III. Recent Military Relations with Government and Civil Society
For more than 30 years, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have been deeply involved in politics. Successive presidents, hoping to keep their hold on power, have fostered expectations of impunity by members of the military by implementing measures intended to placate restive officersincluding amnesties or lenient punishments to coup plotters and human rights violators.
The disputed results of the snap election of 1986 between then-President Ferdinand Marcos and challenger Corazon Aquino, in which Marcos was officially declared the winner despite massive evidence of fraud, led directly to an aborted military takeover by young colonels allied with the then defense minister. When the plan to topple the government and put in place a junta was discovered by Marcos and its leaders threatened with arrest, the mutineers quickly made common cause with Aquino and the Roman Catholic Church and appealed for popular supportpeople powerthat quickly propelled Aquino to the presidency.
Having come so close to power, the rebellious colonels quickly grew dissatisfied with Aquinos government and within months were plotting to topple her administration, very nearly succeeding on several occasions. But punishments for the plotters during the Aquino years were generally light, thus reinforcing impunity.
Aquino was succeeded in 1992 by Fidel Ramos, a career military officer, whose standing with the military and involvement in overthrowing Marcos to some extent helped check that impunity. He declared an amnesty for rebel soldiers, opened peace talks with communist insurgents, and presided over a period of relative economic strength and political calm.
When Vice-President Joseph Estrada, a former movie actor who had been close to Marcos, was elected president in 1998, political upheaval was again in the wind. Wildly popular with the poor majority of Filipinos for his cinematic exploits, Estrada was soon accused of corruption and immorality in office. A coalition of church leaders, the business elite, and the military again emerged to challenge him after he was implicated in a financial scandal. With Estrada still in office and impeachment proceedings against him not yet concluded, the coalition shifted, and the military moved its support to then-Vice-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and helped install her in office. Although the changeover was validated by a decision from the Philippines Supreme Court, critics questioned the constitutional legality of Arroyos assumption of the office, and her administration has been under a cloud ever since.
While Arroyo has insisted that she is doing everything possible to investigate extrajudicial killings, the campaign of killings seemed to shift into a higher gear in February 2006 after leftist political parties were accused by members of the government of allying themselves with military rebels planning to overthrow her government. In the aftermath of that coup attempt, which failed when the military hierarchy rejected overtures from rebel colonels, Arroyo declared a state of emergency and castigated a handful of leftists from legal political parties who have gained seats in Congress. Cases have been filed against a number of politicians for allegedly backing the attempt to overthrow her.
Human rights activists remain concerned that Arroyo remains beholden to the military officers who put her in power, and that they are preventing her from disciplining those in the military who may be implicated in rights violations. As one commentator told Human Rights Watch, this puts the president in a position where her ongoing survival depends on weakening the political oppositionparticularly from the vocal leftwhile feeding the loyalty of the key state players crucial to her political survival, notably, the military,1 whom she is increasingly unable or unwilling to control.
The New Peoples Army (NPA) is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which since 1969 has been engaged in an armed rebellion with the goal of establishing a Marxist state.2 Military estimates put the armed strength of the NPA at around 7,500 guerrillas,3 and the rebels are supported by a broad network of non-combatant supporters. The NPA and the CPP continue to exact what they call revolutionary justice against individuals in areas under their control, including the kidnapping and unlawful killing of those government officials, police, landlords, business owners, and local thugs whom they consider to be criminals against the people.
Such attacks on civilians constitute grave abuses of individuals fundamental human rights and are violations of the laws of war. As such, they deserve the strongest condemnation, and the Philippine government is obliged to prosecute such violations to the fullest extent of the law. However, such abuses by insurgents do not justify the military or the government committing further human rights violations through extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of any person, including members of political groups and civil society organizations that are sympathetic to the insurgents cause.
