Still at it

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FROM SOME organizations working among the indigenous peoples comes the information that the slideshow called “Knowing the Enemy” is still being presented by some military units making the rounds of rural schools as part of the government’s anti-insurgency campaign. A participant in a roundtable conference on political vilification — tagging individuals and groups as “subversives,” “terrorists,” etc.– held early this week at the University of the Philippines claims that her daughter was in a class in her community elementary school where the military presented the slideshow.

“Knowing the Enemy” is a PowerPoint presentation the media and the public came to know about when the fisherman’s group Pamalakaya got hold of a copy and released its contents through a press conference in 2006, during the disputed presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

“Winning hearts and minds” has been a mantra of long-standing in counter-insurgency campaigns, whether in this country or in others. That alleged aim — engaging citizens themselves in defeating so-called “insurgencies” — the military tries to achieve through, among others, propaganda campaigns. Although it has not always been so defined, the by now conventional meaning of propaganda is the use of deception through false and misleading information.

“Knowing the Enemy” meets that definition. It was part of the vicious counter-insurgency program of the Arroyo regime, which among other components targeted for assassination legal personalities and organizations involved in various movements for change, as well as the leaders and members of party list groups, some of whose nominees were representing them in the House of Representatives.

The presentation labeled as “enemies of the state” a number of organizations, among them party list and sectoral groups like farmers, teachers, workers and women’s organizations. The United Church of Christ in the Philippines and the Catholic Bishops Conference were among the religious groups included, as were the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP). So was the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT).

Dozens of the ranking members and leaders of the organizations listed in “Knowing the Enemy” had by that time been assassinated. The existence of the presentation and its dissemination not only in military camps but also in rural communities tended to confirm suspicions that the Arroyo government was engaged in the assassination of individuals it claimed were part of the “political infrastructure” of the Communist Party of the Philippines or who were members of CPP “front organizations”. “Knowing the Enemy” was in this context a kill list that legitimized political assassinations on the argument that the targets were combatants in disguise, and were part of the “insurgency.”

Indeed, some military officers went so far as to claim that members of left-wing party list groups were at the same time New People’s Army guerillas. In interviews with the media, the military went even further, alleging that membership in open, legal organizations that it claimed were CPP “fronts” was in the same category as membership in the NPA, their aims being complementary to and supportive of the guerilla war the NPA was waging,

Unremarked in the debate that such statements and the spike in the extrajudicial killings during the Arroyo regime provoked was that by demonizing groups openly active in the public sphere, including journalists’ groups, the regime was actually imposing limits on the right of the citizenry to hold opinions and to receive and disseminate information — rights to the observance and protection of which the country has been officially committed since it signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and became a party to other international human rights protocols.

Because the slideshow had been made and was being shown not only in military camps but also in selected communities at the same time as the surge in the number of extrajudicial killings during the Arroyo regime, it also sent a clear message to anyone who held opinions contrary to the government’s — or who were, for that matter, campaigning for the resignation/removal from office of Mrs. Arroyo — that the State would not countenance meaningful dissent.

It was part of the State effort, often cloaked in the guise of national interest, to curtail rights guaranteed by both the Philippine Constitution and the international protocols to which the Philippines is a signatory. Beyond that, however, because of the context in which it was made and was being propagated — the demonstration effect of extrajudicial killings of course included the instilling of fear among the politically active — “Knowing the Enemy” was also part of the campaign of terror the regime was waging against political activists and dissenters.

The inclusion of the NUJP and the PCIJ in the list of enemies of the state was at the same time an attempt at abridging the freedom the Constitution guarantees journalists. The inclusion of the campus journalists’ group CEGP in the same list was meanwhile intended to silence the student press, which has historically been committed to social change in this country — and which at that time was as critical of the Arroyo regime as its professional counterparts.

Some journalists also found out that some of them were in the military’s “order of battle,” one of the most prominent being then New York Times and International Herald Tribune correspondent Carlos Conde. Other journalists in the community press had also been included, thus making them potential targets for “legitimate” elimination.

The inclusion of journalists in “orders of battle” could not but have a chilling effect on journalistic enterprise, particularly on the reporting of corruption and other anomalies. But even worse was that it was occurring at the same time as the increase in the number of journalists being killed during the Arroyo regime — in the last months of which the 2009 Ampatuan Massacre claimed the lives of 32 journalists and media workers in one day. The only conclusion that one could draw from the practice was that the State was on the verge of — if it was not already there — deliberately targeting journalists for elimination.

Was all this a thing of the past? From some journalists in the communities comes the information that some of them are still in military “orders of battle,” the individuals so listed being those exposing corruption and other anomalies, who write or comment about human rights violations, or who are otherwise committed to the fundamental journalistic principle of providing the public the information and analysis it needs.

Together with the information that “Knowing the Enemy” is still being presented before various captive audiences, the practice is a disturbing indication of how, despite claims that things have changed, some have remained the same in this, the country where even the littlest attempt at changing anything is too often met with violence or the threat of it.

(BusinessWorld)

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