“The money spent in dropping a single bomb could have gone a long way in providing for the education of Lumad children, but instead, the government uses it to destroy their lives and future.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – ‘You are under military control and it’s your taxes and the land grabbers paying for your repression.’
This is the gist of a bitter truth pointed out yesterday, August 17, by the different statements of environmentalist group Kalikasan PNE, human rights group Karapatan and Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Partylist.
At yesterday’s budget deliberations in the House of Representatives, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro slammed how the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been using its billion-peso budget. “It targets disadvantaged sectors like Lumad peasants who are struggling for their rights to education and self-determination. It unleashes indiscriminate terror against civilians through aerial bombings and shelling of communities,” lamented Castro.
These attacks are part of the government’s billion-peso, US-instigated counter-insurgency programs, said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan Secretary General. From the time of former President Benigno Aquino III to the current administration of President Duterte, military and paramilitary forces have targeted the Lumad people in the government soldiers’ counter-insurgency campaign.
Castro said Lumad schools have long been forced to suffer military and paramilitary attacks such as threats, harassment, intimidation of teachers, students and community leaders, encampment by soldiers in schools and destruction of school property and premises, and extrajudicial killings.
As if these were not enough, President Duterte has further emboldened the military by issuing bomb threats and reiterating “malicious accusations that they are ‘illegal’ and being used by the NPA,” Castro said during the budget hearing yesterday.
But an attack on schools and civilians is a violation of Philippine laws as well as international humanitarian and human rights laws. Castro said it is still a crime for soldiers to do that even if they say they have permits to occupy schools and civilian communities.
To put an end to these human rights violations and military attacks on civilian structures and communities, the government has to stop treating the likes of the Lumad as targets in their war and instead put an end to counter-insurgency programs, Cristina Palabay of Karapatan said in another statement. Military-based counter-insurgency responses to age-old problems of injustices are “inept and ineffective solutions,” Palabay said, adding that there are better prospects for peace in truly addressing the roots of the problem.
AFP and the perks of violating human rights
The “inept and ineffective solutions” such as militarization are not only costing the people their lives and quality of life, it is costing the public a lot of money.
Human rights group Karapatan recently exposed how the proposed 2018 national budget allocates a more than P300-billion ($5.83 B) war chest to fund the Duterte regime’s war on drugs, war on terror, and all-out war against the NPA.
“This is the peoples’ money being used against them,” said Castro during the budget deliberation. Already, she noted, the AFP has spent P3 billion ($58.3M) for indiscriminate warfare in Mindanao. A single bomb used in an airstrike reportedly costs P323,000 ($6,280), and the military has so far used about 2,000.
More than the cost, a Marawi evacuee lamented that ‘It’s not the NPA or the Maute group who’s getting bombed, but the civilians.
“The money spent in dropping a single bomb could have gone a long way in providing for the education of Lumad children, but instead, the government uses it to destroy their lives and future. Anybody can see this is madness,” Castro said.
Part of the funds for the AFP’s war of suppression goes to soldiers and paramilitary groups’ allowances and bounties. Leon Dulce, the campaign coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, finds it appalling that “there exists an institution that unflinchingly profits from the bullets, shells, and bombs that rain down on the country’s poorest of poor.”
Some of the known bounties the military appropriates include the P100,000 ($1,944) bounty for every captured or killed suspected NPA member. This, amid a growing list of wrongful arrests and trumped up charges of purported rebels. Dulce cited the case, for example, of security guard Rolando Panesa. The AFP alleged in 2012 that he was a top-ranking communist official, but it turned out he really was just an ordinary security guard.
The military’s collection of increasing bounties and perks are frequently at the expense of the budget for social services, the environmentalists and the teachers’ groups said.
Aside from these funds from public coffers, the military also gets funding from corporations they help to establish footholds in ancestral lands of their ‘enemies of the state’ such as the Lumad.
Kalikasan said corporations pour funds into the military to tap them as private security for their projects, which the AFP in turn declares as ‘vital installations’ of ‘national interest.’ Dulce cited a 2013 congressional investigation that revealed how Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI), then affiliated with Anglo-Swiss mining transnational corporation (TNC) Glencore-Xstrata, was paying a P1-million monthly allowance for government paramilitaries protecting its target mining area.
In a 2015 Forbes magazine article, Manuel Zamora, owner of the Nickel Asia mining company that serves as ‘middle man’ to Japanese mining TNC Sumitomo, bluntly confirmed that they funded a Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary (SCAA) unit, a paramilitary group, trained and supervised by the AFP to guard their business interests.
Another source of military slush is the US government. Palabay of Karapatan said the AFP received over $749.65 million worth of assistance for “peace and security” including counter-terrorism assistance from 2001 to 2016.
With all these funding for the Philippine government’s war against critical Filipinos defending their lands and rights, be they Lumad or Maranao or civilian activists, the unfortunate result is ethnocide, Kalikasan said. They call on Congress to not be a party to this ethnocide and deny Duterte his P300-billion war chest.
Dulce of Kalikasan PNE also urged the legislators to investigate the AFP’s various other sources of funding, including the mining money pouring into paramilitaries and investment defense forces of the AFP.