By BENJIE OLIVEROS
When Fernando Baldomero a Bayan Muna member in Kalibo, Aklan and Jose Daguio a radio broadcaster from Tabuk, Kalinga were killed, we said this should serve as wake up call for Pres. Benigno Aquino III to address other serious problems besetting the country as well, especially the impunity in killings. It is no longer the time to focus on a single issue: corruption, as if it would solve all of the country’s problems.
In the first place, aside from statements and press releases saying that the Aquino government is serious in addressing corruption, nothing has really been done yet, except the banning of sirens and blinkers and the appointment of President Aquino’s friends and supporters to Cabinet positions. There is still a lot to do in this regard, and to really address corruption, admonitions and appointing ‘trusted’ people are not enough. It is about breaking a whole systemic problem and no less than radical reforms in the political system, including the political party and electoral system, are needed.
In the meantime, the body count is mounting. With the killing of Pascual Guevarra, a peasant leader in Nueva Ecija, and two public school teachers, Mark Francisco and Edgar Fernandez, in Masbate, plus the failed attempt on one more teacher Dexter Legazpi also in Masbate, alarm bells should already be furiously banging.
However, the reactions of President Aquino are tame, to say the least. He warned that those who break the law – whether criminals or government or law enforcement officials – would be treated the same way. Second, his spokesperson said the commission of extrajudicial killings is not part of the new government’s policy. And third, President Aquino told the Armed Forces of the Philippines that respect for human rights should be the priority in the new counterinsurgency program of the military.
At the same time, President Aquino told the AFP that his administration would provide everything that it is asking for. He said increasing the number of military and police personnel would be a priority of the new government. And he gave marching orders to the AFP to focus on decimating the insurgency.
For one, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo did the same things, and more. She denied that her government had anything to do with the killings. She condemned the killings, while praising retired Major General Jovito Palparan. She formed two bodies to investigate the killings: the Melo Commission and Task Force Usig and allowed the visit of UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston. The AFP even formed a human rights desk. Then she gave a deadline to the AFP to defeat the insurgency by the end of her term. All of these did not solve but rather fanned the flames of impunity.
Second, if the Aquino administration is serious in instituting social reforms as its way of achieving peace, why is there a need to modernize the weaponry and increase the number of the almost two hundred thousand-strong AFP? Is there an external threat? Isn’t what the AFP is saying is true that it has practically decimated the Abu Sayyaf, neutralized the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and effectively reduced the number of New People’s Army guerrillas to 5,000 fighters and its presence to a few provinces and fronts?
Has he not read the Alston report, which stated that under the AFP’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya, non-combatants are not distinguished from combatants and are therefore, made the target of attacks? Thus, his order to the AFP to focus its efforts in decimating the insurgency would also mean killing activists, who the military accuses of being part of the political infrastructure of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
To stop the killings, President Aquino should rescind Oplan Bantay Laya and thoroughly review the new counterinsurgency program of the AFP, taking out references to “neutralizing” activists. Better yet, make peace negotiations and addressing the roots of the armed conflict the priority. To break the impunity, it should immediately start the investigation and prosecution of those involved in the killing of activists, as well as journalists. Impunity prevails because of inaction, and no amount of admonitions and statements of adherence to human rights could break it. (Bulatlat.com)