Wednesday, August 16, 2006


I am printing all three parts of a series from the alternative Philippines Weekly Bulatlat. It is long so if you aren't interested, then skip it. However, I would recomend a look see.

Macapagal-Arroyo’s ‘Silent War’ Vs the Left
Merging Executive Policy and Military Strategy
First of three parts

In the long-drawn war against the Marxist guerrillas where force takes the lead, the country’s security forces have had a reproachable record in human rights threatening even legitimate political dissent, the peaceful advocacy of radical reform and, now, the use of the legislature to push for patriotic and progressive legislation.


“We have been in this game for decades. Perhaps it is high time to put into play an end-game strategy that will terminate this lingering problem.”

Thus reads a briefing paper on Operation Plan Bantay Laya (or Oplan Freedom Watch – OBL), a strategic plan of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that was implemented beginning 2002. Shortly thereafter, OBL, originally designed against the Abu Sayyaf – a kidnap-for-ransom group that acquired a U.S. spin as a “terrorist” – was extended as a strategy against the No. 1 “state enemy” – the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed component, the New People’s Army (NPA).

Echoing this “end-game strategy” against the underground Left – which has waged an armed struggle since 1969 – Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz vowed in 2005 to crush the country’s major “national security threat” in six to 10 years. Early this year, Macapagal-Arroyo’s Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security (COC-IS) adjusted OBL as the “Enhanced National Internal Security Plan.” Government had earlier suspended unilaterally the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), an 11-year-old accord signed jointly by the peace panels of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). Denounced by the NDFP as in violation of the terms of the internationally-recognized accord itself, the act stripped NDFP personnel, consultants and staffs of security and immunity guarantees thus making them vulnerable to military and police attacks.

In the campaign against the armed Left, OBL or the internal security plan was to be carried out in priority regions combining combat, intelligence and civil-military operations. But reports say the Oplan also stresses the “neutralization” of communists’ “sectoral front organizations” to make it effective. By experience and as understood by rights watchdogs and militant groups, to “neutralize” translates into physical elimination.

Neither the presumptive President of the Republic, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, nor her defense department has denied the existence of the AFP’s top secret military strategy against the armed Left. In fact a few weeks ago, as commander in chief, Macapagal-Arroyo directed the AFP to finish off the Leftist “insurgency” in two years instead of six or 10, and earmarked an additional P1 billion to boost the counter-insurgency military offensives. She had earlier mobilized the Philippine National Police (PNP) for counter-insurgency operations making this campaign a joint military-police program.

As in past regimes, the military approach to fighting the armed revolutionary movement has once again underlined giving the AFP, police, paramilitary and other security forces – including anti-communist vigilantes – the upper hand in the fight against the armed Left. In the long-drawn war against the Marxist guerrillas where force takes the lead, the country’s security forces have had a reproachable record in human rights threatening even legitimate political dissent, the peaceful advocacy of radical reform and, now, the use of the legislature to push for patriotic and progressive legislation. This is based consistently on the findings of the UN Committee on Human Rights, Amnesty International, other reputable international and Philippines rights watchdogs and lawyers groups, the World Council of Churches and other church organizations, the country’s own Committee on Human Rights (CHR) and even human rights investigations by the Congress itself.

List of atrocities

Macapagal-Arroyo, however, can no longer evade responsibility for the politically-motivated killings that have claimed the lives of, to date, 725 persons many of them identified with cause-oriented organizations and progressive political parties. The victims have included regional and provincial leaders of these organizations, rights volunteers, church leaders, lawyers, physicians, students, journalists as well as farmers, workers, women and children. In recent months, several rights watchdogs and fact-finding groups have fingered the presumptive president’s security forces as the probable perpetrators in the reported killings that became a pattern after Macapagal-Arroyo took power in 2001.

Seen recently as proof of the presumptive president’s role in the political killings was when she publicly commended in her July 24 state-of-the-nation address (Sona) Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan for his anti-insurgency record. Tagged as the “butcher” of many activists and several times promoted by the president herself, Palparan has been most aggressive in the AFP’s anti-insurgency drive particularly in “neutralizing” the underground Left’s alleged legal political infrastructure. Sixty percent of reported killings and abductions during the past year occurred in Central Luzon – Palparan’s present assignment. The presidential praise heaped on Palparan sent a signal for the military to stay on course insofar as the “neutralization” of alleged leftist front organizations is concerned. Thus in just three weeks, the number of summary executions and abductions victimizing activists, organizers and party-list leaders has increased.

Records show that the political assassinations or extra-judicial executions of suspected “enemies of the state” have escalated alongside other military-police operations such as forced mass evacuations, hamletting or herding of whole communities into military garrisons and the militarization of villages that has undermined civilian rule. This escalation became noticeable especially since Macapagal-Arroyo launched her own “war on terror” late 2001 in exchange for continued U.S. support for her regime and increase in U.S. armed presence in the country.

