A number of countries have taken note of and expressed concern over the extra-judicial killings, abductions and other human rights violations that since 2001 have surged in this vale of tears. They have asked the Arroyo regime to either do something about them, or–on the charitable assumption that it’s already doing something–to do more.

These countries include the regime’s chief patron, the United States, whose “war against terror” has inspired various tyrants all over the world to savage the rights of their citizens. The US ambassador urged the regime early this year to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the killings particularly, declaring that “we (the US) take extrajudicial killings or murders seriously”.

In 2006 the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based neo-conservative think tank that has the ear of the Republican Party, declared that Mrs. Arroyo has resorted to “the methods many dictators use to silence criticism,” specifically by intimidating the press and doing nothing about the killing of journalists.

Almost at the same time in April, 2006, the New York Times, in an editorial entitled “Dark Days for Philippine Democracy,” described Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as having “completely lost touch with the ideals that inspired the 1986 ‘people power’ movement” that ousted Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

“…This one-time reformer (sic!) is reviving bad memories of crony corruption, presidential vote-rigging and intimidation of critical journalists… democracy itself may be in danger.

“[US] President Bush has repeatedly hailed Mrs. Arroyo as an important ally against international terrorism. He now needs to warn her that by undermining a hard-won democracy, she is making her country more vulnerable to terrorist pressures,” the Times concluded.

Of course Bush didn’t take the Times’ advice, the Times being one of the worst things anything and anyone can be in the Bush government’s perception (it’s a liberal newspaper). But his ambassador did eventually say something about the killings the Arroyo regime refers to as “unsolved” rather than “extra-judicial.”

But so much for the United States. Other countries had said the same thing, and much earlier too, about the killing of political activists and journalists, and had either taken the Arroyo regime to task for doing little about them, or urged it to do more, usually when Mrs. Arroyo was around visiting.

Some have spoken later than others. During Mrs. Arroyo’s visit to Japan last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe repeated a December 2006 statement–made while he was visiting the Philippines–on Tokyo’s interest in seeing an end to the killing of journalists and activists in the Philippines.

The government of New Zealand, where Mrs. Arroyo was visiting to attend the Asia Pacific Interfaith Religious Dialogue this week, also expressed alarm over the killings through Prime Minister Helen Clark. Although Mrs. Clark did not go as far as to describe the Philippines as “a disaster area for human rights,” as NZ opposition lawmakers did, Mrs. Clark had raised the same issue when she was in the Philippines during the East Asian Summit last January.

Mrs. Arroyo will be in Australia next. Some Australian lawmakers have criticized the Philippine government’s complicity in the killings, and the Australian ambassador has expressed the same concern, declaring that he has asked the Philippine government to “stop the killings and to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

But what the Australian government is really interested in at this point is getting its forces into the Philippines via an agreement that will allow joint Australian–military exercises in the manner of the Balikatan exercises the Armed Forces of the Philippines holds jointly with US forces under the Visiting Forces Agreement. It seems that unbeknownst to most Filipinos, Mrs. Arroyo has agreed to such an arrangement.

Mrs. Arroyo and Prime Minister John Howard will be witnessing the signing of a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) so Australian soldiers can come to the Philippines to, among others, train Filipino soldiers in counter-terrorism operations. The military aid so dear to the hearts and bank accounts of Philippine generals will also be part of the deal.

The deployment of Australian forces in Southeast Asia has been a Howard pet project for years. Frustrated by Indonesian and Malaysian rejection, Howard would have Arroyo to thank for allowing him to play mini-Bush in the Philippines. Expect no statement of concern for human rights from him–or at most expect a sufficiently vague allusion to the human rights situation in the country where he’s going to send his troops. Maybe he’ll blame “terrorists” for it.

But the Australian government would be no more hypocritical than those other countries that while expressing “alarm” and “concern” over human rights also continue to provide military and other aid to the Arroyo regime, and whose businessmen have promised billions in investments in a country run by a government that’s not only killing its own citizens but is also among the world’s most corrupt.

The US, Japan, New Zealand, Australia among others, do express concern over the killing of activists and journalists that are also killing democratic rights in the Philippines. But they can’t seem to put their money where their mouths are. Instead they’re putting it in the hands of the Arroyo regime, thereby providing it the means to go on killing.



Luis V. Teodoro

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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