Wednesday, May 31, 2006

They are widely successful political organizations with tens of thousands of members and a great deal of influence

The Manila Times
Tuesday, May 30, 2006

By Ernesto F. Herrera
'Enemies of the state'

SEN. Nene Pimentel is right to be afraid. Why pass the antiterrorism bill when right now human-rights violations are being committed left and right in the country (heavily on the Left, in fact, if you know what I mean).

The senator raised the difficulty (perhaps impossibility) of agreeing on what may constitute an act of terrorism. If the recent killings and human-rights violations should serve as indicators, it is very clear which people the government considers terrorists and enemies of the state.

Ninety-five members of Bayan Muna have been killed since 2001 and the Left-leaning political organization has accused Secretary Raul M. Gonzalez, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita of "masterminding" the killings.

The citizenry may be too busy trying to make both ends meet to care. But police and military abuses and the "pattern of impunity" for these human-rights violations are now the country's most pressing problem.

The last time human-rights abuses became this alarming was during the Marcos dictatorship. And to think that these abuses are being committed under the watch of a president who was backed by the Catholic hierarchy in the last fraud-ridden election.

The political Left is suffering the most casualties. Everything is being blamed on it—the attempts to overthrow the government, bombings, assassinations. All of those being arrested without the requisite warrants are being called communist destabilizers, including the five members of the Union of the Masses for Democracy and Justice who were allegedly tortured after being tagged as communist assassins.

The administration's main military man or attack dog if you will, General Jovito Palparan, is calling for a new law that would outlaw the Communist Party of the Philippines and the party-list and other nongovernment organizations it is identified with. His main reason? These organizations are supposedly working with the underground Left and other opposition groups out to topple the Arroyo administration.

Make no mistake, working to resolve a political crisis which has left our country in the hands of a president with a highly questionable mandate can be considered a terrorist act, with or without an antiterrorism law. This—tagging political opponents as criminals—is something former President Erap did not consider even during the height of calls for his ouster and/or resignation. Ironically, the anti-Erap protests then were led by the same groups the Arroyo administration now consider as enemies of the state.

Bayan Muna wants an independent commission patterned after the United Nations' Model Protocol for Commissions of Inquiry to look into the unabated killings of activists in the country. This is only fair. The involvement of police and military personnel, and the possible involvement of Cabinet officials in human-rights abuses warrant an independent probe. So far the state has failed to investigate and discipline officers (both military and police) for violations of our people's constitutional rights and it has lagged behind in pursuing the dozens of cases involving the beatings and killings of activists. The GMA administration has failed to address human-rights concerns effectively perhaps because it may have sanctioned or even initiated these problems.

A couple of months ago Amnesty International called on government authorities "to fulfill their obligation to protect the right to life, not least by conducting prompt, thorough, impartial and effective investigations" of the killings of activists. "Such investigations should then lead to the prosecution and punishment of those responsible. In order to combat impunity, the authorities must also send a clear, unequivocal message to all members of the police, military and other security forces that involvement in, or acquiescence to, such unlawful killings will never be tolerated," the international human-rights group added.

The continuing violations of human rights, including killings, disappearances, illegal detention, beatings and other forms of intimidation directed mainly at those who call for a resolution of the political crisis which Mrs. Arroyo herself has engendered make it clear that this administration is not acting to curb politically-motivated violence and has no intention of responding to the systematic repression of political activists.

Make the Communist Party and its affiliated groups illegal? All of them? Broadly defined the list could include such disparate groups as women's rights groups, welfare mothers, militant radicals, civil rights activists, liberals, labor unionists and what have you.

And what about the party list groups? Isn't it unusual that the very same party-list groups Palparan wants outlawed (the likes of Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Anakbayan, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Gabriela) are the ones which have suffered the most casualties in the spate of activist killings since Mrs. Arroyo assumed office?

As secretary-general of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, I myself have had differences with my left-wing counterparts in the labor movement, but I've always respected how they work tirelessly for their concerns.

The party-list groups I mentioned are no different. They are widely successful political organizations with tens of thousands of members (enough to ensure success in a Pinoy Big Brother competition even) and a great deal of influence.

Regardless of how detractors like Palparan and the two Gonzaleses in the Cabinet label them, these groups have contributed to the passing of significant policies in Congress. Their reform proposals encompass measures that are broad and tangible, including social security, environmental issues, labor rights, public housing, education, consumer rights, progressive taxation, etc. The political system is all the better because of them.

No comments: