By Edre U. Olalia
International Association of People's Lawyers
Keynote Address to the
3rd Regional Assembly of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA)
ECP Mission Hall, Baguio City, Philippines
December 8, 2006
Naimbag nga agsapa kadakayo amin! A pleasant good morning to all!
Nabara a kablaaw kadakayo amin! Militant greetings to all of you!
For the past nights, we saw how members of the House of Representatives
identified with the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) administration brazenly
and manipulatively moved for charter change through a senate-less
Constituent Assembly. This clearly indicates that GMA and her cohorts
in Congress are making all efforts to change the 1987 Constitution as
a last bid, among others, to perpetuate themselves in power and for
GMA as a last resort for her political survival.
This brazenness comes after a rebuff from the Supreme Court of the
Malacanang-backed false people's initiative that a revision of the
Constitution cannot be made through people's initiative. The Supreme
Court even went further to declare that there appears anomalies in the
gathering of the more than alleged 6 million signatures to the said
These developments are very significant particularly for human rights
defenders and advocates. And the theme for your Assembly is most
appropriate and timely. One of the major targets for revision is
Article III or the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights as we all
know is supposed to serve as a minimum safeguard against State
violations or abuses of individual civil and political rights.
It sets the minimum standards as far as the conduct of arrest,
search and seizure, rights of the accused in detention and under
custodial investigation, on due process and equal protection of
the law, on privacy of communication and correspondence, freedom
of speech, expression and assembly and the like.
These formal constitutional provisions, imperfect and not even
followed in practice as they are, will be undermined by the
draconian Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB) that is also being rushed
by those in temporary power, a legislation that falls into the
design of the US-led global war of terrorism.
The ATB provides for a very vague and all-encompassing definition
of the term terrorism. It practically would include all lawful
and legitimate dissent against the present dispensation as acts
of "terrorism". Worse, it proposes longer detention without
charges being filed in court for periods even beyond what is
provided in the 1987 Constitution in case of suspension of the
privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. In other words, we see
a further and more systematic legitimization of the human rights
violations as practiced and customarily done by the military,
police and other law enforcement agents.
Amidst all these is the escalation of political killings and
abductions. According to KARAPATAN, from January to November
of this year, it documented 185 political killings and the number
of victims of enforced disappearances this year reached 93, the
highest in the six-year presidency of Mrs. Arroyo. Majority of
the victims of extrajudicial killings and abductions were members
of progressive partylists and peoples' organizations. Today it
has reached 794 summarily executed with hundreds more missing
and hundreds more who survived these attacks.
The extrajudicial killings common during the Martial Law regime
of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos is back with a vengeance under
GMA's "rule of law." The targets have not changed and the
intentions are the same - "to wipe out insurgency" and "run
to the ground" any opposition to a regime that does not represent
the interests or has lost the trust and confidence of the people.
The only difference is that the current policy remains an
undeclared martial law.
These numbers are among the human rights violations committed
under Operation Plan Bantay Laya or Operation Freedom Watch
by the Macapagal-Arroyo regime. It is a five-year policy and
program launched in 2002 as part of the government's so-called
"all-out war" against insurgency.
Operation Bantay Laya or OBL is the latest local application
of the United States sponsored and Central Intelligence Agency
brainchild "low intensity conflict" (LIC). It is a mode of
war not just used against the revolutionary Communist Party
of the Philippines - New People's Army - National Democratic
Front of the Philippines or CPP-NPA-NDFP waging their armed
struggle for national and social liberation. But is a policy
that is also directed against unarmed militant organizations
and civilians critical of the Arroyo regime. These legal
organizations are accused by the AFP as collaborators, supporters
or front organizations of the CPP-NPA-NDFP. As stated by the
coward Gen. Jovito Palparan, its Number One implementor, OBL
is intended to "reduce their numbers."
Operation Bantay Laya declares it open season for militant
sectoral organizations and legal institutions that have taken
the cause of the poor and marginalized. Even church organizations
and personalities have not been spared. The range of victims has
broadened from farmers, workers, partylist members, community
organizers, activists, to churchpeople, journalists and lawyers.
Another characteristic of OBL is red-baiting and smear campaign.
This inevitably led to the blacklisting of progressive organizations
and the drawing up of an "order of battle" of people targeted for
"neutralization," a euphemism for physical extermination or attack.
According to the Operations Intelligence Division (OID) Conceptual
Framework of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the
preparation of an Intelligence Project against a target personality
or organization usually takes at least one year and the time
frame for "neutralization" of a target is three months.
The extrajudicial killings are, therefore, well-planned,
premeditated and the result of state policy. There is a pattern.
It starts with the labeling, red-baiting or vilification of
activists and militants. Then this is followed by open or covert
threats and surveillance. Then the modes of killing and the
circumstances of the attacks are similar, happening even near
police or military establishments. And these are capped by a
systematic cover-up or passing of the blame that condones,
encourages, induces or tolerates these attacks.
The killings are not the handiwork of ordinary criminals. They
are carried out through collaborative action among the armed and
civilian agencies of the government and anti-communist fanatical
mass organizations often set up, funded or supported in a variety
of ways by the government. OBL declares its targets guilty
without due process and the military acts as witness, judge
and executioner rolled into one.
Of the more than seven hundred extrajudicial killings, none
has been really solved. The victims and their family still
cry out for justice.
The culture of impunity being imposed by the state continues
to this day. And the law and the legal and judicial system
engender or contribute to this impunity.
The shameful Task Force Usig and the dubious and incredible
Melo Commission tasked to supposedly investigate the killings
have not yielded truthful results. They have proven to be
nothing but whitewashing machines of the government.