Peace talks between the government and the NPA collapsed in September 2005, following the governments refusal to seek the removal of the NPA, the CPP, and their uniting organization, the National Democratic Front (NDF), from the terrorist watch-lists of the European Union and the United States. Reports about the NPAs strength vary considerably, though in certain areas its presence can affect local security considerably.4
In June 2006 President Arroyo declared a new strategy of all-out war against the communist insurgency designed to eliminate the NPA once and for all. The CPP-NPA has done enough in setting back peace and development for more than 30 years, said Ignacio Bunye, Arroyos spokesman, at the time of the announcement. The time has come to finally defeat this threat through a combination of military operations, law enforcement and pro-poor programs.5
President Arroyo also budgeted 1 billion pesos (US$20.5 million) towards this goal, and is committing thousands more troops to the anti-insurgency campaigns in central and southern Luzon and the Bicol region. There is reason to fear that this new pressure on the military to produce results may be leading to an increase in serious violations of human rights. As one commentator told Human Rights Watch, the President giving this order to root out an insurgency thats been going on for the last 30 years creates an atmosphere within the military, where the President says we have to get this done, and we cant get it done on the battlefield, so lets get at them by other means [and] take shortcuts.6
Congressman Teodoro Casiño, a member of the left-wing Bayan Muna party, says the foiled February coup plot was also being used as an excuse to go after leftist opponents of the government out of revenge. He saw a direct relationship between the February coup plot, the June declaration of an all-out war, and the rise in political killings. [The military] have removed the distinction between combatants and those who are in civilian groups, he says.7
The Philippines has one of the largest, best organized, and most active communities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the developing world, representing a broad spectrum of political perspectives.8
Many left-wing NGOs are especially vocal in their opposition to the Arroyo administration. It is the members of such organizationsparticularly civil society groups viewed by the military as being associated with the CPP and NPAwho appear to have been targeted in the spate of political killings. For many decades, the CPP-NPA-NDF coalition have had considerable influence on many left-wing NGOs, including the establishment of new NGOs to support their revolutionary cause, and by extracting funding from supportive NGOs to further the armed rebellion.9
The relationship between such sympathetic NGOs and the CPP-NPA-NDF alliance has sometimes been contentious. Most damaging was the rift that developed within the CPP in the early 1990s between those who reaffirmed and those who rejected the Partys continued following of Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong ideology and the chairmanship of the Party by Jose Maria Sison. Many of the legal organizations who were previously sympathetic to the underground left also fragmented along similar lines, with different sides seizing different organizational assets.
The scars of this split still permeate the progressive NGO community today. For example, a comparison of the public lists of unsolved political killings during the first six months of 2006 claimed by the reaffirm NGO Karapatan and the reject NGO Philippines Alliance for Human Rights Advocates, contained only one name in common. Members of some NGOs complained to Human Rights Watch that other NGOs tended to be highly proprietary with their research and data on extrajudicial killings and harassment of their members, harming the ability of NGOs to build a stronger coalition to oppose such developments. As one leading journalist told Human Rights Watch, the consequence is that NGOs are suffering from a lack of sympathy problem, [only] crying when their own people are hurt.10
The progressive and activist NGOs are also often affiliated with political parties, in particular the so-called party-list organizations. In the 250-member House of Representatives, certain interest groups, such as the rural poor or the elderly, are represented through sectoral representatives, selected by the popular vote. Any organization that wins more than 2 percent of the vote is awarded one seat for every 2 percent that they received, up to a maximum of three representatives.
The three party-list organizations most closely aligned with the reaffirm leftist activist groups are Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, and Gabriella. All three are legal political parties. Bayan Muna was formed in 1999 by representatives from various grassroots organizations, and played a prominent role in the people power uprising of 2001 that displaced President Estrada and launched Arroyo into power. Bayan Muna won the most electoral support for a party-list organization in the 2001 elections, and therefore claimed the maximum three seats in the House of Representatives. By the 2004 elections two of Bayan Munas representatives established ties with two new sectoral groupsAnakpawis and Gabriellain an effort to increase the overall representation of progressive leftist interests in the Congress. In the 2004 elections Bayan Muna again won the most votes for party-list representatives and captured the maximum three seats, and Anakpawis and Gabriela each received one seat.
Despite their original supportive role in the public demonstrations that brought Arroyo to the presidency, these three party-list organizations now count as some of her most vocal opposition, and have proved highly efficient in mobilizing public protests against her rule. As a prominent journalist explained to Human Rights Watch: The left has been supplying the bodies for the anti-Gloria rallies.11
Some political analysts view the increased electoral success of these sectoral groups, and the role they play in fomenting popular opposition to the Arroyo administration, as key reasons behind increased harassment and pressure on such groups. One commentator explained: People like [National Security Advisor Norberto] Gonzalez are really obsessed with dealing with Bayan Muna and other CPP fronts.12
Legal NGOs and political parties in the Philippines have long had uneasy relations with the security forces because of their perceived or real ties to the CPP-NPA-NDF. In the late 1980s NGO workers and human rights activists and lawyers were frequent targets for arbitrary arrest, torture, and killing as a result of their perceived sympathies with the underground left and their high profile in local elections.13 These violations were variously carried out by members of the AFP or members of anti-communist vigilante groups established and armed by the army.14 The AFP also established local militias to assist in its counter-insurgency operations.15
In 1992 President Ramos de-criminalized membership in the CPP through the repeal of an old Anti-Subversion Law as part of attempts to end the conflict. The establishment of the party-list system in 1995 also provided an opportunity for organizations linked with the CPP to seek election and participation in the legal, democratic political process as an alternative to armed struggle.
