Left-wing and human rights groups blame Major General Jovito Palparan of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army for most of the murders of political activists, labor leaders, members of party-list groups, and ordinary folk suspected of links with the New People’s Army. But while he might indeed be culpable, the killings are likely to be state policy rather than the result of one man’s inability to appreciate human rights and the rule of law.
Palparan has never categorically denied involvement in the killings, and has ill-concealed his glee over them. He has said in so many words that like the New People’s Army, legal, unarmed left groups are legitimate military targets, which at the very least sanctions the assassination of their leaders and members, and at most implies military involvement. Two of the suspects in one of the most recent killings are also from his command.
The number of human rights violations including the killing of political activists escalated in Mindoro during then Colonel Palparan’s watch as commander of the 204th Infantry Brigade. When assigned to Samar, he boasted to the media that he would end all anti-government protests within six months, through—wink, wink—the “usual” means. He’s recently described himself as the “inspiration” of the killers of militants like Hacienda Luisita union president Ricardo Ramos and Federico de Leon of the jeepney drivers’ group PISTON.
The general is either totally clueless about the most basic human rights concepts or considers them nonsense unworthy of his compliance. He also has a serious inability to distinguish between what’s legal and what’s not, and between combatants and non-combatants.
It‘s tempting to conclude that Palparan’s peculiar mindset is what drives him to seek through force the peace of the graveyard, in which all dissenting voices have been silenced. But it’s unlikely that the tactic is of his own devising.
The Palparan case is not unprecedented. During the Huk rebellion in the 1950s, a number of military officers cast in the same mould led units that terrorized the provinces of Central Luzon. The “Nenita Unit” of then Colonel Napoleon Valeriano, for example, was infamous for committing the grossest human rights violations including the torture, summary execution and beheading of suspected Huks and their sympathizers.
Though carried out with the same enthusiasm as Palparan’s—this general loves his work — these exploits were nevertheless part of state policy. Basically that policy consisted of physically eliminating as many of the Huks and their sympathizers as possible, which provided no room for respecting either their rights or the law. Basically the same policy is in place today, except that this time, with the proliferation of legal left-wing and progressive organizations, the state has significantly expanded its coverage to include dissenters and leftists involved in electoral politics.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s silence on the killings is deafening enough to suggest that Palparan isn’t acting without sanction from the highest levels of government. But there’s also the fact that instead of being at least investigated, Palparan was also promoted in 2004.
If Mrs. Arroyo’s silence and her promotion of Palparan to general speak louder than words, on the other hand the Armed Forces of the Philippines has not been exceptionally discreet. A 2003 article in the AFP publication Tala, (“Implications of Bayan Muna in [sic] the AFP Internal Security Operations” by Lt. Col. John S. Bonafos of the Philippine Army) echoed Palparan’s claim that the party-list group Bayan Muna is a Communist Party front.
But more significantly did it urge “Special Operations Teams” (SOT) to include in their operations “identification and neutralization of Bayan Muna members” in every barangay (village). “SOTs” are clandestine units charged with intelligence-gathering, recruitment of government military agents– and assassinations.
The Bonafos article recommended exposing Bayan Muna’s supposed links to the NPA and the CPP among other means of “neutralization”, the creation of counter-organizations, and the military’s supporting its own party-list groups. But its preference for “neutralization” in the sense of physical elimination as basic policy was unmistakable.
Bayan Muna and other party list groups deny allegations that they’re Communist Party fronts. But even if they were, essential policy questions remain. For example, is the involvement of left groups in electoral politics detrimental to democracy and to the state? Or does it in fact broaden democratic choice, and is in the end to the state’s advantage?
Strategists more sophisticated than those of the present regime’s believe that the involvement of the left in electoral politics—in the “parliamentary struggle”—undermines the view that the ruling classes will not permit the empowerment of groups with alternative programs. It also diverts the energies of left groups from the armed option of achieving change. Both are to the state’s advantage.
The strategists of the Arroyo regime could do worse than look into the history of rebellions and insurgencies in this and other countries. The primary reason insurgencies exist, and why the New People’s Army is gaining strength, is the conviction that there is no other route to change except through the use of arms. The killing of activists and dissenters does fill already overcrowded graveyards. But it also validates that thesis.