Different regime, same story: Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan continues tradition of political repression in the Philippines
A number of people’s organizations’ leaders have been recently targeted for political repression under the Philippines’ Aquino regime.
As reported by the Filipino peoples’ rights group Karapatan (“Just like Arroyo’s OBL, Aquino’s OpBay attacks leaders of people’s organizations, rights defenders,” www.karapatan.org, 17 January 2013), the leaders have been implicated in a fabricated murder charge for the alleged killing of a military official during a 2010 encounter between soldiers and communist New People’s Army rebels.
“These forms of attacks, through the filing of fabricated charges, against human rights defenders are escalating, at a time when Aquino’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan (OpBay) is on its last year of Phase 1 implementation. As the “architect” of OpBay Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista today takes his post as AFP Chief of Staff, his assumption to office has already indicated the escalation of human rights violations under the Aquino administration,” Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said.
According to Palabay, 28 members of indigenous and progressive groups have been arrested and detained on false accusations since December 2012.
A protest action was held in Mendiola on January 18 by people’s organizations calling for political prisoners’ immediate and unconditional release and denouncing worsening repression in the Philippines.
Photo credit: Compgeo.98
Human Rights in the Philippines, or the absence of these rights, are better understood through the prism of colonialism. Over the last 400 years the Filipino people have suffered under first 330 years of Spanish colonialism and then a further 45 years of American rule. Under Spanish colonialism, many nationalists were killed simply for advocating independence. The Spanish period was followed by a particularly brutal period of “pacification” when hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were killed resisting integration into the new American Empire.
Following “independence” from the United States in 1945, the Philippines served as a testing ground for counter-insurgency operation. Throughout the 1950s US advisors assisted the now independent Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) with counter-insurgency operations.
With the declaration of Martial Law in 1972, human rights violations were institutionalised as an integral element of the political control strategy of the Marcos dictatorship. Unlawful arrest, political detention and summary execution became standard practices for the AFP in their struggle against popular democratic forces.
The end of the Marcos dictatorship in the mid-1980s however did not put an end to human rights violations. Under Aquino, new political detainees again begin to fill the jails. In addition, military operation intensified creating tens of thousands of internal refugees throughout the country, in the late 1980s. On another ominous note, extra-judicial killing continued and leading activists were assassinated by military elements under the Aquino Presidency.
During successive regimes in the 1990’s human rights violations continued to be a problem but on a reduced level. This changed dramatically with the 1998 declaration of War against the Moro peoples in Mindanao-Sulu by the Estrada government. This launched another wave of internal refugees and witnessed massive violations of the rights of Moro peoples through arbitrary arrests, political detention, and extra-judicial killings.
These phenomenon have become more widespread since Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power. As the army pursued a more vigorous counter-insurgency strategy, human rights became the first casualty (under the guise of the “war on terror”). Members of legal political organizations such as Bayan, Bayan Muna and the human rights group Karapatan were targeted for arrest and in some instances summary execution. Under the Macapagal-Arroyo regime nearly 2,000 members of civil society organizations were assassinated and hundreds more were imprisoned on trumped up charges. International investigations of the situation by UN special rapporteur Philip Alston made direct connections between the Armed Forces and the death squads responsible for the killings of the governments political opponents.
Under the government of Rodrigo Duterte human rights have once again become a major concern. The war on drugs has resulted in an estimated 27,000 deaths, the governments botched siege of Marawi in 2017 resulted in 1,000 civilian refugees and more than 350,000 internally displaced persons. The declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao has produced an occupation of Lumad communities and a spike the the killings of Indigenous, Human Rights, Environmental and Labour activists. In December 2018 he gave instructions to the military to annihilate the Left and to kill activists in a broad range of opposition civil society organizations. Human Rights organizations fear the future in this context.