US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney says the United States is concerned over the ongoing killing of journalists and activists, and other human rights violations in the Philippines.

It should be. The Philippines is a “major Non-NATO ally” of the US, according to that great genius, George W. Bush. But that icon of world leadership understated the extent of the current government’s loyalty to the US– as well as the Philippines’ place, if not in the US’ heart, at least in its global strategy.

Since 2001 US military aid to the Philippines has grown by about 1,600 percent. US troops are in the Philippines once again, reliving the 90 glory years during which they occupied Clark and Subic as well as several other military bases all over the country of our sorrows.

Nowadays these troops are supposed to be here only temporarily for joint US-Philippines military exercises, their presence allowed only by the Visiting Forces Agreement. But anyone regularly traveling between Manila and Mindanao will tell you that US Marines and other troopers are regular features of Philippine airports and PAL flights. You can see them with their well-scrubbed faces and that look that proclaims “fresh out of Iowa” lining up at the PAL to Zamboanga ticket counters, all eager to do their bit for God, country, democracy, and the oil companies.

That’s because, as Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo promised George W. in 2001, the Philippines will support anything the US does in waging the “War Against Terror”. And that has meant literally anything, including allowing the US military a permanent presence in the Philippines despite the Constitutional ban on foreign troops.

How the present government got around that ban is a story in itself, just like its getting around the guarantees of press freedom, free speech, and freedom of assembly. Its cover has been the VFA, which allows US troops into the country temporarily, and only during military exercises.

That seems clear enough until you realize that the Philippines and the US can hold one military exercise after another, each one overlapping with the next, so that while one batch of US troops is going, another’s taking its place. What that amounts to is the permanent presence of US troops–and the creation of the infrastructure they and their equipment need.

All this suits US strategy fine. US troops are in Zamboanga supposedly to fight the “War against Terror,” Bush and company having identified the Philippines as “the second front” in that war. “Fighting terror” has so far been limited to training Philippine troops so they can more effectively look the other way when suspected Abu Sayyaf gangsters are spirited off for execution by death squads in the dead of night in Basilan.

In the long term, however, the US needs a military presence in Mindanao because it’s close to Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation. Being in Mindanao also meets its strategy of ringing rivals China and Russia with military bases in furtherance of its drive for “full spectrum (land, sea, air and space) dominance.”

The current Philippine government couldn’t care less if the US were to occupy the moon in addition to Afghanistan and Iraq. But like past Philippine governments, what it does care about are the political and economic perks that go with doing its master’s bidding. The Philippine government is less an ally than a client that’s proven ready to do anything its patron wants. That being the case, whatever the client does reflects on the patron, which is why, naturally, the US is “concerned” over human rights violations in this neck of the woods. After all, the violations could suggest that the US is at least tolerating the violations–if it’s not actually behind them (the killings echo the US’ 1967-1970 Operations Phoenix in Vietnam, which also targeted activists and suspected communists).

Be that as it may be, Filipinos need all the help they can get nowadays in the human rights department, which is why, for whatever it’s worth, they should welcome Ambassador Kenney’s expression of concern.

That expression came in the context of the crystal-clear conclusion, which has once again dawned on the human rights groups as it did during the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986), that only international intervention can stop or blunt the brutal edges of the killings and other human rights violations that are the hallmarks of authoritarian regimes.

Despite the statements, the documentation, and the appeals for public support human rights and activist groups have issued, they have mostly run into the iron walls of public apathy. This isn’t surprising. It took middle class Filipinos 14 years to go out into the streets to protest the excesses of the Marcos regime. They’re not about to fill EDSA today to denounce the killing of journalists and activists. Apparently it will take a decade at least to convince Filipinos that, hey, people like you and me are being killed like flies; shouldn’t you be doing something about it?

While your average, middle class Filipino–the one who has nothing more in his simple mind than getting a call center job, or leaving the country in pursuit of dollars, yen or Euros–takes his or her time finding out that he or she deserves the kind of government the country’s getting because of the indifference the middle classes are known for, the killings are continuing. They will likely continue unless the international community notices, and does something about it.

Thankfully some of that is already happening. Amnesty International has expressed alarm over the killing of journalists and activists. The Asian Human Rights Commission has denounced these and other violations–and US Ambassador Kenney has expressed concern.

The Arroyo government may not give a hoot about what Filipinos think, but it does worry about foreigners and how it is perceived abroad. It’s time for Filipino human rights and other groups to take the campaign against the regime’s human rights violations– among them the fundamental right to life–to the international arena.

(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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