[News] The Philippine People Are Under Attack from Washington — and Their Own Government

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 4 10:50:25 EST 2015


  The Philippine People Are Under Attack from Washington — and Their Own

By Vanessa Lucas and Azadeh Shahshahani , December 3, 2015 .

Lumad marchers in the Philippines (Photo: Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, SJ / 

The Filipino people are under attack.

The Lumad, for example — an indigenous group in the southern Philippines 
— are being forced to leave their ancestral lands and the source of 
their livelihood to make way for mining operations and land conversion. 
Resistance is deadly.

In the month of August alone, there were two massacres that left nine 
dead. On August 30, the army and paramilitary forces occupied the 
Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development, 
an award winning school for indigenous youth. The director of the 
school, Emerito Samarca, was taken by force and was found dead in a 
classroom the next day. He had an ear-to-ear slit across his throat and 
gunshot wounds in his chest.

The same day Samarca’s body was found, Dionel Campos — the chairman of a 
Lumad organization campaigning against mining — and his cousin Datu 
Juvillo Sinzo were executed in front of hundreds of residents in Lianga. 
Sinzo, who was separated from the crowd, was tortured by paramilitaries. 
They smashed his arms and legs with a wooden stick before shooting him.

Karapatan, a Filipino human rights organization, has raised the issue of 
the Lumad peoples at the United Nations Human Rights Council. But given 
the culture of impunity in the Philippines — often exacerbated by 
implicit support from the U.S. government — activists are pursuing other 
means to hold the perpetrators of crimes like these to account.

To help give voice to the victims of human rights violations, for three 
intense days this summer we participated in the International People’s 
Tribunal on Crimes Against the Filipino People. The tribunal was 
convened in Washington by human rights defenders, peace and justice 
advocates, lawyers, jurists, academics, people of faith, and political 
activists. It was held at the behest of victims of human rights 
violations to shine a spotlight on official crimes and hold the 
responsible governments accountable.

Evidence supporting the allegations of rights abuses — including 
testimony from over 30 lay and expert witnesses — was provided to an 
international panel of prosecutors led by former U.S. attorney general 
Ramsey Clark and considered by an international group of jurors from a 
range of disciplines. The tribunal found the Aquino regime responsible 
for systematic violations of the civil, political, economic, social, and 
cultural rights of the Filipino people. The conveners also held the U.S. 
government responsible on account of its military intervention, economic 
and environmental exploitation, and imposition of neoliberal 
globalization on the Philippines.

Here’s what we learned.

*Violations of Civil and Political Rights*

The first group of charges focused on gross violations of civil and 
political rights, including extrajudicial killings, disappearances, 
massacres, torture, and arbitrary arrests and detention, as well as 
other brutal and systematic attacks on the basic democratic rights of 
the Filipino people.

A key driver of the most egregious abuses has been the U.S.-inspired 
counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan 
<http://www.humanrightsphilippines.net/tag/oplan-bayanihan/>. Launched 
in 2011 by Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, it’s supposedly a 
program to fight communist guerillas, but in practice doesn’t 
distinguish between civilians and combatants. The reality is that Oplan 
Bayanihan is used to target any individuals or groups the government 
classifies as a threat to its agenda.

Amaryllis Hilao Enriquez, a former Marcos-era political prisoner, 
described Oplan Bayanihan as a “repackaging” of the U.S.-led “war on 
terror” for the Philippines. The operation was devised with the help of 
the U.S. government 
<http://fpif.org/u-s-aid-human-rights-violations-philippines/>, which 
provides technical assistance, military aid, and occasionally actual 
U.S. military personnel.

Following Enriquez’s testimony, the jurors heard personal accounts of 
gross human rights violations.

Maria Aurora Santiago, for example, recounted the death of her partner, 
Wilhemus Geertman 
— a Dutch lay missionary who was targeted by the Philippine military due 
to his involvement in peasant organizing and advocacy. He was the 
executive director of Alay Bayan-Luson, a grassroots organization 
involved in disaster preparedness, mitigation, and victim assistance, 
especially to poor communities. Geertman was also involved in numerous 
environmental campaigns against mining, logging, and dam projects. 
Accused of belonging to the New People’s Army — the armed wing of the 
Communist Party of the Philippines — he was shot to death in his office 
by military and police assets.

Attorney Maria Catherine Salucon, a founding member of the National 
Union of People’s Lawyers, then opened the jurors’ eyes to the fact that 
even lawyers working on human rights cases are subjected to open 
harassment and intimidation. Like Geertman, Salucon — who represents 
clients in cases involving violations of human rights and political 
prisoners — has been subjected to red tagging and vilified as a member 
of Communist Party.

