Aquino could have prevented the gruesome murder of Bayan Muna member and town councilor Fernando Baldomero last July 5. The incident when a father was shot dead in front of his 12 year-old child could not have happened if the president chose to take concrete steps over rhetoric and tokenism, and swift action over indecision.

He could have, for instance, included in his inauguration speech a strong statement condemning extrajudicial killings and disappearances, committing fully to uphold human rights and punish perpetrators of killings and dissappearances. (An activist noted that Aquino did not mention the words “human rights” in his speech.)

He could have, at the very least, made it clear to the military that he will not tolerate violations of human rights, abductions and killings committed in the conduct of “counter-insurgency” operations, something he failed to do during his address to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

He could have followed the advise of human rights groups to immediately trash Oplan Bantay Laya, the counter-insurgency program of the past administration which counts among its targets unarmed civilians and activists. He could have immediately ordered the release of Morong 43 and other political prisoners to signal the end of arbitrary arrests and torture, as well as the end of brazen acts of violation of human rights and dignity.

But Aquino did not do any of these, we don’t know for what reasons. Maybe he was too busy, maybe he was afraid to antagonize the military, maybe he didn’t want to spoil his moment of victory and remind the public of killings and human rights violations as it might bring back images of massacre in Hacienda Luisita involving him and his family. One thing can be said: his indecisiveness and his inability to deliver a strong statement on human rights killed Baldomero in front of his child that Monday morning.

Stop bang-bang, not just wang-wang

Only three days after his inauguration, a farmers camp-out in Mendiola calling for genuine land reform was violently dispersed. Tents and other materials were confiscated, and at least 38 were arrested for “obstruction.” No condemnation was issued by Malacanang.

The farmers now ask: is this the “matuwid na daan (righteous way)”? Is this what is to be expected from a government promising that the people will be its boss, and that it will champion the cause of the poor? Or does the new government in fact intend to continue the policies of the past administration with regard to respect of political rights and civil liberties?

The call of people’s organizations to “stop bang-bang, not just wang-wang”, strikes on the impotence of Aquino’s initial posturing: it focuses on token measures, and tends to undermine the more essential problems and the need for concrete solutions. While there is an all-out campaign against “wang-wang,” why, for instance, are there no pronouncements of the same intensity and conviction condemning political killings, enforced disappearances violation of people’s rights?

“We do not tolerate”

Looking at the government’s response a day after the killing, one finds cause to worry. Instead of the commander-in-chief himself coming out to strongly condemn the killing, it was left to presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and other surrogates to do the talking.

Their line basically: “It’s not our policy. We do not tolerate. We will investigate. Of course we condemn.” The statement is not only “lame and inadequate,” it smacks of Arroyo PR department BS. The same statement could have come from the mouths of Gary Olivar or Ignacio Bunye.

Followed by a statement of the military that it “might be purging,” and together with malicious insinuations that the killings were “intentionally done to embarrass the new administration,” their statements basically sounded more like denial of responsibility than condemnation.

And again, that’s-so-Arroyo. It would be “stupid and irresponsible” for the new administration to accept the military’s “purging” excuse, when clear responsibility points to the military. If you tolerate this kind of reasoning propagated by Jovito Palparan, you give a virtual go signal to state-sponsored abductions and killings.

Unsolicited advice

Aquino should heed the adviceof Conrado de Quiros, columnist and one of those who pushed for his bid for presidency. De Quiros called on the president to scrap the war of attrition policy and arrest those responsible for the policy: Norberto Gonzales, Jovito Palparan, Archie Intengan and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Ultimately, Aquino should realize that blood is in his hands and should take full responsibility for Baldomero’s death. He should commit to taking more meaningful steps to send a strong message against the killings and rights abuses. Hopefully, he does this before another one is killed under his watch.

Update (July 13, 2010): After the writing of this article, four more activists were killed. On July 9, Pascual Guevarra, a 78 years old, Anakpawis partylist member, was killed in Nueva Ecija. On the same day, Mark Francisco, 27 years old, and Edgar Fernandez, 44, both members of ACT Teachers partylist were killed in Masbate. On July 12, Josephine Estacio, 46, ACT Teachers partylist member, was killed in Bataan.

In a recent Armed Forces of the Philippines command meeting, Noynoy Aquino told reporters that “in general, we cannot say that these abuses are the policy of the state,” and that “many of these killings are due to personal feuds.”

This statement effectively ignored the findings of United Nations special rapporteur Philip Alston, and other international bodies which pointed to the military’s counter-insurgency policy targeting unarmed civilians as culprit for the murders. This turned a blind eye to the “gross and systematic human rights abuses started by the Arroyo regime and continuing under his watch.” Sadly, this could this be an indication that we will not be seeing an end to the killings soon.


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