Deepening U.S.-Philippine military cooperation paved the way for reconfiguring the “war on terror” into an all-out war against the Left. Labeling the CPP-NPA and its suspected “front organizations” as “terrorist” became a strategy to give the Macapagal-Arroyo regime a new “ideological” bent to project the Left – and its alleged “front organizations” – as the country’s main problem and thus diffuse public criticism on the president’s constitutional legitimacy, corruption and other issues. The further aim is to vilify the Left as a “criminal” organization without any ideological and political cause making it subject to the use of full force by the state.

At the presidential level, this is the policy pursued by Macapagal-Arroyo’s COC-IS and the AFP’s current doctrines of anti-insurgency-terrorism as well as the OBL. An AFP document dated 2004, “Military Strategy for Combating Terrorism,” lumps the NPA with the ASG as a “terrorist group” justifying the use of “force on terror” by government’s internal security forces, namely, the AFP, paramilitary and the Philippine National Police (PNP). Force is used against the enemy’s “predetermined targets” such as its “critical vulnerabilities” and “support systems.” The AFP’s anti-insurgency-terrorism doctrine is at the heart of its strategy that commands implementation by all internal security forces through military and police operations.

Psywar, black prop and media

The reconstructed “war on terror” or internal security plan, has been waged through a combination of psywar, black propaganda and, for such purposes, the use of the trimedia, along with the drawing up what rights watchdogs describe as a virtual “orders of battle” (OBs or hit lists). For propaganda, top AFP high and regional commands have organized press briefings as well as town assemblies where at least two major power point presentations with printed versions were shown: “Knowing the Enemy” and the “Trinity of War.” These two controversial presentations include a long list of legitimate mass organizations, NGOs including Church and media institutions, many – but not all – of them known to be active critics of government and advocates of social and political reform. They were named as having links with the underground Left. What drew public outrage was that not only these psywar paraphernalia were fabricated and put legitimate organizations under negative public perception but also placed them and the lives of their leaders and members in physical harm. The hit lists – if true – practically put the law in mockery and make the military the prosecutor, judge and executioner all rolled into one.

Documentation by rights watchdogs and fact-finding missions shows a pattern in the political murders and forced disappearances since 2001: Many of the victims had been named in military hit lists or had received warnings and physical threats (sometimes through text messages) from military authorities; many were ambushed by motorcycle-riding, hooded gunmen, still others were shot in front of their own families. Victims of abduction were found to have been brought to military camps only to disappear afterwards; vehicles used for the killings and abductions were seen either near or inside military headquarters. Reports also show that many victims were targeted not as NPA suspects but as leaders or members of legitimate cause-oriented organizations. Many eyewitnesses have told investigators, including the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and police, that soldiers or military agents were involved.

Newspaper accounts also say that the killings – and the style and circumstances in which these are executed - have spread in many regions citing in particular the case of communist-hunter Palparan whose every assignment – from Mindoro/Southern Tagalog, to Samar-Leyte and now Central Luzon - has been said to leave a trail of blood. Given the spread of the killings and the circumstances and style by which these cases are executed, it is not difficult to believe that these incidents could not have happened – or continue to happen – without orders from some high command or without the authority given, or at least the knowledge of, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The AFP in particular follows a hierarchy and operations in the field are always in pursuance of orders from above. Orders cannot be questioned and these are executed not only because of the hierarchy but also because to refuse them would violate the soldier’s oath. There have also been reports that at in least in one province in northern Philippines, several death squads and hit men had been deployed by some top police officials.

The U.S. Doctrine of Counter-Insurgency in the ‘Silent War’
Second of three parts

The deliberate use of terror is “a legitimate and highly effective tactical tool of unconventional warfare.” This unconventional warfare is designated as a “national policy” with the military assigned the primary responsibility in “the conduct of punitive operations” backed by police, paramilitary and civilian agencies.


Accounts of government’s internal security plan or of the OBL do not of course show that the military and other security forces are under explicit orders to kill leaders and members of suspected front organizations of the underground left. However, government’s record of counter-insurgency in the Philippines sheds some light on how such campaign operates.

Since the Marcos dictatorship (1972, when martial law was declared, to 1986 when he was ousted from power), the doctrine of counter-insurgency has been waged through unrelenting military suppression campaigns, psychological warfare and assaults on civil liberties. The doctrine was refined further during the Aquino presidency’s “total war policy” through the CIA-inspired low-intensity conflict (LIC) that tapped local government units, paramilitary units and – unclassified secret documents reveal - about 50 vigilante bands or death squads. Counter-insurgency campaigns have been launched not only against the Marxist guerrillas but also Moro rebels fighting for self-determination and autonomy. The cost of such brutal campaigns in terms of human lives lost and communities displaced would be huge and lengthy to mention in this paper.

