Impunity Kills

Philippine Online Chronicles
Published 18 December 2009

When there are thousands of victims of extra-judicial killings and not a single one is prosecuted, impunity can be the second deadliest thing next to the executioners.

The Maguindanao massacre accentuated the gross human rights violations and the climate of impunity under President Gloria Arroyo’s watch.  Multi-sectoral alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) pointed out in its statement that the pervading climate of impunity laid the conditions for the execution of the massacre, aside from Arroyo’s policy of beefing up private armies.

On the observance of the International Human Rights Day last Dec. 10, the same cries for justice rang even louder nationwide, hinting at how the human rights situation have worsened since Arroyo came into power. Commission on Human Rights Chair (CHR) Leila de Lima said the Maguindanao massacre “only made the human rights situation in the country dismal,” Inquirer.net reported.

Workers and kin of slain unionists march to Malacañang to demand justice to all victims of trade union repression (taken Sept. 18, '09)

Human rights group Karapatan showed in its yearend report that the figures have swelled in the last eight years and 10 months. The breakdown of data is as follows – 1,118 extrajudicial killings, 204 victims of forced disappearances and 1,026 victims of torture. The group blamed the worsening human rights abuses on the government’s counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), branding it as a “blueprint for terror and impunity.”

Attacks on all fronts

In the same report, Karapatan cited key cases of human rights violations for this year, indicating a broad range of victims’ profile and different forms by which violations were carried out. Victims were killed in almost all kinds of situations: in broad daylight, in the picketlines, or in front of family members.

Among the cases cited were the assassination of Roman Catholic priest Fr. Cecilio Lucero; the abduction and torture of Fil-Am activist Melissa Roxas, who was accused as a member of the New People’s Army; and the harassment of National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, whose house was kept under surveillance by a member of the Philippine Marines.

OBL 2 was said to be unparalleled “as it lumps together as targets the armed revolutionary movement, legal democratic organizations which have been historically in the forefront of the protest movement in the country, media, and the political opposition.” It also linked the policy to the “War on Terror” of the United States, which has resulted in the terrorist-tagging of government critics.

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Not in Bonifacio’s name

Philippine Online Chronicles
Published 7 December 2009

Andres Bonifacio’s birthday on Nov. 30, 1863 marked the coming of a great Filipino martyr who led a revolution. Yet ironically, political aspirants, some of whom leading the campaign against progressive groups, figured on the commemoration of Bonifacio Day last November 30 as they flocked to the Commission on Elections to file their certificates of candidacy (COC). In the words of Comelec legal chief Ferdinand Rafanan in an Inquirer.net report, the historic day marked the start of a political circus.

Among those who filed their candidacies were retired army major and Bantay Party-list Rep. Jovito Palparan, who was tagged the “Butcher” and “Berdugo” for his bloody human rights record. After his filing, Palparan said he will “campaign against the left-wing forces of parties and candidates.” His proclamation of senatorial bid on Bonifacio Day in the name of counter-revolution starkly contradicted what the working class hero fought for.

Also last November 30, President Gloria Arroyo announced her congressional bid for the second district of Pampanga. The announcement clinched what was supposedly a day of commemorating Bonifacio’s heroism and revolutionary ideals as an ominous day for the perpetuation of corrupt and moribund politics beyond 2010. Multi-sectoral alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) described the day of Arroyo’s announcement as a “dark day for the Philippines.”

True enough, the ironies of the times highlight the need to continue the Supremo’s unfinished struggle for national liberation and for the democratic interests of the people. Likewise, the persistence of the likes of Arroyo and Palparan in today’s political arena hints at how elections have minimally changed the brand of politics that the country has today – making Bonifacio’s ideals and principles more relevant than ever.

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ConCon: New beat to an old dance

Philippine Online Chronicles
Published 23 November 2009

Christmas is once again up in the air. And so is Charter change. With barely a month before Congress goes into a break for the holiday season, a bill seeking to amend the Constitution through a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) made it to the House plenary last Nov. 18, only a step away from being endorsed to the Senate.

Sponsored by La Union Rep. Victor Ortega, House Bill 6975 calls for the election of delegates to the convention that will propose amendments to the1987 Constitution. The convention was initially proposed to take place simultaneously with the presidential election in May, but the House panel on constitutional amendments later agreed to hold it simultaneously with the barangay elections on Oct. 25, 2010.

