Human Rights Developments
Both government and insurgent forces of the New People's Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, were responsible for human rights violations during 1990.53 The Philippine military, together with the official paramilitary force, CAFGU (Citizens Armed Forces -- Geographical Unit), engaged in summary executions and disappearances of suspected supporters of the NPA and the Muslim insurgency, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Suspected rebels were frequently arrested without warrant, held for long periods in solitary confinement or incommunicado detention, and occasionally tortured.
The NPA continued to execute, without the benefit of fair judicial process, civilians suspected of being informers or abusers of workers or peasants. It also abducted several civilians during the year, including foreign nationals, and held them hostage in an effort to obtain money or a change in government policy. Both the executions and hostage-taking were in violation of international humanitarian law governing civil conflict.
Developments on the legal front were not encouraging. The infamous Presidential Decree 1850, left over from the Marcos years, which gave military courts jurisdiction over all military personnel, including those accused of human rights offenses against civilians, remained in effect, despite congressional efforts to repeal it. For the most part, prosecutions of human rights offenders got nowhere, although 16 officers were finally convicted in September of the 1983 murder of President Aquino's husband, Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. In July, the right to be protected against arbitrary arrest, guaranteed by the 1987 Constitution, was eroded when the Supreme Court ruled that suspected communists could be arrested without warrant.
The use of CAFGUs and other, unauthorized paramilitary "vigilante" groups in military operations and in attacks on suspected leftists continued to be cause for concern. CAFGUs were implicated in several cases of disappearances and summary executions during the year. In one case, Antonio Buenavista, 42, a fisherman, disappeared on January 7 in the village of Santa Cruz, Hagonoy town, in the province of Bulacan, after refusing to join the CAFGUs (such refusal is often interpreted as sympathy for the rebels). His abductors were former rebels who surrendered to the government and were active in helping build the local CAFGU forces. At the end of the year, Buenavista was still missing. His was only one of several dozen disappearances reported during the year.
CAFGU members were also implicated in the November 22 execution of three members of a workers' theatre group in Murcia, Negros Occidental. Aguinaldo Morfil, Reynaldo de la Fuente and Ferdinand Pelaro had been in Murcia campaigning on labor issues together with members of the militant union, the National Federation of Sugar Workers. The three men were reportedly stopped by CAFGUs, taken to the nearby Hacienda Varela and shot at point-blank range. Their bodies were then taken and dumped near the auditorium in Murcia's town center.
Regular forces were responsible for one particularly brutal massacre. On August 3 in New Passi, Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat, 19 civilians ranging in age from one to 72 were executed by members of the 38th Infantry Battalion based in Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat, apparently in revenge for the MNLF killing of two soldiers some weeks earlier. When soldiers approached the house of Muslim leader Kabagal Manindiala, 72, his son, Kamlong, tried to flee. Kamlong was shot and killed; then, according to press accounts, the other 18 members of the extended family were taken outside and executed. The dead included six children, aged one to 13; a woman who was six months pregnant; and three people over 65. The commander of the 6th Infantry Division, under whose command the 38th Battalion operates, dismissed the battalion commander, two other officers, and 12 regular soldiers after the incident; it was not clear if they would be formally prosecuted.
Unlawful detention continued. As of July, three relief workers had spent eight months in incommunicado detention, despite efforts by their families in the courts to get the military to acknowledge their detention. In November 1989, a community health worker named Josefa Padcayan and two companions had been arrested by members of the 17th Infantry Battalion in Zinundungan, Cagayan in northern Luzon while trying to deliver relief supplies to villages in the Zinundungan Valley affected by intensive military operations. Their families brought a habeas corpus petition before the Regional Trial Court, but key respondents failed to appear after three hearings, the last in June 1990. The court made no effort to try to visit detention facilities at the base camp of the 17th IB to ascertain whether the three workers were there.54
Human rights monitors continued to receive death threats, apparently from military-linked groups. Human rights lawyer Solema Jubilan, a member of the Free Legal Assistance Group in Kidapawan, North Cotabato, received such threats by telephone on May 22. In August, Sister Aquila Sy and other religious workers in Negros Occidental were threatened by military-backed organizations, reportedly for their efforts to press the military to reveal the whereabouts of three men suspected of being couriers for the NPA who disappeared on July 6.