Both previous campaigns and the current OBL – which is actually recycled from the old ones – have the makings of the counter-insurgency or “counter-terror” doctrine devised by the U.S. military since the 1950s and which, according to former CIA operatives, had been used extensively in at least 43 countries particularly in the Philippines, Indochina and Korea. Similar doctrines have also been crafted in Central and Latin America and, today, in Colombia, Iraq and other countries.

Based on U.S. military field manuals, the heart of this counter-insurgency doctrine is the deliberate use of terror “as a legitimate and highly effective tactical tool of unconventional warfare.” This unconventional warfare is designated as a “national policy” with the military assigned the primary responsibility in “the conduct of punitive operations” backed by police, paramilitary and civilian agencies. Operations used for this terror campaign include assassinations, disappearances and mass executions. Although terror is supposed to be part of the counter-insurgency program, experience shows that it may in fact gain primacy thus making the program primarily an unconventional war.

The doctrine further suggests that the use of terror as a “legitimate weapon” for counter-insurgency aims to instill fear among the population and, as a result, deny suspected cadres and members of target political organizations their mass support. Mass executions or massacres often take place alongside selective political assassinations for maximum effect. The psywar message these operations try to send is that advocacy – especially the radical type – is risky and is not worth fighting for. Being highly-secretive and known only to top military officials, terror invests both the hit men and architects of these punitive operations with the license to kill as well as immunity from prosecution.

For too long, the Philippines has been maintained by the United States, its former colonial master, for the latter’s strategic economic and geo-political objectives not only in the Philippines but throughout Asia, the Pacific and the Gulf Region. This special relationship has been guaranteed by making the AFP dependent on U.S. military aid and training in order to make it useful for its proxy war in the Philippines as well as for ensuring that whoever sits as president remains friendly to the United States. Note the intervention of the U.S. chiefly through the AFP and the use of economic squeeze in two political-economic crises that led to the downfall of two presidents – Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001. The immediate aim was to prevent the government from supposedly falling into the hands of the Left and hence keeping the Philippines’ ancillary role in U.S. strategic interests in the region. Before Marcos and Estrada, previous presidents had also been empowered or suffered shorter terms depending on their ability to fight insurgent forces and support U.S. objectives, among other considerations.

Key role

Thus for decades the U.S. military through its Pacific Command has maintained strong influence in the AFP not only in the field of counter-insurgency but also in the current U.S.-led “war on terrorism.” The U.S. has had a key role in developing and promoting counter-insurgency doctrines that were adopted by the AFP. The implementation of counter-insurgency doctrines – including the current “war on terror” – had been tied to U.S. economic and military aid. Continuing scholarship trainings given to the AFP’s junior officers as well as police officers at the U.S. military’s special training schools are used to further hone the country’s security forces anti-insurgency strategy and skills while maintaining the AFP as a surrogate army of the U.S.

At present, the U.S. military, intelligence and “homeland security” operatives provide training for special covert operations as well as intelligence, logistical, and combat support. U.S. armed intervention in the country has been boosted by a new agreement signed with the Macapagal-Arroyo government allowing U.S. forces to operate not only for “training” or “war exercises” but also to conduct “humanitarian” and “anti-terrorism” missions. Actually such missions have been ongoing in recent years particularly in suspected NPA lairs.

The U.S. role in counter-insurgency-terrorism has expanded alongside the increase in U.S. economic aid geared to anti-terrorism. Based on the 2003 Conflict Vulnerability Assessment, the USAID’s new strategy for 2004-2009 seeks to “address conflict more comprehensively and with a broader geographical focus, particularly on areas outside Mindanao where poverty and social injustice can help to create fertile ground for organized violence and terrorism.”

Records also show, however, that the greater the level of U.S. aggression through military presence and increased military and economic aid is in the country, the more human rights violations occur. The U.S. military and economic aid that propped up the Marcos dictatorship was also used to intensify military suppression campaigns that resulted in nearly five million people displaced and tens of thousands arrested, tortured, killed and disappeared. The U.S-initiated and –supported low intensity war during the Aquino years (1986-1992) led to unprecedented cases of forcible disappearances, massacres, the deployment of vigilante squads and the extra-judicial killings of many urban-based activists. While pretending to engage the Left in peace talks, the Ramos government (1992-1998) launched similar punitive operations with secret plans to restore authoritarian rule, a policy that was sustained by Joseph Estrada (1998-January 2001) particularly in the south. All told, it can be said that like her, Macapagal-Arroyo’s predecessors used counter-insurgency to the hilt to ensure continued U.S. support. But, at what cost?

