Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo simpered as she hailed as “hero” an officer called “the butcher” for his long record of human rights violations. His name: Jovito Palparan.
Under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, 470 political activists were killed by the state’s armed henchmen. They were either gunned down near their homes and place of work or arrested, tortured and then dumped somewhere. Some, like Jonas Burgos, remain missing.
In 2010, before he took his oath as President, Benigno Aquino III met with European ambassadors over the issue of human rights and vowed to bring “closure” to the one of the worst records for a democracy.
“Cases of extrajudicial killings need to be solved, not just identify the perpetrators but have them captured and sent to jail,” he told journalists after the meeting.
Mrs. Arroyo ruled for nine years. Mr. Aquino is entering the last of his six years in office.
Under the incumbent, the human rights group Karapatan has documented 262 incidents of extrajudicial killings and 292 victims of frustrated killings. Do the math.
Jonas’ mother, Edith, his wife and daughter, continue to look for him. One of the officers suspected of having a hand in his abduction – broad daylight, in a crowded Metro Manila mall – has just been appointed Army chief by Mr. Aquino.
Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año was among those charged by Mrs. Burgos for the abduction of Jonas. He was exonerated in what the family called a “whitewash.”
“I believe that at one point during Jonas’ disappearance, Año had custody of Jonas,” Mrs. Burgos stressed in a statement.
She warns that with Año’s appointment as army chief, “there is no hope at all that justice will be obtained for human rights crimes during the watch of Aquino.” Jonas’ mother adds,
I fear for defenders, victims and independent minded human rights workers. With so much power in the hands of a head of an Institution reputed to be a violator of human rights, we can only pray to the Lord Almighty to have mercy.
Like Mrs. Arroyo’s hero, Año’s record – latest as head of the 10th Infantry Division in Mindanao – is littered by a trail of allegations: extrajudicial killings, disappearances, illegal arrests, torture, hamletting and forcible exacuation of civilians, according to Karapatan. He probably accounts for a good share of the 60,000 persons displaced and dislocated due to military operations under Mr. Aquino’s administration.
Why is the son of democratic icons increasingly looking like his much-hated predecessor? There has been no halt to the killings of political dissidents (or journalists). There certainly has been no closure, despite the arrest of Palparan.
What has happened in the last few months is an upsurge in rights violations. Aside from killings, the stalking of activists has become more pronounced, more brazen, more deliberate and broader in scope.
Several members and officers of COURAGE, the labor federation of government workers, have asked the Supreme Court a writ of amparo.
“It is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty, and security has been violated or is threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity. The writ covers extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof.”
The stories behind their petition are chilling.
Men going to their homes, or offices, accosting them on the streets, on public transportation – in most cases there is a note with a mobile phone number to call. In all cases, there is one message: We know your (legal) organization serves the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army. Your life is in danger. You cooperate with us, or else.
At the National Food Administration, security staff took in for questioning on April 21 a man with a gun. He was asking for the whereabouts of for Hilario M. Tan, retired NFA employee and former vice president of the National Food Authority Employees Association (NFAEA) and Evelyn P. Garcia, , NFA employee and national assistant secretary general of the organization.
The man claimed to be a Sgt. Borres, liaison officer of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP). He could not produce a mission order for his gun. Why he was allowed to leave under these circumstances is a question the NFA should account for.
There are many other cases just in the summer of 2015. You can read about these here.
You’d think the filing of a writ of amparo petition in the Supreme Court would give harassers some pause.
What happened was the opposite.
Courage adviser and former deputy secretary-general Antonieta Setias-Dizon is among the petitioners. Twice this summer, a man had accosted her, making the same demand as those received by her peers.
Lately, Setias-Dizon documented the presence of a silver Toyota Innova vehicle always on her trail. The vehicle carries the plate number AAM 3129. More than one man are involved in what in military lingo is the surveillance.
That vehicle was parked near the Supreme Court when Setias-Dizon and company filed their petition. It followed her to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines National Office in Ortigas where she sought refuge. In what seems to be an escalating operation, the Inova was joined by a Red Pajero, another Toyota Innova and three Honda motorcycles.
I asked new Commission on Human Rights Chair Chito Gascon about the latest harassment case. His reply via Facebook:
Thanks for the alert… i had previously written to the AFP Human Rights Office about other reports of harassment of COURAGE leaders… BUT, this is a new development… will have the matter looked into as well… keep the faith!!! Press On
The CHR can monitor. It can issue statements and write letters. But it has no prosecutory powers. Still, if some former activists now in government can risk the ire of their touchy Boss, they would be doing the country a service.
Activists can be pesky for the powers-that-be. Their rallies could inconvenience commuters. But review their role in pushing for reforms: the legal victories leading to the rollback of power rates; the hue and cry and the petitions that led to the landmark SC victories against pork, both legislative (PDAF) and executive (DAP).
Most so-called democratic gains that Filipinos enjoy today were not gifts from the country’s powers. They were fruits of struggle. You let the silence of the grave blanket activists, you let darkness cover our society.