One day, Salucon and her paralegal William Bugatti had lunch with 
relatives of their detained political prisoner clients. During the meal, 
Bugatti told Salucon that he was taking precautionary security measures 
and advised her to do the same. Later that night, he was gunned down by 
government security forces.

After learning of Bugatti’s death, Salucon was told by a client — a 
civilian asset for the Philippine National Police — that the PNP was 
investigating her to “confirm” that she was a “red lawyer.” Salucon also 
learned she was being secretly followed by military intelligence 
officers. Salucon took the matter to the courts and was granted a 
protective order that allowed her access to military records pertaining 
to her, but the military continues to deny conducting any surveillance 
activities against her at all.

Melissa Roxas, a Filipina-American activist, then testified concerning 
her May 2009 abduction and torture at the hands of Philippine military. 
She was captured while conducting health surveys organized by a social 
justice alliance.

Roxas, who has also conducted fact-finding missions into rights abuses, 
and two Filipino volunteers — John Edward Jamdoc and Juanito Carabeo — 
were abducted by approximately 15 men armed with high-powered rifles, 
some of them wearing ski masks or bonnets. They were handcuffed and 
blindfolded and forced into a van.

Roxas was held for six days at a military camp, most of which she spent 
in handcuffs and blindfolded, and accused of belonging to the New 
People’s Army. She was subjected to food deprivation, forced into stress 
positions, beaten, choked, suffocated with plastic bags, and repeatedly 
smashed headfirst against a wall. She was lectured on the evils of 
communism by torturers who threatened her with death and tried to force 
her to sign documents confessing that she was a militant. Despite her 
ability to describe some of her abductors and torturers in court, no one 
has been arrested or charged for her abduction and torture.

*Violations of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights *

The second group of charges concerned an array of abuses against 
Filipinos’ economic, social, and cultural rights — especially through 
the imposition of neoliberal economic policies, various attacks on the 
livelihoods of ordinary people, the transgression of their economic 
sovereignty, and the destruction of the environment.

The scope of these violations was put into perspective by economist Jose 
Enrique Africa, who presented an overview on the general socio-economic 
situation of the Philippines. Notably, he pointed out, around two-thirds 
of Filipinos — some 66 million people — are poor, living on just $2.80 
or less per day. However, the wealth of the 10 richest Filipinos has 
more than /tripled/ under the Aquino administration.

While ordinary Filipinos struggle to make ends meet, foreign investors 
favored by the government are making out like bandits. Foreign 
investment makes up 40 percent of approved investment in the Philippines 
over the last decade and a half, he said — not even counting dummy 
corporations that would increase those numbers. According to Africa, the 
equivalent of some /98 percent/ of domestic production is exported for 
the benefit of foreign firms and economies. Trade and investment 
liberalization have made the Philippines one of Asia’s most open 
economies while destroying its national wellbeing.

Mining companies in particular boosted their profits some 115 percent 
between 2010 and 2014. Yet the Philippines doesn’t benefit from its 
mineral resources. In the last five years, dozens of communities and 
thousands of families have been temporarily or permanently displaced — 
often violently — to give way to mining projects, especially in Mindanao.

Despite the Philippines’ rich natural resources and large, productive 
labor force, the country has become a service and trading economy more 
than a producing economy. The manufacturing sector, at a little under a 
quarter of gross domestic product, has contracted to as small a share of 
the economy as it was six decades ago. And agriculture, at 10 percent of 
GDP, is the smallest it’s been in history. The result has been 
widespread joblessness and poverty.

Africa noted that the U.S. is the biggest foreign investor in the 
Philippines, and American corporations often dominate local firms.

Unsurprisingly then, U.S. corporations are among the biggest direct 
beneficiaries of the neoliberal economic policies favored by Washington. 
For example, the Philippine government has hailed the creation of 1 
million jobs in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector, 
especially call centers. However, BPOs are dominated by foreign 
investors, with U.S. companies alone providing up to 31 percent of 
foreign equity.

Another example lies in the country’s drive towards privatization, which 
is likewise supported by the U.S. Power privatization has made 
Philippine electricity the most expensive in Asia, even more so than in 
Japan or South Korea. Water privatization has made its water the third 
most expensive after Japan and Singapore. According to Africa, U.S. 
firms account for 45 percent of the Philippine electric power system’s 
imports and 10 percent of its water equipment and services imports.

Among the U.S. government’s more egregious interventions, Africa 
testified, is the Arangkada Philippines Project, or TAPP. Funded with $1 
million from USAID since 2010, the project has lobbied Philippine 
policymakers on hundreds of regulatory issues. Administered by the 
American Chamber of Commerce and the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce 
in the Philippines, TAPP is among the most aggressive entities seeking 
to change the 1987 Philippine Constitution and remove the last legal 
impediments to foreign capitalism in the country. Meanwhile there are at 
least five other USAID economic policy intervention projects 
cumulatively worth $74 million.

