“Orchestrated” correctly describes it. “Scripted” or “rehearsed” as well as “evasive” will also do. But add the word “clueless” to refer to the Arroyo regime reaction to the call of foreign chambers of commerce in the Philippines for the Arroyo regime to stop the political killings.

“Unprecedented” is on the other hand appropriate to describe the call. No foreign business group, much less the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce (JFC) in the Philippines, has ever issued such a call to my recollection.

Unprecedented or not, the JFC–which includes business groups from the United States, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, the European Union, and Korea doing business in the Philippines– declared last November 13 that the killings are “a serious blemish on the country’s national image.” What’s worse, these same killings “could impact negatively on future foreign investment and foreign economic assistance.”

The JFC statement was only the latest in a series of similar statements from other groups worldwide. Amnesty International, the Asian Human Rights Commission, church groups from the European Union (EU) and the United States, international lawyers’ organizations, journalists’ federations, even US senators and EU governments–have called on the Arroyo regime to stop the political killings that have so far claimed the lives of over 700 Filipinos since 2001.

These statements have varied in their urgency. But they all assume that (1) it is within the power of the Arroyo regime to stop the killings, which in turn assumes that (2) its instrumentalities are committing them. There is also the sense that the killings are serious enough to merit the concern of the world community including international business.

This perception proceeds from, first, awareness that extrajudicial killings undermine democracy not only because they deny victims the basic right to life. They also punish without trial offenses that even under the laws of this country are not capital crimes.

Second, rather than contribute to the “political stability” the Arroyo regime has been blathering about for the last two years, they actually worsen mass resentment and encourage rebellion. The killing of members of party-list groups like Bayan Muna, for example, validates the armed Left’s thesis that only the use of force, rather than participation in government, can make reforms possible.

From the standpoint of business groups, the killings thus compromise both the short-term and long-term stability of the country. They worsen security problems, and make doing business even more problematic than it already is. These are lessons that should by now be well learned, given the country’s martial law experience.

But the Arroyo regime and its agencies seem to be especially unteachable. Their reactions to the JFC statement were as clueless as they were predictable. Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye and the Philippine National Police chorused that the killings had been exaggerated by human rights groups to discredit the Arroyo regime. Expect other agencies like the Department of Justice to do the same.

Bunye described the supposed exaggeration as part of “an insidious plot,” while PNP Director General Oscar Calderon said the numbers were “being manipulated,” and declared that the over 700 killings recorded by the human rights group Karapatan were not all political killings.

PNP Deputy Director Avelino Razon said these “non-political” killings occurred during military-New People’s Army encounters, or were the result of an internal NPA purge. The sole source of these claims isn’t exactly as unimpeachable as Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. That’s the AFP, which is known to list as battle casualties students doing research, farmers tending their crops, and women and children asleep in their homes.

But the PNP also claims that 21 killings of journalists have been solved–according to the PNP definition of “solved,” which means identifying a suspect and filing a court case. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines–and everyone else, for that matter–define “solved” to mean that suspects have been tried and convicted. But Razon said that was erroneous, because that’s not the way the PNP defines it, meaning it’s the PNP, rather than Webster, that decides what such common words as “solved” means.

The PNP also decides who are journalists. The PNP dismisses as non-journalists those killed who were not accredited with any media organization, which is why its list of murdered journalists since 2001–26–is shorter than NUJP’s 46.

But NUJP knows–it ought to, since it is the biggest organization of journalists in the Philippines–that what makes a journalist is not affiliation with any media organization, but performing as a journalist. Many people do free lance journalism work in the communities, which means they report for various media organizations while not being affiliated with one. That makes them journalists–and even more so when they’re killed for what they reported or commented on via the media.

But the PNP insists on its own definitions–of “solved,” of “journalists” and even of “political killings.” These definitions are totally convenient for the PNP and the regime it serves. For example, in at least one instance, the PNP considered a killing solved once a suspect had been identified. The suspect turned out to be the usual fall guy, on whom the local police was trying to pin the murder to divert suspicion from the real killer, who was a policeman.

This happened in the 2003 killing of Pagadian City journalist Edgar Damalerio, in whose murder the police named a local thug who was not in Pagadian when Damalerio was killed. Only the efforts of media advocacy and journalists’ groups like the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and the NUJP led to the identification, arrest, trial and conviction of the policeman-killer.

Do the Arroyo regime and its agencies really believe that the various international groups that have taken note of the killings and demanded that they stop are as naïve and ignorant of the facts as they think? Apparently they do. That makes them clueless as to the seriousness with which the killings are viewed worldwide.

(Business Mirror)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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