NOTEBOOK: Desperate times

Community Opinion & Analysis Apr 16, 2005 at 2:05 pm

OUR page one this issue is screaming with a banner story and plastered with photos of either people protesting killings or those who had died by political assassination.

I personally agonized over the decision of making this issue look like a statement of protest against the current political killings in the Philippines. There are numerous stories and articles about these killings in this issue and some reveal in gory detail how lives were snuffed out, how some are abducted and tortured. Even in prisons, human lives are taken like they’re worth nothing. (See how Muslim inmates are killed, on page 9.)

There is no lack of protests coming from Filipinos themselves, from the grassroots masses to the 75 congressmen and senators, some even coming from traditional critics of the Left; and from international groups like International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), Reporters Without Borders, International Federation of Journalists(IFJ), and individuals like the Director General of the UNESCO.

The numbers are alarming: 49 leaders and members of Bayan Muna alone had been killed since 2001, 10 abducted and still missing; 66 journalists slain since 1986. Others could not live normal lives for fear of abduction, torture and death. Priests, lawyers, lower public officials, and community leaders are not spared.

A pattern has clearly emerged in most cases: military and para-military personnel and units are identified by many as the perpetrators; witnesses are killed too; police-conducted investigations amount to nothing and no suspects convicted and punished.

Reporters Without Borders, IFJ and IAPL and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) have invariably called it “culture of violence” or “culture of impunity” encouraged by “government inaction.” Let’s call it what it is — the Philippine military under the direction of the Arroyo presidency is out to wipe out the legal Left opposition. The existence of the Powerpoint presentation used by the military titled “Knowing Your Enemy” naming legal organizations like the NUJP, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, Philippine Independent Church, and United Church of Christ, among the 30 “communist fronts” indicates who the targets of the military are. The rest of the 30 are surely the Left legal mass organizations. No need to look closely to see that all sectors that suffer under and oppose the unjust social system in the country are considered enemies of the state.

The IAPL has gone a step further. It said the U.S. government is directlylinked to these killings since it wants to shift its forces from Okinawa to the Philippines and it finds the opposition of Left and other organizations a serious obstacle.

What has become of this state then? Can it still be distinguished from the banana republics of south and central America of yesteryear when the military dictatorships reigned supreme and where people’s lives, especially those who oppose their oppression, are taken without any moral compunction?
I find it personally revolting to watch these events unfold in my home country in this time and age. My mind goes back to the year 1969 when as a 22-year-old I found myself in Dumaguete City with a group of student activists from Manila. We were there to organize the students of in the city and to conduct social investigation in the rural areas of Negros Oriental.

With some of us having had experience writing in campus newspapers, we put up a community newspaper. In one major story, we uncovered the blatant land-grabbing cases by landlords in southern Negros Oriental that victimized peasants who were barb-wired in their villages with their work animals. That was our fifth erratic issue within a period of five months. The local military started to harass us, putting us under surveil-lance and throwing rocks at our house.

It didn’t take long before the six young staff members of our Dumaguete Times, including myself and my 20-year old wife, were arrested by the military and linked to a military encounter in faraway Cadiz, Negros Occidental. We were thrown in underground, dark, stinky cells, intimidated under interrogation, physically manhandled.

We were detained for almost two months, first in Dumaguete, then Cadiz, then Bacolod. We were released after the National Press Club, under the presidency of Tony Zumel, campaigned for our freedom and raised funds for our bail. This happened 36 years ago, three years before Marcos declared martial law. Now, the sit-uation must have become so desperate they’re just killing people like they’re shooting game animals.