Although antagonism between the military and the NGOs waned during the mid-1990s, suspicions continued on both sides. The ongoing ideological splits within the NGO community has made it relatively easy for military officials to dismiss the claims of the NGO Karapatan and other left-wing groups as ideologically biased and has contributed to putting activists at risk when military authorities accuse them of being allied with the insurgency. It has also meant that Karapatan and many military officers simply refuse to talk to one another to resolve disputes. Major General Juanito Gomez, the commander of the armys 7th Infantry Division in Central Luzon, refuses to meet members of Karapatan on the subject of extrajudicial killings. Personally I would say they are biased, General Gomez told Human Rights Watch. We will not be discussing [anything] with them.16
Human Rights Watch is concerned that the pressure of Arroyos declaration of a two-year deadline for the military to eradicate the communist insurgents has had a dangerous effect on civilians in areas targeted for counter-insurgency actions. Josie dela Cruz, the Governor of Bulacan Province, met with the then-AFP commander in her region, General Jovito Palparan, on numerous occasions to discuss his military operations. As she put it: In his terminology there are no sympathizers, you are either with the NPA or not, either with the military or not . As far as Palparan is concerned, once you deal with the NPA you are the NPA.17
Although General Palparanretired since September 2006denies allegations from local human rights organizations that political killings escalated wherever he was in charge of counter-insurgency efforts, he has noted on more than one occasion that the extrajudicial killings were helping the armed forces by eliminating individuals who oppose the government and commit illegal activities in support of the NPA.18 While still in command, General Palparan noted that the killings were being attributed to me, but I did not kill them. I just inspired [the triggermen] We are not admitting responsibility here, what Im saying is that these are necessary incidents.19
Palparan has been vocal in explaining his view that legal left-wing groups are in partnership with the CPP: It is my belief that these members of party lists in Congress are providing the day-to-day policies of the [rebel] movement. 20 He has also singled out party-list leaders, saying even though theyre in government, no matter what appearance they take, they are still enemies of the state.21 Palparan also alleges that the rebel network also includes hundreds or thousands of outwardly legal NGOs infiltrated or directed by the CPP that provides the materials, the shelter for the NPA, and he describes such organizations are legal but theyre doing illegal activities.22 In response, as reported by Agence France Presse, Palparan proposed that:
Human Rights Watch collected first-hand accounts of military personnel implicated in the harassment, arbitrary detention, and other human rights violations in areas targeted for counter-insurgency activities. Such measures appear intended to intimidate the civilian population from supporting the insurgents. According to Miriam Coronel Ferrer, a professor at the University of the Philippines Center for Integrative and Development Studies:
Senator Rodolgo Biazon, a former AFP chief of staff, attributed the rights violations to military personnel who feel constrained in fighting the insurgency:
Many close observers of the militarys counter-insurgency campaign expressed to Human Rights Watch their concern that the militarys heavy-handed tactics against noncombatants would prove counter-productive. Drawing on his own experiences fighting the NPA, Senator Biazon told us:
Since Human Rights Watch conducted its initial field investigation into the issue of extrajudicial executions in the Philippines in September 2007, three major investigations have released their own findings, or preliminary findings. Two of these investigations were carried out by government-appointed bodies: Task Force Usig and the Melo Commission. A third investigation was conducted by the UNs Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions.
In August 2006 President Arroyo created a special police body, Task Force Usig, which she charged with solving 10 cases of killings of political activists or journalists within 10 weeks. During its 10-week mandate the Task Force claims that 21 cases were solved by filing cases in court against identified suspects, all of them members of the CPP and NPA. Only 12 suspects involved in these incidents were actually in police custody.
Following its initial 10-week mandate, Task Force Usig has continued its investigations and is the lead investigatory body within the PNP on cases of killings of political activists and members of the media.
Later in August 2006 President Arroyo also created a commission to further probe the killings of media workers and left-wing activists since 2001. The President appointed former Supreme Court Associate Justice Jose Melo to lead the commission, which was comprised of National Bureau of Investigation Director Nestor Mantaring, Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño, Bishop Juan de dios Pueblos, and Nelia Torres Gonzales, a member of the Board of Regents of the University of the Philippines.
Opposition and human rights groups criticized the Melo Commission for having little power to carry out investigations and for its membership of only government-selected commissioners.