Following Mr. Africa, multiple witness took the stand to describe how 
these investment policies have negatively affected the Filipino people — 
particularly in agriculture and agrarian reform (or lack thereof), the 
situation of the urban poor, the displacement of indigenous peoples, 
attacks on unions and labor rights, human trafficking, illegal rate 
hikes for mass transportation, the privatization of health care, and 
other violations of economic, social, and cultural rights.

Rafael Mariano testified about an incident concerning Hacienda Luisita, 
a landholding of more than 6,000 hectares owned by the family of 
President Aquino (and the site of violent labor repression 
in the recent past). Under land reforms passed in the late 1980s, 
Hacienda Luisita should have been subject to redistribution to poorer 
farmers. Yet the Aquino family and its allies devised a stock scheme to 
circumvent the reforms. Small farmers took the case to the Philippine 
Supreme Court, which ordered the redistribution of vast tracts of the 
land. Yet the Philippine government’s Department of Agrarian Reform — an 
agency under Aquino’s direct control and supervision — refused to 
comply. Instead, it harassed the farmers and destroyed their crops and 
huts. To date no actual distribution has been made.

Marieta Corpuz testified about instances of land grabbing, where 
peasants and indigenous peoples are being dispossessed of their 
ancestral domains to make way for foreign investment projects. For 
example, the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone Freeport (APECO) project — 
which was supposed to transform a town in Aurora province into a 
commercial and industrial district and eco-tourism zone — is resulting 
in massive dislocations of indigenous Dumagat and Agta tribes on behalf 
of big businesses linked to a Philippine senator and his family. Corpuz 
testified that fisherfolk, farmers, and indigenous activists who have 
opposed the project have been subjected to threats, harassment, and 
extrajudicial killings.

*Violations of National Self-Determination and Liberation*

A final group of charges concerned violations of the rights of the 
people to national self-determination. This includes crimes against 
humanity against national liberation movements and dissidents, who are 
often falsely characterized as “terrorists.”

Professor Marjorie Cohn of Thomas Jefferson Law School noted that the 
U.S. war of terror — though imposed in the Philippines as early as 2002 
under the Gloria Arroyo regime — was officially codified in Manila with 
the passage of the Human Security Act of 2007, which can be thought of 
as the Philippine version of the U.S. Patriot Act. The law, which 
contains an overly broad definition of “terrorism” and harsh mandatory 
penalties — including 40 years imprisonment without parole for even 
minor offenses that could be construed as “terrorism” — can be used to 
hold dissidents indefinitely. And it allows the government to engage in 
all manners of spurious prosecutions, according to Human Rights Watch. 

The Obama administration, Cohn added, enlisted the Aquino government 
last year to negotiate the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement — a 
military basing agreement 
that could reintroduce U.S. troops to some of the same Philippine 
military facilities they were expelled from back in the 1990s. It has 
officially roped the country into the U.S. “pivot to Asia,” an effort by 
the Obama administration to encircle China through alliances with its 

“Although it gives lip service to the Philippines maintaining 
sovereignty over the military bases,” Cohn explained, “it actually 
grants tremendous powers to the U.S.” She added, “The U.S. also seeks to 
return to its two former military bases in Subic and Clark, which they 
left in 1992. These bases were critical to the U.S. imperial war in 
Vietnam. This violates the well-established right to of peoples to 

Dante C. Simbulan, a former college dean at the Polytechnic University 
of the Philippines, convincingly argued that the adoption of U.S. 
counter-insurgency techniques by the Philippine government had produced 
an array of grievous rights violations.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, 
for example, receive their training in counter-insurgency from the 
Americans. Various counter-insurgency operations, from Oplan Lambat 
Bitag and Oplan Bantay Laya under Arroyo to Oplan Bayanihan under 
Aquino, were patterned after U.S. counter-insurgency guides. Oplan 
Bayanihan, Simbulan testified, is “presented in the guise of peace and 
development. In reality, it is an operational guide to crush any 
resistance from those who work for social justice and support the poor 
and the oppressed.”


After extensive deliberations, the jury reached a verdict of guilty on 
all three counts.

The tribunal called on the defendants to stop the commission of illegal 
and criminal acts, to repair the damages done to the Filipino people and 
their environment, compensate victims and their families for atrocities, 
and rehabilitate communities, especially indigenous communities, who 
have been gravely affected by the acts of the defendants.

Considering the serious violations of international law by the 
defendants, the tribunal also called for violations to be brought before 
international bodies, including the International Criminal Court, as 
well as the Inter-American, European, African, and Asian regional courts 
in order to expose the defendants and stop their impunity.

It is time to hold the perpetrators of serious human rights violations 
against the Filipino people accountable.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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