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Pulong-Pulong on Extra Judicial Killings

An Independent Statement before the Pulong-Pulong at the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC, last March 22, 2007 on Extra judicial Killings in the Philippines.

My name is Adolfo Q. Paglinawan, and I find myself in somewhat a funny situation being at the other end of this forum. I was the Press Attaché of the Philippine Embassy from 1986 to 93. General Razon and I also worked under former Presidents Corazon C. Aquino and Fidel V. Ramos, and this is the reason why my heart bleeds so much on this issue.

Point of Departure

During the Aquino and Ramos administrations, we were able to dramatically reduce the numbers of active New People’s Army and Moro insurgents, as we talked genuine peace with them and provided the widest democratic space to our people. We did not shoot dissenters nor gave them an opportunity to shoot each other.

This was because we acknowledged only one cause of insurgency – poverty especially in the countryside. So we provided productive opportunities for the people – in country employment for those who can serve in a fast development pace that was called by our neighbors as a tiger-cub economy, or livelihood for those who were willing to bury their guns and till the fields or engage in some form of entrepreneurship.

Quite paradoxically, it took a president from the military ranks to understand the ways of peace and the urgency of development for a country that was still nursing itself from the debilitating effects of martial law.

What went wrong? Politics and political greed overtook our desire to get out of the vicious cycle and perdition of poverty.

In 2001, because it became apparent that former President Joseph Estrada was using his office to practice organized corruption, we deposed him, unmindful that he was elected by the greatest majority in our country’s history. At a time we were reeling from the potential effects of a catastrophic regional currency crisis, nobody wanted to lose our erstwhile tiger-cub economy. So we threw our cares towards the direction of the sitting vice president, a doctor of economics, but breaking the momentum of our democracy. I was so moved by Edsa Dos, I even agreed to help the first three years of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as acting president.

But it did not take long for the prescribed solution to be the resident problem. First, despite public profession to the contrary, Mrs. Arroyo broke her promise not to run for election in 2004. Then she systematically diverted public funds, including P3billion in fertilizers, in order to raise a humungous war chest to steal the electoral count from Fernando Poe Jr., through a bogus national canvass characterized by a monumental dagdag-bawas engineered by the notorious Commissioner Garcillano.

The brazenness of this exercise resulted in a pervading public perception of illegitimacy over the present dispensation. Subsequently Mrs. Arroyo would embark on a systematic campaign of cover-up, often using the police and the military forces under her as commander-in-chief, executive orders and the justice system in order to feign a mailed-fist policy against dissenters. She would lie openly on television. She would often allow her inferiors to test the separation of powers between the three instruments of government, generating a confrontational instead of cordial relations with members of the minority.

As a result, she succeeded in isolating herself from the very people that she had sworn to serve, as her personal agenda began to take precedence over her governance responsibilities. Low tax collection cut short department budgets that could ill afford programs but only personnel salaries. Lack of local production sent our labor to Diaspora into foreign countries, to as much as a million just in 2006 alone. And no matter how the Arroyo administration fakes it, much of our GDP can only be accounted to inbound remittances by overseas Filipinos that pour in more than $1 billion a month.

The lack of domestic opportunity has caused increasing poverty among our people making it possible for us to hear for the first time in our history about a rising hunger index. When combined with repressive policies by a government widely perceived to be illegitimate, we come face to face with a sure formula for fanning dissent and insurgency.

Blood in the Ground

Today as we speak, the extra judicial killings in the Philippines has moved to 838 – two more added this week to the 836 reported by Karapatan to the US Congress.

If the military and the police have indeed adopted systematic elimination of so-called “enemies of the state”, we all lose because they have gone out of the democratic space. If the numbers, however, correspond to what is being widely alleged, we also all lose because our security forces and the entire justice system are being held ineffective, if not outright inutile in putting law and order in its proper place. Nobody wins.

So I say enough of finger-pointing and proceed with dispatch towards the resolution of this problem where we all lose, and the only way to achieve that is for the police to speedily investigate, and elevate those which are ready for prosecution to the courts. Only a clear show of success will clear the air for our people.

But let us not speak so hastily.

1) Karapatan is not comparing notes with the authorities.

Chito Gascon, a former education undersecretary under GMA and who is here under a fellowship with the National Democratic Institute, said that this is due to a low-trust factor on the part of the dissenters on our justice system.

I grant that but this same lack of cooperation brings about shortness of evidence and witnesses, thus most cases cannot be reasonably litigated.

2) Task Force "USIG's" curious breakdown of the more than 836 cases filed by Karapatan includes 3 who were found to be alive, 23 Abu Sayyaf, 8 due to labor dispute, 76 because of armed encounter, 2 suicides, 1 killed by mentally-ill uncle, 10 relating to agrarian-related dispute, 18 personally-motivated, 29 incidents not reported to authorities, 17 fictitious victims and 268 other cases.

On the other hand, if we make this a game of numbers then, we will never see the end of this debate in blood.

I see that because Karapatan and the church groups are suspicious of the government, it is only through the intervention of foreign investigations that matters can be eventually put together and into the light.

Clearly, as Mr. Gascon avers, we find the extra judicial killings as inseparable from the political climate in the Philippines today.