The NPA engaged in its share of abuses. Many of the assassinations carried out by its hit squads, the so-called "sparrow units," were not legitimate military targets by the terms of international law. On June 5, for example, retired Col. Laudemar Kahulugan, the security chief of Purefoods, Inc, in Quezon City, Manila, was shot and killed on his way to work by a sparrow unit. Col. Kahulugan had been the Philippines Constabulary chief in Davao City between 1984 and 1986 at a time when the NPA there was successfully infiltrated by the military.
US soldiers and workers at the six US military installations in the Philippines became NPA targets as well, again in violation of international law since the US is not a direct party to the hostilities. On May 13, two US servicemen were shot dead in Angeles City, near Clark Air Base, the night before bilateral negotiations on the future of the US bases were to begin.
Although hostage-taking is also specifically prohibited by the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the NPA continued to abduct civilians and military personnel alike. NPA guerrillas kidnapped a Japanese aid worker on May 29 and US Peace Corps volunteer Timothy Swanson on June 13; both were released unharmed on August 2. The NPA said Mizuno's abduction was a warning to Japan, apparently to discourage it from providing aid to the Philippines government. The aim of the Swanson abduction was not clear, although it may have been the removal of the Peace Corps, which the NPA characterized as "an instrument of the Central Intelligence Agency to support counterinsurgency in the Philippines." All Peace Corps volunteers did in fact pull out of the Philippines following the abduction.
The saga of PD 1850, which human rights organizations in the Philippines have been trying to get repealed since the day President Aquino took office, continued. In December 1989, the Philippines Congress passed a law repealing the decree, but President Aquino vetoed it in January. A serious coup attempt had just taken place, and the new law would have allowed the coup plotters to be tried in a civilian court. The President submitted an alternative bill to the Congress, together with the veto. The bill, introduced in Congress as Senate Bill 1468, was approved on May 30 by the Senate but the House had not acted by the end of the year. Under it, civilian courts will try members of the armed forces and CAFGU when civilians are either victims or codefendants, except when the crimes committed are service-related, such as desertion, mutiny and sedition.
The Bush administration was preoccupied with negotiations over US military bases in the Philippines for most of 1990. The Philippines continued to be one of the largest recipients of US aid ($455 million was requested for fiscal year 1991), but the adminstration remained reluctant to criticize the Aquino government for human rights abuses or to urge that its military aid be made conditional on an improved human rights record.
On October 1, the Manila Chronicle reported the arrival of the first of 22 advanced helicopter gunships bought with foreign military sales credits over the objections of US Defense Department officials. (The officials wanted the Philippines military to use leftover Hueys instead of the new McDonnell Douglas MG520s that they purchased.) The gunships were to be used in counterinsurgency operations, as a deterrent to NPA ambushes, according to Philippine military spokesmen. "The enemy won't know it's there till it's on top of them, that's how quiet it is," one officer told the Chronicle. Given the extent of military abuses and the paucity of prosecutions, the Bush administration could have used such a sale as leverage for pressing the Aquino government to bring military officers accused of human rights offenses to trial.55
The Work of Asia Watch
In May, Asia Watch issued a news bulletin on disappearances in the Philippines. In August, it published The Philippines: Violations of the Laws of War by Both Sides, which was the first report by any human rights organization to address abuses by the New People's Army as well as the government and to explain the provisions of humanitarian law in the Philippines context. The report was widely publicized and discussed in the Philippines. Shortly before it was published, Asia Watch staff met with staff of the House Appropriatons Committee to urge that language expressing concern about human rights abuses be inserted into the 1990 appropriations bill. It was not.