Perceiving that the composition of the Commission indicated a bias in favor of the Arroyo administration, many activist and human rights groups refused to provide testimony to the Commission, and may have advised some victims not to appear before the Commission. Nonetheless, the Commission proceeded with its investigations, calling representatives of the military, the police, and speaking with the family members of certain victims.
The Commission concluded its report in January 2007, but the President initially fought to keep the report secret. Under pressure from United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, Philip Alstonwho conducted a 10-day visit to the Philippines in February 2007the government released the report on February 22, 2007. In the report the Commission concedes that it was not created to solve any of the killings by pinpointing the actual gunman involved. That task, the report notes, will take years and an army of investigators and prosecutors to finish, [and] would be best left to the regularly constituted law enforcement authorities and the Department of Justice.27
However, the report found that there is no shirking the fact that people, almost all of them activists or militants, have been killed . [T]he victims, of which this Commission is concerned, were all non-combatants. They were not killed in armed clashed or engagements with the military.28 The report also concludes that the killings of activists and media personnel is pursuant to an orchestrated plan by a group or sector with an interest in eliminating the victims, invariably activists and media personnel.29
The ultimate finding of the Commission was:
President Arroyo announced a number of new measures in the wake of comments by members of the Melo Commission about the substance of their report, but before she allowed the report to be made public. These measures included:
In early March 2007 the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Reynato Puno, issued Administrative Order 25-2007 designating nearly all of the 99 trial courts across the country as special tribunals to try cases of political killings, a designation which is apparently intended to give priority to such cases in the courts trial calendars. The order also mandates continuous trials for such cases, and limits the duration of such trials to 60 days after their commencement, with judgment to be rendered within 30 days of the close of trial. These special courts will be required to submit a report on the status of their cases, and failure to do so constitutes grounds for withholding the salaries and allowances of the judges, clerks of court, and branch clerks of court concerned.32
Although only time will tell the effectiveness of these new proposed measures, they do not all necessarily address problems identified by either the Melo Commission report, nor by this report by Human Rights Watch. In particular:
From February 12 to 21, 2007, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston, visited the Philippines at the invitation of the government, where he met with government officials, civil society representatives, witnesses of extrajudicial killings, and the family members of victims. 33
Despite his official invitation from the government, the Special Rapporteur was vehemently criticized by certain individual members of the government and military. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez called the Special Rapporteur a muchacho (lowly servant) at the UN, and also accused him of having been brainwashed by leftists.34 According to the Special Rapporteur, the Defense Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane called him blind, mute and deaf, while the chief of staff of the Armed Forces was apparently less eloquent but equally dismissive.35 In a statement before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Special Rapporteur said:
In a statement released at the end of his mission, the Special Rapporteur stated his opinion that the AFP remains in a state of almost total denial of its need to respond effectively and authentically to the significant number of killings which have been convincingly attributed to them. He went on to note that it was the responsibility of the president to persuade the military that its reputation and effectiveness will be considerably enhanced, rather than undermined, by acknowledging the facts and taking genuine steps to investigate. 37
Regarding the governments response to the crisis of extrajudicial executions, the Special Rapporteur noted that:
The Special Rapporteurs statement highlighted the need to restore accountability mechanisms that the Philippines Constitution and Congress have put in place over the years, too many of which have been systematically drained of their force in recent years.39
The press statement stressed that the failure to provide adequate protection to witnesses and their vulnerability was a rampant problem.40
The Special Rapporteur emphasized the need to provide legitimate political space for leftist groups. Noting how former President Ramos had pursued a strategy of reconciliation to provide an incentive for such groups to enter mainstream politics, the current executive branch, openly and enthusiastically aided by the military, has worked resolutely to impede the work of the party-list groups and to put in question their right to operate freely. Such actions were intended not to destroy the NPA, but to eliminate organizations that support many of its goals and do not actively disown its means.41
1 Presentation by Miriam Coronel Ferrer, to Forum on Violence Against Movements, Movements Against Violence, organized by the Institute for Popular Democracy and the University of the Philippines College of Social Sciences Student Council, September 12, 2006.
2 Other armed opposition groups in the Philippines are the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Abu Sayyaf, and Jemaah Islamiah.
3 Human Rights Watch interview with Major General Jovito Palparan (ret.), November 4, 2006. Other estimates vary, with Armed Forces Commander General Hermogenes Esperon saying in January 2007 that the NPA was down to 7,100 fighters due to combat losses. AFP: Reds strength down to 7,100 and weakening, Jan. 6, 2007, http://www.gmanews.tv/story/25885/AFP-Reds-strength-down-to-7100-and-weakening.
