Is martial law really behind us?

Community News & Features Oct 1, 2004 at 4:05 pm

By Edwin C. Mercurio

TORONTO –U.S. politicians like then Vice President George Bush, Sr. could say “We love your adherence to democracy,” to praise dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the height of Martial Law.
Except a lot of Filipinos don’t see it that way.

Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown in a massive outpouring of anger during the 1986 “EDSA Uprising” by the broad alliance of Filipinos tired and disgusted with 20 years of US-Marcos dictatorship. But the question remains: Is Martial Law really behind us?

“After four presidents, has the Human Rights situation in the Philippines improved in any way?” thus began Rev. Sharon Rose Ruiz Duremdez, visiting National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) General Secretary in a symposium held on Sept. 21 at the Fireside Room of Trinity-St. Paul United Church in Toronto.

Ms. Ruiz-Duremdez spoke about the continuing struggle against repression in the Philippines under the administration of incumbent President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

According to Ms. Duremdez “in June 2004, KARAPATAN, (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) reports a total of 3,150 cases of human rights violations involving 171,369 victims, 18,636 families, 73 communities and 240 households. These violations were mostly directed against peasants, trade union members, urban poor, Muslims, indigenous communities and other sectors critical of government and its policies. Forty eight leaders and members of Bayan Muna (People First) and leaders of party list organizations were killed during this period.” Fourteen human rights workers of KARAPATAN were also murdered since April 2001.

Summary executions, forced disappearances, rape, torture, aerial bombings, food blockades, strafing, secret killings and forced evacuations are happening on a nationwide scale under the present regime of Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo. The Philippines is also one of the most dangerous places in the world for working journalists with many vocal media personalities killed under the GMA government.

“When you compare the brutality of the Marcos regime and Macapagal-Arroyo’s there is not much difference. Amnesty International (AI) recently came out with a report that says forms of torture unseen before are now resurfacing under President Macapagal-Arroyo. There seems to be a culture of impunity as the incumbent president continues to implement policies such as globalization and deregulation that make RP a safe haven for foreign investments,” she said.

“RP is the fourth largest country receiving military aid from the U.S. The military aid, in the form of guns, bombs, bullets, warplanes, tanks, trucks and other military hardware, aims to make the AFP an effective killing machine and an effective tool for suppressing dissent. With P4.9T deficit, GMA is the most heavily indebted among all presidents and tops the list of public debt in Philippine history. She has, however, succeeded in creating an atmosphere and environment where people are losing hope and turning into other alternatives. The Communist Party of the Philippines is widely seen as an alternative by the masses since GMA is not providing for their needs. Not only the masses. Even within Congress itself, disgruntled members of the Philippine Congress tie up with Bayan Muna and party list representatives who have a clear perception of where the country is going and offer a clear program for the benefit of the vast majority of Filipinos.”

UN Charter of Rights and Freedom

The Philippines is a signatory to the UN Charter of Rights and Freedom, but the provisions, she said, are not being observed.

“There is a continuing and worsening attack on civil liberties. Based on the number of victims and curtailment of freedom we can conclude the UN Charter of Rights and Freedom are only scraps of paper in the eyes of our government and don’t see the light of day. We undertook education campaigns for the promotion of human rights but it seems the government has no idea about this. Rights are violated one after the other” she added.

“After the first round of negotiations between the Philippine Government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), an umbrella organization of the CPP-NPA, both parties signed a joint agreement known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Laws (CARHRIHL), organizations were tasked to monitor human rights violations. Many human rights workers participated in documentation of human rights violations.

However, we don’t see any movement from the government and military to seriously address, ensure, promote and defend human rights,” she said.

Mining, Ttribal peoples and Mindoro

Ms Duremdez also pointed to the apparent connections between human rights abuses, mining and militarization in the countryside, particularly affecting indigenous communities, to the entry of foreign mining corporations .

The island province of Mindoro is where the Canadian Mining Company ? Crew Development Corporation has a proposed mining project covering over 9,700 hectares . The mining project is widely opposed by the local people, indigenous community leaders and organizations, including the local government, NGOs, people’s organizations and churches. Several of the 30 victims of summary executions in Mindoro were known to be opponents of the mine. Crew Development Corp. and Mindex Corporation, a Norwegian firm recently merged. Toronto Ventures Inc (TVI) based in Vancouver has a concession in Canatuan Town and its activities are strongly opposed by native communities and community organizations because its mining operation threatens the tribal villages, poses a long term pollution problems on their lands, fishing and hunting grounds and the ecological balance.
“These mining exploration’s operation is no different from other mining operations. In many of these explorations the operators create a large hole in the ground. After an exploration phase is concluded they just leave and don’t rehabilitate the area and leave entire villages vulnerable to landslides destroying land and the livelihood of the indigenous people. It paves the way for a whole cycle of bastardization of the tribals’ land ownership. Entire communities and villages are exposed to environmental depredation. Values and culture are eroded by the influx of foreigners and outsiders. Thus, it also creates a cultural problem as well.”

Physical and psychological trauma

“In evacuation centres, the whole psyche of tribal peoples reacts negatively to displacement and relocation. They can’t go back to their communities and sense the loss of their ancestral homes, traditions and centuries-old cultural heritage. Especially in Mindanao, tribals fear loss of their lands, hunting grounds, livelihood and long term survival. This is a very complicated problem and NGOs and community organizations who assist and support the tribals are themselves victims of military atrocities.”

Mindoro became a key target when the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a nationwide “war against terrorism” in conjunction with George Bush’s “war against terror”. Aerial bombings, combat operations, forced evacuations were conducted by the AFP and paramilitary forces to protect Filipinos from “alleged terrorists”. However, more and more Filipinos are convinced that it is the government using AFP soldiers and troops with arms and funding from the U.S. government who terrorize and commit violence and atrocities against the people. In Mindanao and the entire archipelago, the Macapagal-Arroyo regime uses the AFP to drive away tribals from their ancestral homes, silence any opposition and pave the way for the exploitation of natural resources and minerals by foreign firms. Nine battalions of troops of the Philippine Army are presently deployed in Mindoro, an island province in Mindanao where mineral deposits are abundant.

“GMA’s ‘War on Terror’, ” says Duremdez “is not about making it safe for Filipinos. It is not about creating an atmosphere where people can express their sentiments but a safe haven for U.S. investments and continued exploitation of the country’s natural resources. By playing up on the fear of the people, GMA is creating fear and foreboding just like Marcos.”

Ms Duremdez concludes that GMA stands for Grinding poverty for Filipinos, Misplaced priorities or looking elsewhere not to the needs and welfare of the people, and Absolute subservience to foreign interests and George W. Bush