August 16, 2010
The umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan today criticized the reported extension of the counter-insurgency program called “Oplan Bantay Laya” which human rights watchdogs have blamed for the spate of extrajudicial killings and disappearances under the Arroyo administration.
“This is really a very disappointing development. The extension of Bantay Laya places a huge question on the Aquino’s administration’s commitment to human rights,” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
Bantay Laya, according to human rights defenders, does not distinguish between armed and unarmed activists. Rather, the program considers legal activist organizations as front groups of the Communist Part of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.
“Our experience with Bantay Laya is enough reason why we believe this program must not be given a new lease on life. Under Mrs. Arroyo’s term, some 475 activists were killed. The present government cannot dismiss these deaths as unrelated. Clearly there was a pattern. The methods and circumstances of the killings were similar. These happened for the most part under Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2,” Reyes said.
Bayan said that it was unimpressed with the claim of the Armed Forces of the Philippines that human rights will be respected in the course of the counter-insurgency campaign.
“They can tell that to the Marines. It will take more than a handbook on human rights to undo the vile indoctrination done by the likes of Norberto Gonzales and Fr. Romeo Intengan who provided the ideological justification for the extrajudicial killings. It will take more than a token commitment to human rights to reverse the thrusts of Oplan Bantay Laya which includes the killings of unarmed activists,” Reyes said.
Bayan also demanded accountability for the killings and disappearances under the Arroyo regime.
“No matter how much the AFP talks about human rights, until officers involved in past abuses are made accountable, the AFP will merely be engaged in empty talk. How can the soldiers respect human rights when they know that human violators are not held accountable anyway?” Reyes said.
“Aquino can send a clear message to troops by prosecuting the officers and civilian officials involved in the extrajudicial killings. But how can this be done when the extension of Bantay Laya in effect legitimizes and justifies the abusive military operations of the past,” Reyes added.
Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
Bayan Secretary General