With the adoption of Con-Con, critics said the Cha-cha tune is once again revived, ready to go full blast anytime soon. Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño said in an article “the House is now taking two approaches to pursue Cha-cha.” Arroyo allies in Congress formerly preferred the Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) resolution, which was railroaded in June and has since been stuck at the House of Representatives as it faced huge opposition from different sectors. Now that Con-Con is apparently racing with time before the 2010 elections, it becomes clear that Arroyo and her allies are pursuing what they called “Plan B” for Cha-cha, which may prove to be in sync with Arroyo’s plan to run for a Congress seat.

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Justice denied

Philippine Online Chronicles
Published 16 November 2009

A woman reaches out to light a candle during the commemoration of the Hacienda Luisita massacre (taken 16 Nov '09)

A shower of gunfire rang across the vast Hacienda Luisita on November 16, 2004 leaving Jesus Laza, Jhaivie Basilio, Juancho Sanchez, Jessie Valdez, Jun David, Jaime Pastidio and Adriano Caballero lifeless. Five years after blood spilled over the Cojuangco-owned sugar estate, the culprits remain on the loose, ready to execute another killing spree.

The massacre in Luisita, which claimed the lives of seven striking farmers and workers, was a nightmare bound to happen in the heavily guarded sugar plantation. A few kilometers from Luisita is the Philippine Army’s Camp Servillano Aquino, which served as guardhouse of the Northern Luzon Command (NolCom), according to an article from Bulatlat.com.

Apparently, the sugar estate’s workers and farmers who fought against the cruelly low P9.50/day take home pay have been held at gunpoint by the Cojuangcos since the start.

On Nov. 6, 2004, the 5,000-strong United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU, the sugarcane workers’ union)launched a strike at 11 a.m. over the illegal dismissal of its 326 members. The Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU, the sugar mill workers’ union) also declared a strike at 3 p.m. on the same day after the management turned down the P150-wage increase proposed by workers, putting the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in a deadlock.

The simultaneous strikes halted operations of the sugar plantation and sugar mill.

The strikers knew that at the root of their woes is the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) scheme implemented by the Cojuangcos. Under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law signed by former Pres. Corazon “Cory” Aquino, legitimate beneficiaries were given capital shares in the form of stocks instead of land. Documents have indicated that the ultimate intended use of Hacienda Luisita’s 6,000 hectares of land is not agriculture but industry and tourism, a report posted.

With such understanding of how President Aquino used the law to keep Luisita exempted from agrarian reform and land distribution, the strikers from CATLU and ULWU forged an alliance which served as their sole weapon against armed units deployed in Luisita.

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Greasy grip on oil prices

Philippine Online Chronicles
Published 06 November 2009

Hit by the executive’s whip, oil firms and business groups are now making a backlash at the Palace. But who really wins at the end of the charade?

At the center of controversy is President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’sExecutive Order 839 (EO 839), which was issued last Oct. 23 to impose a rollback of pump prices in Luzon to Oct. 15 levels following a series of hikes by oil  companies amid the aftermath caused by typhoons. EO 839’s implementation broke the usual silence between the Arroyo government and oil companies, spawning a heated exchange of statements from both sides.

The price control order came out at a time when key government officials were singing in chorus with the public in condemning the oil firms’ profiteering despite the calamity. House SpeakerProspero Nograles even labeled Petron, Caltex and Shell as showing the highest point of ingratitude for raising gas prices twice as Filipinos still reel from the damage wrought by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng. Presidential son and Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, for his part, called for government regulation of oil prices during calamities – which her mother readily granted.

Firms flinch for profit’s sake

As expected, the government’s price freeze order drew the strongest opposition from the business sector. Foreign business chambers including major oil firms under the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines (JFC)criticized Malacañang’s “open-ended” price freeze on petroleum products and sought for the immediate lifting of the Executive Order 839 (EO 839). It said its members are “particularly concerned about the open-ended nature” of the price control with no specific “sunset date.”

The Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), along with other business groups, aired the same position. In a statement posted at BusinessWorld Online, it said that the order “is based on an oversimplified but misleading view of the problem.” It also threatened a shortage in the supply of petroleum products and an emergence of a black market.

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