Throughout the world, the U.S. has been condemned for using the “war on terror” as a pretext for launching wars of aggression on many small countries, for propping up unpopular and despotic regimes as well as for the increase of crimes against humanity and human rights violations in these countries. The Bush government refuses to take heed on calls from around the world to withdraw its support for the illegitimate Macapagal-Arroyo regime especially because U.S. military aid has led to more political crimes and that economic aid only goes to corruption.

What Drives Macapagal-Arroyo’s “Silent War”?
Last of three parts

The issue of political murders is tied to the issue of regime survival.


The recent directive of Macapagal-Arroyo to the justice department and Philippine National Police (PNP) to solve at least 10 political killings in 10 weeks is obviously just for show. The PNP is not only involved in counter-insurgency itself but its own Task Force Usig, which is charged with investigating the political crimes, according to a recent international fact-finding mission of Dutch and Belgian judges and lawyers, “has not proven to be an independent body…the PNP has a poor record as far as the effective investigation of the killings is concerned and is mistrusted by the Philippine people.”

Macapagal-Arroyo condemned “in the harshest possible terms” political killings but only after praising Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, who has been accused by human rights and militant groups of masterminding political killings in regions where he was assigned. She also has taken no heed to clamors for the formation of an impartial truth commission to look into the political murders. A highly independent probe will likely unearth the whole truth and the trail of blood might yet be traced to the doors of the presidency itself. This is a danger zone for the regime.

All these, meanwhile, continue to give the Macapagal-Arroyo regime the latitude to keep the counter-insurgency-terrorism campaign on track that could also mean continued political killings and a culture of impunity.

Macapagal-Arroyo’s “end game strategy” – now cut to two years – is expected to fail to wipe out the Leftist rebellion for not even she or her generals know the answer on how to solve this 37-year-long “lingering problem.” Assuming that death squads are the main instrument for ending the armed rebellion, then the spate of killings will need to be at a high level targeting the tens of thousands of activists and a claimed mass constituency of millions. The armed Left has sustained 37 years of guerrilla war and survived repression campaigns equal to – if not more atrocious than – that mounted by Macapagal-Arroyo’s security forces today.

Pragmatic rulers, including Ramos, have admitted that it will take more than military solutions to solve it and this means perhaps having the political will to pursue meaningful socio-economic reforms. Presidents are not actually driven by long-term visions: They exist simply based on short-term goals – or narrow political interests.

This paper shares the theory that the graft-ridden AFP in particular its top hierarchy is motivated by the need to justify its whopping budget which includes its “modernization” program and for this it needs to keep its membership in combat mode. Career generals need to show a record of performance for promotion and post-retirement benefits. An active counter-insurgency, especially if it is integrated with the global “war on terror”, will continue to draw full U.S. and other foreign military assistance.

Political leverage

However, Macapagal-Arroyo’s short-term military approach is apparently tied to a political leverage. Former government chief peace negotiator, Silvestre Bello III, recently spilled the beans somewhat when he said that the current internal security plan aims to force the NDFP back to the negotiating table where the GRP panel can talk “from a position of strength.” It is likely therefore that the “terror” tack of the AFP’s end-game strategy (specifically the killing of civilians, as alleged) could escalate further in two years assuming that it can be used as a political blackmail to force the NDFP forces to capitulate.

This dirty ploy addresses the U.S. opposition to negotiating with the Left and its preference for keeping the military ante in order to force the NDFP to surrender. This is likely the reason why the Macapagal-Arroyo government conspired with the U.S. to include the CPP-NPA and the NDFP’s senior political consultant, Jose Maria Sison, in the state department’s list of “foreign terrorist organizations” even as diplomatic efforts were also made with European and other governments to do the same. Thereafter, the government panel pressed the NDFP side to accept a fast-track formula for the talks, which was essentially a blueprint for surrender. Both tactics provoked the NDFP to protest leading eventually to the collapse of the peace talks in Oslo. The government responded with the unilateral suspension of JASIG followed, coincidentally, by the escalation of political killings.

In the end, whether the Macapagal-Arroyo regime can indeed force the Left to surrender is not the end-result she’s eyeing. What matters is that the present hard-line strategy against the Left – and the role that the AFP takes – will go a long way toward ensuring continued U.S. support that can be coursed through an AFP that remains on the side of its commander-in-chief. Macapagal-Arroyo has pledged fatter budgets for the graft-ridden AFP and even fatter salaries for its generals.

For that, after all, is what matters most for Macapagal-Arroyo at the moment. Having lost the constitutional legitimacy to govern, and faced with continuing prospects of impeachment, coup threats and a worsening political crisis – not to mention the total breakdown of law under her rule - the presumptive president must hang on to the apron of the U.S., and its powerbroker in the Philippines, the AFP. Just like in the Marcos years, constitutional illegitimacy and the weakening of political institutions have led to the worsening of human rights violations.

Indeed, the issue of political murders is tied to the survival of the regime.

No comments: