The George and Gloria Show: Philippine Progressives Under Renewed Attack

“When an individual commits violence against innocent civilians contrary to US interests, Bush calls him a “terrorist”. When an individual commits violence against innocent civilians in furtherance of US interests, Bush calls him a “freedom fighter. “

”But Bush never mentions the worst form of terrorism known as “state terrorism.” Supported by the resources of the state, it inflicts the worst crimes against humanity and wanton destruction of a nation’s infrastructure.

”The hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians who died during the Filipino-American war, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in Vietnam, Iraq, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan were all victims of state terrorism. US authorities have coined a euphemistic term designed to cover up the gravity of the crime. They call it “collateral damage.”

(Ex-Philippine Navy Captain and former political prisoner, Danilo Vizmanos, letter to Philippine Daily Inquirer, 26 August 2002.)

A certain saying about a pot and a kettle came to mind when I read the US State Department’s August 9 designation of the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army (CPP/NPA) as a “foreign terrorist organization”.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell called this “another important step in our continuing efforts to combat global terrorism”.

The organizations (and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) chief political consultant Jose Maria “Joma” Sison, exiled in Holland) join the list of individuals, groups and entities covered by the US Executive Order 13224 of September 23 2001. This designation seeks to prevent suspected CPP or NPA officers and members from entering the USA, to prohibit and punish any kind of activity suspected of assisting them, to freeze any suspect bank account and to pressure other countries to act against those designated as “terrorist”.

Dutch authorities have already frozen assets of exiled NDF members in Holland after approaches by the US and Philippine governments. Other central banks, like the Bank of England, have directed financial institutions to freeze funds held on behalf of the CPP, NPA, and Professor Sison.

Sison refutes claims that the CPP-NPA depends on foreign support, saying that there are no foreign or Philippine bank accounts to freeze. “The Macapagal puppet regime and the puppet military forces are the ones that are dependent on foreign financial and military assistance from the United States,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (13/08/2002).

He spent nine years as a political prisoner under the US-backed Marcos regime. Serious concerns are held that although Dutch courts have cleared him of accusations of terrorism (levelled by Holland’s secret service, the BVD}, and accepted that he is a political refugee, while the Dutch government continues to deny him asylum status ( it argues that recognition does not mean admission as refugee to the Netherlands), he could be nabbed and extradited to stand trial in the USA. Sison’s appeal to the European Court of Human Rights on this issue is still pending.

For the past 33 years, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have fought the NPA in many parts of the country. It remains outlawed, but membership of the CPP was legalised under the Ramos regime.

Since 1986, peace talks between the government and the NDF – an umbrella body of left organizations which includes the CPP – have taken place in a stop-start fashion. Meanwhile military operations – synonymous with gross human rights violations – continue. For example, in late August, according to human rights group Karapatan, in Barangay Ginabucan, Catmon, Cebu soldiers of the 78th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army detained, tortured, threatened and harassed locals affiliated to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the legal peasant movement, and killed Riza Concha, one of the men’s wives.

Now Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is not only using the designation as a pretext for an intensification of the war against the NPA in the countryside, but for a campaign of renewed demonisation and attacks on a range of legal, progressive organizations in the Philippines. These include organizations and movements strongly opposed to neoliberal policies at home, and the international institutions, corporations and foreign governments – especially the US – which promote this economic model globally.

Gone are hopes that Arroyo’s presidency might herald a better future for the majority of Filipinos after she replaced former B-movie star, Joseph “Erap” Estrada in the “Peoples Power II” popular revolt of January 2001. An ardent neoliberal, she moved quickly to assure the World Bank and IMF that the privatisation, deregulation and liberalisation policies imposed by previous administrations – to which there has been massive opposition from many sectors of society – would remain in place.

Secretary General of the militant trade union centre, the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU – May First Movement), Elmer Labog says: “Arroyo is bringing back to life the ‘ghosts of Martial Law’. She is using all instruments of repression and fascism that were used by Marcos 30 years ago to quell the people’s broad discontent”.

It is a century after the genocidal Philippine-American war, when an estimated one-tenth of the population was wiped out by US forces during their bloody conquest of the Philippines. It is over ten years since the Filipino people kicked the US military bases out. Yet now the Bush administration, through joint exercises involving the deployment of several thousand American troops, clearly sees the country as a strategic platform in South East Asia once again. Meanwhile it is pressuring Manila to implement the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement which would let US military use Philippine support facilities anywhere in the country.

US military advisers and troops involved in “war games” on Mindanao and Basilan were purportedly providing support and training for the Philippine military’s fight with the Abu Sayyaf Group. That was ironic in itself given that this small bandit group is really a creation of the Philippine military, designed to split and discredit the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, fighting for self-determination for Moro people. Abu Sayyaf only survives thanks to help from the same military which is fighting it.

While Arroyo herself has said that there is no evidence to link the group with al-Qaeda, her office has also explicitly stated that US training and equipment will be put to use against the NPA. Critics of the Balikatan US-Philippine joint military exercise – and there are many – have pointed out that US troops were also deployed in areas such as Central Luzon where the NPA is active.

Arroyo’s Defense Secretary, Angelo Reyes told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (07/08/2002) that US $25 million of the $55 million which Powell handed over in August would go to train and equip elite “Light Reaction Companies” to fight the NPA. National Security Adviser Roilo Golez claimed: “Now that the Abu Sayyaf problem has eased dramatically we can now shift our forces to the areas where communist insurgents are very strong.”

The portrayal of Abu Sayyaf and the CPP/NPA by the US-backed Arroyo regime as being birds of a feather is as disingenuous as it is malicious, especially when the Philippine government still claims to be committed to a peace process with the NDF.

Writing about Operation Balikatan, Gary Leupp, Associate Professor of History at Tufts University says: “The justification of the operation, hinging upon the al-Qaeda connection, is weak. But a much larger US counterinsurgency role in the Philippines, and other nations where liberation movements threaten US-backed-governments, is altogether likely. In that event, the rhetoric of the “war on terrorism” will be employed against rebels more akin to the Viet Cong than al-Qaeda. Are such rebels our enemies? I don’t think so”.

CIA director George Tenet told Congress on February 6 that various “terrorist groups” that have no al-Qaeda connections may also be future US targets. The NPA, deemed to be a threat to US interests, had already featured on the US State Department’s “terrorist list”.

“The CPP-NPA are rebels, not terrorists,” said Senator Rodolfo Biazon, a former armed forces chief who once fought against the NPA.

The Arroyo government’s campaign of redbaiting and attempts to paint legal mass organizations on the Philippine left as CPP/NPA fronts threaten to seriously shrink the political space won by popular struggles for justice and genuine democracy.

Militant workers, and trade unions like those in the KMU are also terrorists according to Arroyo, who railed at “trade unions that terrorize factories that provide jobs.” On the contrary, it is workers who continue to be terrorised. Human rights abuses against workers have increased under Arroyo, with numerous strikes and legal pickets viciously attacked by armed police and private security guards. Union organisers are routinely harassed and fired. The violent demolition of urban poor communities continues, as do price rises of basic commodities and public utilities despite Arroyo’s promises to give security of land tenure and housing to urban poor families and to curb commodity prices.

KMU spokesman Sammy Malunes says that KMU leaders and staff are being watched, “our national office is kept under surveillance and our telephone lines are bugged. We already alerted our ranks for possible military raids and abductions”.

I have been privileged to work alongside a number of militant Filipino organizations and activists in struggles against APEC, the WTO, transnational corporate power and the neoliberal agenda in the Asia-Pacific region. Their analysis, commitment and capacity to mobilise is inspiring.

Most recently, I was invited to a Manila conference by the IBON Foundation (www.ibon.org) which Arroyo and tabloid media in the Philippines have dubbed a communist front group. Its crime? Producing excellent, independent research critical of the Arroyo administration.

BAYAN (Bagong Makabayan), to which Danilo Vizmanos belongs, is a legal alliance of fourteen mass peoples organizations. On August 28, the army colonel in charge of military operations on the island of Negros accused Bayan’s Negros chapter of links with the CPP-NPA.

The evidence? Copies of the CPP’s newsletter, Ang Bayan (The People) were found in recent clashes with the NPA. Bayan-Negros secretary general Julius Mariveles pointed out that Bayan was not founded until some sixteen years after the CPP began publishing Ang Bayan. He warned that such claims by the military may herald a crackdown on progressive organizations in Negros. Meanwhile street posters attacking leaders and organizations of the militant left are going up in various cities.

The progressive Bayan Muna (People First) topped party list votes in the 2001 election for the House of Representatives lower chamber, and has three members sitting in Congress. Dozens of party workers and members have been killed, wounded or disappeared. Karapatan pins the blame for many of these attacks squarely on the Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and government-backed paramilitaries. The military labels Bayan Muna as a “communist front”, while with her eye on re-election in 2004, Arroyo sees political mileage in attacking the party and other above-ground militant organizations.

The cold war is supposedly over, but the absurdly-named “war on terror” feeds a climate where “communist” and “terrorist” are conveniently interchangeable terms to be applied to anyone opposed to unjust government policies and the continuing neo-colonial role of the US in the affairs of the Philippines.

We should all be outraged when organizations like Bayan Muna, Bayan, the KMU and IBON are attacked and vilified. They are engaged in legitimate struggles for radical social economic and political reforms in the Philippines and deserve our solidarity and support. And we should expose and oppose any attempt to remove Joma Sison from the Netherlands.

Back in February, Arroyo dubbed anyone opposed to the US military presence as “not a Filipino…If you are not a Filipino, then who are you? A protector of terrorists, a cohort of murderers, an Abu Sayyaf lover. You care more for terrorists than for your own soldier who defends you. You care more for bandits and the camp of Osama Bin Laden than your own country, which seeks to help you…We’re either for or against democracy, freedom and prosperity. There can be no bystanders” (PDI 9/2/02).

We have heard that speech somewhere before, Gloria. In the distance, I think I hear the song “Puppet on a string”.

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