4 Human Rights Watch interview with Senator Rodolgo Biazon, Senate Office, September 13, 2006; Human Rights Watch interview with Joel Rocamora, Executive Director Institute for Popular Democracy, September 26, 2006; Human Rights Watch interview with Major General Juanito Gomez, October 27, 2006; Human Rights Watch interview with Major Gen Jovito Palparan (ret.), November 4, 2006.
5 Palace allays fear of authoritarian rule, press release, Office of the President website, June 19, 2006, available at: http://www.op.gov.ph/news.asp?newsid=15458.
6 Human Rights Watch interview with Joel Rocamora, Executive Director Institute for Popular Democracy, September 26, 2006.
7 Human Rights Watch interview with Representative Teodoro A. Casiño, Party-List Representative for Bayan Muna, National House of Representatives, September 12,2006.
8 Clarke, Gerard. Politics of NGOs in Southeast Asia: Participation and Protest in the Philippines, Florence, KY: Routledge, 1998, p 68.
9 Ibid, p. 113-120.
10 Human Rights Watch interview with Glenda M. Gloria, Managing Editor, Newsbreak, September 12, 2006.
11 Human Rights Watch interview with Glenda M. Gloria, Managing Editor, Newsbreak, September 12, 2006.
12 Human Rights Watch interview with Joel Rocamora, Executive Director Institute for Popular Democracy, September 26, 2006.
13 Clarke, Gerard. Politics of NGOs in Southeast Asia: Participation and Protest in the Philippines, Florence, KY: Routledge, 1998, p 83. See also, Asia Watch and Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Lawyers Under Fire: Attacks on Human Rights Attorneys in the Philippines, New York, 1988.
14 See generally Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Vigilantes in the Philippines: A Threat to Democratic Rule, New York, 1988.
15 See generally Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Out of Control: Militia Abuses in the Philippines, New York, 1990.
16 Human Rights Watch interview with Major General Juanito Gomez, October 27, 2006.
17 Human Rights Watch interview with Governor Josefina Mendoza Dela Cruz, September 13, 2006.
18 Palparan: Leftists making me symbol of military abuses, Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 28, 2005, p. A1; General Palparan: Leftist rebellion can be solved in 2 years, Agence France Presse, February 2, 2006.
19 Major General Jovito Palparan, quoted in Fe B. Zamora, In his all-out war against the reds, this General dubbed the butcher claims conscience is the least of his concerns, Sunday Inquirer Magazine, July 2, 2006.
20 General Palparan: Leftist rebellion can be solved in 2 years, Agence France Presse, February 2, 2006.
21 Major General Jovito Palparan, quote in Tonette Orejas, Palparan Says Army Infiltrated NPA, Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 16, 2006, p. A13.
22 Major General Jovito Palparan, quoted in Tonette Orejas and Norman Bordadora, Make Communism Illegal Again, Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 21, 2006, p. A2.
24 Presentation by Miriam Coronel Ferrer, to Forum on Violence Against Movements, Movements Against Violence, September 12, 2006.
25 Human Rights Watch interview with Senator Rodolgo Biazon, Senate Office, September 13, 2006.
26 Human Rights Watch interview with Senator Rodolgo Biazon, Senate Office, September 13, 2006.
27 Independent Commission to Address Media and Activist Killings, Report, January 22, 2007 (hereafter Melo Commission report), p. 3.
28 Melo Commission report, p. 1.
29 Melo Commission report, p. 6.
30 Melo Commission report, p. 53.
31 Letter from Ambassador Willy C. Gaa, Embassy of the Philippines, Washington D.C., to Human Rights Watch, February 12, 2007.
32 Jay B. Rempillo, SC Designates Special Courts for Extrajudicial Killings, Court News Flash, March 2, 2007, available at: http://www.supremecourt.gov.ph/news/courtnews%20flash/2007/03/03020703.php; see also Amando Doronila, Corpses as trophies, Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 14, 2007.
33 Special Rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the United Nations human rights mechanisms to receive and investigate allegations of human rights violations. Special Rapporteurs report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
34 Amando Doronila, Strong parting shot, Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 28, 2007; Filipino lawyer vouches for Alstons integrity, Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 23, 2007.
35 Statement by UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions before the Human Rights Council, March 27, 2007; see also Raul Pangalangan, What the reports really say about us, Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 2, 2007.
36 Statement by UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions before the Human Rights Council, March 27, 2007.
37 UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, Press Statement, February 22, 2007.
38 UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, Press Statement, February 22, 2007.
39 UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, Press Statement, February 22, 2007.
40 UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, Press Statement, February 22, 2007.
41 UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, Press Statement, February 22, 2007.