All-out war on Reds makes death penalty abolition a sham
By Amando Doronila
Last updated 06:53am (Mla time) 06/26/2006
Published on page A1 of the June 26, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
ON THE EVE of her departure yesterday for Europe, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed a law abolishing capital punishment, an act replete with more symbolism to the European liberal and humanist tradition than to the Filipino people.
Her itinerary -- centered on the Vatican and two of the Philippines’ steadfast Western European friends, Italy and Spain -- suggests that the trip represents an important diplomatic initiative to counter growing concern among Western democracies over the authoritarian tendencies of the Arroyo administration.
There is little to indicate that the trip has aggressive ambitions to draw European investment to the Philippines more than what is already under way in ongoing economic and trade expansion programs with the European Union and bilateral programs with Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and, of course, Italy and Spain.
These programs are already covered by cooperation frameworks that don’t need any further push from presidential visits.
The foremost beneficiary of this trip is the President herself.
Ms Arroyo has always been impressive in her visits. She is articulate and presents well-organized programs. Whether glowing press reports of her visits will help her reverse the slump in her approval rating and popularity among the Filipino people remains problematic. Her previous visits had not lifted her ratings.
Our record of human rights violations has received a heavy battering in Western Europe more than in the United States, which has also called the attention of the Arroyo administration to its increasing resort to arbitrary state powers to deal with the protest movement during the past two years.
Repairing battered image
The President defined the objective of her trip, i.e., to repair the battered image of her government on respect for human rights, when she signed Republic Act No. 9346 abolishing the death penalty.
“When I meet the Holy Father soon in the Vatican, I shall tell him that we have acted in the name of life for a world of peace and harmony,” she said, on signing the measure.
At the same time, she could not escape the contradiction that as she prepared to leave, she had just declared a “total war” to crush the communist movement in two years. And she was haunted by the fact that, since 2001, more than 200 unarmed political militants of the Left had died in extrajudicial executions.
In trying to reconcile the incompatibility between her mailed-fist policy toward the leftists and her claim that the new law stood to strengthen the culture of life, the President said:
“We have taken a strong hand against the threats [to] the law and the Republic, but at the same time we yield to the high moral imperatives dictated by God to walk away from capital punishment … We shall continue to devote the increasing weight of our resources to the prevention and control of serious crimes, rather than take the lives of those who commit them.”
The President was speaking with a forked tongue, and her statement is certain to be greeted with disbelief and skepticism by the Europeans.
And so, while the new law takes out from the state the burden of carrying out legal executions, the “all-out” war on the 37-year-old insurgency unleashes a state policy of violence, leaving security forces an ample latitude to commit extralegal and summary executions, without due process.
The incompatibility of these two contradictory state policies is even more underlined by the fact that the government has been impotent in identifying, bringing charges and putting to trial those responsible for the extralegal executions perpetrated by paramilitary death squads, alleged to be backed by security forces.
The new legislation is one of the few laws passed during the second term of the President with multiparty support in Congress. The European Union and the Vatican applauded the abolition of capital punishment.
Winning Vatican goodwill
The Philippine government came under EU pressure to abolish it after Congress restored the death penalty in 1993 for heinous crimes, such as murder, child rape and kidnapping although the Philippine Constitution had abolished it.
The papal nuncio in Manila, Archbishop Fernando Filoni, said the signing of the law “could be another very important nice step to go on in showing that the culture of life is very alive and important in this country.”
The importance of the Vatican’s goodwill is emphasized by the fact that the President brought with her an unusually large entourage, composed mainly of representatives of Catholic Church groups, and that the main focus of the trip is the audience with Pope Benedict XVI.
Offer of appeasement
Ms Arroyo undertakes this diplomatic offensive against a strong blast of criticism from a number of European-based human rights organizations, among them Amnesty International and Reporters without Frontiers, which have denounced the mounting toll of unpunished killings of political militants and journalists.
Amnesty and the Philippine Commission on Human Rights have held the government responsible for the killings through fostering a “culture of impunity” by not putting a stop to the assassinations.
The President is bringing the new law with her as an offering of appeasement of European opinion that is important for maintaining the democratic credentials of this government.
These credentials have been increasingly questioned in the wake of the government’s declaration of national emergency in February that called in the army and police to raid a media organization and to make summary arrests.
Seeing through Arroyo
But this offering is inadequate. It covers only one aspect of human rights -- that concerning legal execution of convicted criminals.
It glosses over the issue of extralegal executions by anonymous death squads in the course of the intensifying counterinsurgency military campaign.
The gods of European public opinion that Ms Arroyo is seeking to please are not easy to appease.
They can see through the fraud and the hypocrisy of the smoke produced by the incense, while slaughter is taking place in the fields of counterinsurgency operations.