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In Phillipines war on terror is war on people

By Tim Howard

The labels “war on terror” and “terrorism” reflect a worldview we need to check against reality. The war on terror often means war by states against their own people. It means state terrorism.

Four New Zealanders were part of an international solidarity mission to the Philippines in August that investigated human rights violations and repression. I was in the team that visited Eastern Visayas on the joined islands of Samar and Leyte. Human rights abuses by the military are said to be worse there than during the martial law regime of the Marcos dictatorship.

“Samar is in agony,” said Alex, a local human rights worker. And so it proved.

On July 16 farmer and local civic mediator Constancio Calubid (50) was beaten and abducted from his house in a remote village on Samar, in front of his wife Rosalina, his sister and his son. They too were threatened along with a civic leader, who tried to intervene. This was done by 40 armed soldiers of the Philippines armed forces, who dragged Constancio away to a waiting boat. His tortured body was found beside a nearby road on July 28, executed. Police refused to investigate his case.

Our team went to Constancio’s house to hear directly from witnesses. We heard more than the horror. People courageously gathered and spoke out after weeks of being terrorised by the army’s nightly activities.

These soldiers were under the command of Brigadier General Jovito S. Palparan – widely known as the ‘Butcher of Mindoro’ for the way he terrorised another region. Since General Palparan received the Eastern Visayas command, there has been a huge escalation of terrorising activities there. Between February 10 and August 4, there were 513 cases of human rights violations in 121 communities. They included 23 executions, 8 attempted murders, 22 disappearances, and 40 cases in which communities were forced to evacuate their villages.

At a July meeting of local community council chairpeople General Palparan threatened: he would kill ten civilians for every soldier that dies. At another public meeting he said the army would abduct a peasant activist every month to neutralise the villages.

Our team spent time with a woman trying to get her abducted 18 year old niece and friend out of an army camp; with peasant farmers in rural Basey – forced to evacuate by military harassment, aerial bombings, arson, and murder; with the widow of attorney Felidito Tacud, assassinated for being a leader in the grass-roots Bayan Muna party; and with many more.

What we saw and heard is echoed in other areas. Striking sugar workers massacred by military snipers. 27 Muslim prisoners killed in a Manila jail – some summarily executed - after four tried a botched break-out.

These violations are systematic and designed to silence dissent against mining or objections to human rights violations.

They reflect the chain of command through General Palparan to the commander-in-chief President Gloria Arroyo. She has not condemned those abuses, a signal the army can act with impunity. She has twice promoted General Palparan.

These violations are part of a broader pattern of intensified militarization, assassinations of human rights activists and journalists, constriction of civil liberties, and a national ID system.

Offenders act with impunity and justice eludes victims. Peace talks with ‘rebels’ are manipulated and suspended. Economic and political rights are violated. U.S. military intervention and ‘aid’ increases.

George W. Bush has designated the Philippines the second front of the war on terror and Gloria Arroyo as the best friend of the US in this war. We witnessed a war against the people.

NZ must withdraw support for Gloria Arroyo’s regime and condemn excuses couched in terms of war on terror. In most cases the real terrorists are state agents. The people of the Philippines and elsewhere deserve more. At least they deserve truth.

Tim Howard is a community development worker with the Northland Urban Rural Mission in Whangarei.