To wash its hands off its crimes against the people, the government
has even gone far as desecrating the memories of our martyrs.
Malicious reports on the identities of the martyrs and reasons
why they were killed are being circulated by agents of the state.
They even insultingly point to the companions and/or comrades
of the martyrs as those behind their deaths.
The suppression of the people's democratic rights is directly
connected to the economic agenda which the government is pushing
regardless of its irreparable damage to our lives, land and resources.
The extrajudicial killings also come in the wake of Arroyo's
State of the Nation Address where she reiterated her aggressive
campaign for Charter Change to allow the unhampered entry of
global corporations into the country. The so-called Northern
Luzon Mega Region is largely anchored on her obsession to open
mining operations in the Cordillera provinces to vested foreign
At present, 1.2 million square meters of the 1.8 million square
meters or 85% of the total land area of the Cordillera is covered
by mining applications and operations. This excludes areas covered
by other destructive projects such as dams and logging operations.
These destructive projects would further marginalize indigenous
peoples from their ancestral lands and would lead to escalation
of militarism in the region.
This situation of escalating violations on people's rights is made
worse by the insincerity of the Philippine government to continue
the peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDFP. The Philippine
government has set up obstacles to its resumption and has not
resolved fundamental prejudicial questions like the "terrorist"
listing of the CPP and NPA and the NDFP Chief Political Consultant
and now the outrageous political killings. It has not really
implemented in earnest the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect
for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL)
it entered with the NDF and has refused to meet with its counterpart
in the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) tasked to monitor said
agreement. It has also refused any offer to jointly look into the
spate of killings and disappearances.
All these make Macapagal-Arroyo the new fascist dictator.
Friends, clients, comrades in the human rights struggle, ladies
and gentlemen - your 3rd regional congress of the Cordillera Human
Rights Alliance (CHRA) comes against a backdrop of disquieting,
gross and wholesale violations to people's rights as illustrated
in the foregoing.
But I know you will not be cowed. As I said in another recent
forum, we will not allow these attacks to continue without end.
We will not step aside. We will not lie low. We will not withdraw
from your cases. We will fight. The victory is the people's.
As one had said before: "We were not cowed then and we shall not
be cowed now. Tyrants throughout the ages have tried in vain to
kill the truth by killing the bearers of truth. The foliage has
grown thicker for every seed that falls to the ground. History
shows that political repression can only fuel revolution and martyrdom
has never reduced the number of people who bear the cause of freedom
and truth but on the contrary fertilized its growth."
A latest testimony to this is the formation of HUSTISYA! an
organization of the victims of people's rights violations and
their family against the Arroyo regime. Even the victims have
not been cowed and silenced. For every killing, a family is aroused,
mobilized and organized to demand for justice.
HUSTISYA! and other progressive organizations have indicted the
Macapagal-Arroyo in various fora such as with the government Commission
on Human Rights (CHR) and in the prosecutors, trial courts and Congress.
The victims and their representatives have forwarded complaints with
the United Nations Human Rights Committee, pertinent UN Special
Rapporteurs and Working Groups and other related mechanisms and
international organizations. The latest is the filing of complaints
with the prestigious and credible court of opinion, the International
Permanent People's Tribunal (IPPT) which would hold its Second Session
on the Philippines in March 2007.
Another testimony is the evergrowing and strengthening movement
for the defense and advocacy of individual and collective rights
and the formation of Stop the Killings Network. This Network
composed of church clergy and lay workers, members of the academe
and other professionals have given their commitment to provide
sanctuaries to the persecuted, legal services to the incarcerated
and other assistance to victims aside from actively participating
in the campaign to end political killings.
The active and continuing efforts of human rights organizations
and advocates led to various international condemnation on the
state of human rights in the Philippines. Even foreign businesses
have issued statements of condemnation.
Yet, the Macapagal-Arroyo regime has not sincerely and effectively
stopped the killings, failed in protecting its own citizens, and
unable to bring the perpetrators to justice. We can not expect it
to remove the political, economic, and social conditions for such
killings and other human rights violations.
At this point, let us also take this occasion to give tribute to
our human rights defenders. The highest tribute, honor and
recognition we can give to our heroes and martyrs is to continue
their work. Today let us honor Atty. Arthur Galace, Atty. Romeo
Astudillo, and Atty. David Bueno who were active members of the
Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and served as Chairpersons of
the Northern Luzon Human Rights Organization (NLHRO). All stood
firm during the dark years of Martial Law. They served as people's
lawyers for those incarcerated, tortured and abused at that time.
We also honor Albert Terradano a paralegal worker of DINTEG
(Cordillera Indigenous Peoples' Legal Center) who unidentified
assassins of the state mercilessly shot on November 29 last year
in Bangued, Abra on his way to work. Despite being a government
employee and the sole breadwinner of his family, he unselfishly
dedicated much of his time to assist victims of human rights
violations. We of course also remember Pepe Manegdeg, Alyce
Claver, Marcus Bangit and others that the fascists have snatched
from your ranks.
We fear. We grieve. We rage. But let us rise above this fear,
and transform our grief and rage to an undying commitment to
the cause of people's rights. Makibaka! Huwag matakot!
I know that this is no easy task. They have taken much too
many from our ranks. Many amongst us have been killed, tortured
and remain missing to date. We have lost the best sons and
daughters of the human rights movement to this senseless killings.
However, during these trying times of undeclared Martial Rule by
the Macapagal-Arroyo regime and imperialist plunder, let us break
silence into a thundering song and transform fear into a movement
Let us continue to dare to fight, dare to struggle.
And always serve the people.