Twelve leaders and members of left-wing party list groups have so far been killed in Northern and Central Luzon over the last few weeks, while five more have been abducted by unknown persons. The killings have become noticeable for their frequency lately, but have actually been going on for at least two years.

Among the recent dead are a priest of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (more commonly known as the Aglipayan Church) and a Tarlac city councilor. An average of one Bayan Muna leader, member or supporter has been killed every ten days, says Bayan Muna party-list representative Teodoro “Teddy” Casino, who, together with fellow BM representative Satur Ocampo, has asked Congress to look into the killings and for Malacanang to stop them.

Why Malacanang? Because Bayan Muna and its allied organizations suspect that it’s the military that’s doing it, and that Malacanang is either aware of it, or worse, has adopted a policy to systematically eliminate left-wing activists and leaders of legal organizations. Malacanang has so far not responded. But Northern Luzon Command commanding general Romeo Dominguez has denied allegations that military operatives have been doing the killings.

General Dominguez said it’s the NPA that’s responsible. But the military has been insisting that Bayan Muna and like-minded party-list groups and mass organizations are NPA and/or Communist Party fronts. Tarlac City councilor Abelardo Ladera, for example, was described by a Nolcom report at the time of his assassination as a cadre of the CPP. If Ladera was a CPP cadre, and the NPA killed Ladera, then the NPA killed one of its own.

What makes the military and the government the prime suspects is not only the prior surveillance and then the precision with which the killings have been carried out. There is also the fact that aside from the government and military’s tagging the party-list groups as CPP-NPA fronts, during the May 2004 elections the police and the military actively campaigned against them.

Together with arbitrary arrests, illegal searches and the harassment not only of political and social activists but also of ordinary people accused of common crimes, the killings speak volumes about the abysmal state of human rights in this country. But if indeed the military is doing the killings, they also raise a primary question of state policy.

After 1986, a number of progressives involved in the anti-dictatorship resistance entered the civilian government, thus broadening political participation in it. During the Ramos presidency the Anti-Subversion Law was repealed, and the Party-List Act passed. Both were meant to suggest a change in past Philippine governments’ policy of excluding left-wing groups and personalities from the political process, as well as to broaden the democratic base of Congress. The Party-List Act, for example, was passed in recognition of the need to include in law-making the representatives of sectors marginalized by elite dominance in Congress.

These steps were also intended to demonstrate that democracy was working, and that, contrary to the claims of the mainstream Left, there were avenues other than armed struggle that could lead to its program’s adoption. Since the Ramos administration, succeeding governments including the current one have made it a point to urge leftists, progressives and communists to enter the legal arena and to abandon the armed struggle.

The Communist Party of the Philippines founded the New People’s Army on March 29, 1969. The CPP itself had been reestablished on December 26, 1968. More than a decade earlier, the HMB (Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan, or People’s Liberation Army), under the leadership of the old (1930) Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, had been defeated by the combined efforts of the United States and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Philippine society appeared stable and secure. But beneath its placid surface seethed the discontents of centuries. The peasantry groaned under the burdens of the usury, excessive rents, and debt bondage that the land tenancy system–to be described in 1986 as “the worst on the planet” by the US-AID–forced them into. The rare workers’ strikes were ruthlessly put down by the military and the police. The poor were legion in city and countryside. The US military bases were ringed by communities feeding off their affluence in the form of the trade in PX goods and prostitution. Occasionally an American sentry would shoot a Filipino or rape a Filipina, and would be shipped home beyond the reach of Philippine courts.

The founding of the New People’s Army was based on the CPP thesis that any agenda for change, specially change so fundamental it would amount to a social revolution, would be opposed by the Philippine ruling elite and its foreign patrons. This opposition would not be limited to words, but would include the use of violence through the police and military forces they control.

The current killings, alas, tend to validate the CPP thesis, and what’s more, strengthen its assertion that armed struggle must continue to be its main avenue to power and the implementation of its program of government. Rather than fight it out in Congress, the assassinations are saying, progressives, leftists and communists must continue to fight it out in the battlefield.

Much has been said about the party-list groups’ supposedly being fronts of the CPP. If they are indeed communist fronts, one would think that the government and the military would be glad that the CPP has entered the legal arena of struggle. The civilian government and the military have in fact repeatedly urged CPP leaders and members to do so, to the extent of even guaranteeing the safety of CPP founding chair Jose Ma. Sison.

But if indeed the military is behind the killings that have been going on for at least two years, it would not only mean that the government is insincere. It would also demonstrate that it is not interested in seeking a peaceful solution to the causes of rebellion in this country, but is committed to a military solution through, among other approaches, the systematic elimination of community leaders. As past experience has demonstrated, however, not all the murders of such leaders in the world can stop social unrest. Only addressing its causes can.

In the short term, the killings can thus only fan further violence, as well as intensify the armed struggle that’s in the government interest to end. That puts the government in the same odd position as the United States in Iraq, where the US has created the cycle of violence it said it wanted to stop.

(Manila Standard Today/

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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