But this must not stop Karapatan and others similarly situated to be forthcoming with their own witnesses and evidences, whether through local or foreign authorities. It does behoove upon civil society not to simply rely on whistle-blowing for purely propaganda or political gain. It is primordial for citizens to come forward, positively identify criminals, provide evidence within their reach to lawfully-constituted authorities. After all, the solution of extra judicial killings is a matter of national interest.

Whistle blowing for Justice

The common impression that not one conviction has been achieved in the issue of extra judicial killings is not true. Let me cite the case of Marlene Esperat, who was assassinated right in her own living room and before the very eyes of her children.

If my group can organize witnesses, evidences and legal prosecution with the cooperation and assistance of the PNP CIDG and (to the surprise of many) the present secretary of justice and government prosecutors, which led to the arrest of the suspects, the grant by the Supreme Court of the transfer of the case from Tacurong to Cebu City, why can’t Karapatan?

The litigation did not exceed one year and finally concluded in the sentencing of three assassins for life.

This is why it is opportuned that I personally thank General Avelino Razon tonight for picking up the Esperat case at that stage and onto this year to actually seeking the further prosecution of the case to the next level - the unmasking of the masterminds.

General Razon, I consider this a sterling example of professionalism and bravery that you have displayed before all uniformed personnel and our people, and I thank you in behalf of Marlene’s children and friends.

You sir, stood for justice and national interest, regardless of personal consequences. Marlene's bloodstains may eventually push forward from the Department of Agriculture's Regional Finance Officer and her chief accountant, to a former Undersecretary now hiding behind immigration cases here in the United States, to a sitting secretary twice-appointed by Mrs. Arroyo, and finally god willing, to the presidential bedroom.

Yes, Marlene Esperat was murdered because she was the whistle blower of the fertilizer scam. Before her untimely death, she filed with the Ombudsman 20 cases against agriculture officials, including the P324 million that was channeled through the National Food Authority for fictitious fertilizer deals, the first of the many trenches that eventually totaled P3 billion – again, the main weapon the Arroyos used to steal the 2004 elections.

Thus like Marlene, all the victims of extra judicial killings cry out for justice from their graves.

Moving forward from the Esperat Experience

General Razon, you enumerated in your statement some steps being undertaken by the Philippine government to address the situation, such as

1) Establishing Task Force Usig and the Melo Commission;

2) Creating 99 special courts and designating special prosecutors dedicated to the trial of extra judicial killings;

3) Coming up with a reward system to entice witnesses and informers to come forward;

4) Enhancing the witness protection program;

5) Creating AFP Human Rights Office to assist their Chief of Staff on matters relating to human rights and international humanitarian law;

6) Integrate the fact-finding of the Department of Justice, Defense and Commission on Human Rights (CHR) into one body;

7) Issuance of the Chief of Staff of memorandum on strict adherence to command responsibility;

8) Releasing P25 million by the Commission on Human Rights for investigations;

9) Providing legal and technical assistance to victims' families; and

10) Maintenance of high level of transparency and willingness to cooperate with the international community, e.g. full access given to UN special rapporteur and Amnesty International.

But I agree with Mr. Gascon's advice to you that the police and military should not be the ones presenting this in Washington DC, elsewhere in the world and especially in the Philippines to defend the Arroyo government. As he said you should maintain an arm's length with having to debate with the dissenting groups.

Your main job is to see through resolution of prosecutions, while allowing the Arroyo and her government and foreign embassies and consulates abroad to do the talking. Manila should call for a talking summit on this issue. There should also be an agreement in Manila as to who will be the sole spokesperson when it comes to extra judicial killings. A civilian would be most preferred.

The press secretary, the secretary of justice, the AFP chief of staff, the defense secretary, the national security adviser and the executive secretary have all rendered themselves not only ineffective but ridiculous because they have irresponsibly attacked the UN rapporteur, the US Senate, Amnesty International and other international bodies trying to help in the issue.

Their statements, obviously motivated in gaining brownie points from their employer-president, came in direct and violent contradiction to her position and that of the Philippine embassy and consulates in the United Sates, that foreign initiatives are welcome. Worse, they projected a government in disarray and seemingly on auto-pilot and a “president” who does not have grasp at the situation and who has no control of her own security and propaganda forces.

Mrs. Arroyo must order a gag on all diarrheas of the mouths by her hound dogs and enforce what she announces in media as welcoming cooperation, period. In other words, she must lower the rhetoric’s and instead prove the deliverables she always talk about in a manner felt by the majority of the people.

She can begin by giving the nation the first honest and clean elections under her watch. She can follow that up by convincing her husband that he too is a public figure who must withdraw all suits and belligerence against journalists and critics as soon as possible.

And as a parting shot, you who are professional policemen and soldiers should never allow yourselves to be positioned by a president between the people and herself in such a divisive issue as the extra judicial killings. Otherwise the people will forever hold you suspect as lackeys of a dying regime, caught in a crossfire of arrogance and suspicion that might usher our country into a civil war.

The rule stands – the constitution allows you to disregard illegal orders, especially coming from politicians whose only agenda is to perpetuate themselves in power. Unless you are truly perceived to be protectors of the people, the role of the international community is held vital to our survival of democracy in our country.

We will continue to count on your patriotism.


Movement for Free Philippines, DC Chapter

2020 Pennsylvania Avenue NW #180, Washington DC 20006


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