The forgotten second front of the War on Terror: The Philippines
Last night heard a report back from a couple of kiwis who took part in a 82 strong international solidarity mission to the Philippines in August this year. They spent a week visiting the front lines of the five worst areas for human rights violations and convened an International People's Tribunal in Manilla to report on their findings and call on their home governments, and the international community at large, to condemn the Philippine government for waging a War on Terror on its own people.
Following 9/11 President Bush, with the eager cooperation of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared the Philippines to be America's "second front" in the "War on Terror". Occasionally there has been some coverage of this in the NZ media, usually involving the long running war between the Philippine Military and Muslim separatists in the far south of the country. Muslims in the Philippines are called the Moro, a name dating back to the Spanish occupation of the country - Moro derives from 'moor'.
Four New Zealanders took part in the international mission - Tim Howard (Whangarei), Rod Prosser (Wellington), Mary Ellen O’Connor (Nelson) and Josephine O’Connor (Wellington). Tim and Mary Ellen addressed the Christchurch meeting, hosted by the Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa
While the Philippines has never had a good human rights record - the situation under President Macapagal-Arroyo has become steadily worse and worse.
Recently many Moro people have been forced of their land in the south and forced to live at the other end of the country as refugees. They have also faced sustained harassment from the police. It is suspected NZ Aid money may have been used to translocation people (this is being looked into further by NZ activists). In Samar whole villages have been forced to evacuate. Some of these evacuations are purely political, others are to allow the Government to step up the mining and forestry in the area - the local people are denied any benefits of these developments. Samar is now a highly militarised area - with the mines come the military. Land reform never occurred in the Philippines, so villagers can be tossed about on a whim.
In order to maintain its hold on power the Government is using the military and the police to kill the opposition - including 58 members and supporters of the leftist Bayan Muna political party in the Samar region. The military accuse their opponents of being communists and members of the New People's Army, claims that are not particularly convincing. The military have confirmed the existence of a hit list. Bayan Muna, community groups and others are routinely targeted by military intelligence - one man found out through a relative in the military that his name was on a list of 36 people the powers that be wanted dead.
A key perpetrator of these politically motivated killings is Brig General Jovito Palparan, dubbed the Butcher of Mindoro by human rights groups, following the murder and harassment of political activists under his command on that island. He is reported to have threatened that 'if one of his soldiers dies, 10 civilians will be killed'. President Arroyo has recently promoted Palparan twice, so the President is also responsible for the appalling record of killings and human rights abuses in the Philippines.
Arroyo also attempted to use the rhetoric of the war on terror to threaten trade unions: "Those who terrorise factories that provide jobs"
Following the talks by Tim and Mary-Ellen we watched a short video - this included footage of a huge (I mean huge) rally of Filipinos marching with members of the international mission calling on President Arroyo to resign. The video also followed the story of a 15 year old boy, witness to the murder of his father by Palparan's armed thugs, and now clearly traumatised by the experience (it looked like a form of post-traumatic stress). The whole village participated in a re-enactment of the crime - more witnesses came forward as a result.
Despite the shocking realisation of the terrible oppression of the Filipino people by the Government, the really uplifting factor is that the Filipino activists remain so staunch. One activist told the military 'Go on kill me - we have the right to organise!'
In a country where ordinary people can not seek justice through official channels, re-enactments and "People's Courts" are the only way these issues get heard. They also provide some acknowledgement for victims - but true justice will only be served once Arroyo and her cronies are forced to step down.
Categories: War on Terror, Human Rights, Politics, New Zealand, Philippines