Amnesty International said it was “encouraged” by it. But Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s tongue- in- cheek “condemnation” of political killings during her sixth State of the Nation Address (SONA)was cynical and totally insincere for two reasons.
Her asking witnesses to come forward was the first of these indications of insincerity and worse. The second was the “condemnation’s” having been preceded by unqualified praise for the Army general widely accused of orchestrating the slaughter.
By now everyone’s concluded that Mrs. Arroyo’s July 24th speech was not so much a report on the State of the Nation, but the occasion for her to acknowledge those she credits for her political survival, particularly the military and the police.
But it is not so much to the military and police as institutions that she owes her continuing occupation of Malacanang, but to individual generals and other officers. It’s not as if these police and military officers backed her in support of the very constitution they habitually violate.
In some cases it was obvious that they did it to protect their own hides, bound as their interests were with Mrs. Arroyo’s continuing in power. We can only speculate about the reasons of their fellows. But we should keep in mind that even bishops have been bought, and bought cheaply, in this Catholic country.
Her sixth SONA Mrs. Arroyo used not only to beguile the nation, but also to thank those individuals. Among them was Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, who apparently refused to join anti-Arroyo military plotters last February. But Mrs. Arroyo did not thank him for his support then.
She did more. She sent a clear message throughout the land that she approved of Palparan’s methods. Mrs. Arroyo thus described the general as a warrior “who will not stand down until the communities are free from terror and are able to see the dawn of justice and freedom.”
Itself fraught with irony–terror in the communities where the Philippine Army’s 78th Division reigns comes in the form of arbitrary arrests, searches and harassment by the military, as well as abductions and assassinations–the statement was followed by the condemnation, “in the harshest possible terms” of political killings. But no terms either harsh or gentle followed. Instead Mrs. Arroyo urged witnesses in political killings “to come forward.”
And yet Mrs. Arroyo must know that witness fear for their safety and lives has been the one sure thing murderers of all stripes, but specially the well-connected ones, can count on to prevent their prosecution.
The non-governmental Asian Human Rights Commission based in Hongkong has several times pointed out that “getting away with murder in the Philippines is made easy by the absence of any functioning witness protection scheme. The lack of witnesses also becomes a convenient excuse for investigators to say they have done their jobs, but have no further avenues for action.”
While there is a witness protection act in the Philippines (RA 6981), the system it is supposed to have created is practically non-functioning. The United Nations Human Rights Committee thus had occasion in December 2003 to urge the Philippines to “adopt legislative and other measures to prevent violations (of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights)…ensure effective enforcement of the legislation.”
The implication: the Philippine government is doing little if anything to enforce its own witness protection program. Like many other things in the country of our afflictions, it exists only on paper and in the forked tongues of our so-called leaders.
Lack of witnesses was thus the reason cited by Task Force Usig of the Philippine National Police, which investigated allegations that General Palparan is directly or indirectly responsible for the over 700 killings of political activists, lawyers, priests, local officials, human rights workers, students and labor and farmer leaders. Echoing Mrs. Arroyo’s call, the PNP asked witnesses against Palparan to come forward. The task force assured witnesses of their safety by including them in the witness protection program.
But as AHRC has pointed out, in case after case, witnesses have refused to come forward precisely because the so-called witness protection program is a fraud. The reason is as basic as Mrs. Arroyo’s legitimacy problems. The Philippine government does not allocate funds and resources for it. What’s worse, said AHRC, the same government is simply and plainly not interested in creating a working witness protection program to begin with. Thus the refusal of witnesses to come forward.
But consider too the situation in, say, a town in Central Luzon. The military has set up detachments and checkpoints, and soldiers roam the streets stopping and searching anyone they please. They enter and search homes at will. In public gatherings they openly accuse those who voted for militant party list groups in 2004 of being communists, whom they vow to wipe out. In these communities bodies keep turning up at the rate of one, two a week.
No witness to a political killing would dare come forward under these conditions, and everyone in the Arroyo regime knows it. Common policemen and soldiers know it. Police and military officials from lieutenant to general know it. And Mrs. Arroyo most of all knows it. Her condemnation of political killings was not only insincere, but a calculated way of declaring the exact opposite.