Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has formed another task force, described as a “high level” one, against political violence. The task force supersedes the police’s task force Usig which she also created for the same purpose.

Mrs. Arroyo issued Administrative Order 211 on the heels of the final report by United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston on the extra-judicial killings that have multiplied in number and frequency since 2001. AO 211, however, includes those killings occasioned by partisan politics in the task force’s coverage.

Though Filipinos take them in stride, so used are they to violence as a fact of life in this “peace-loving” country, such killings mock the country’s claims to the stability of its political institutions. But above all should they be matters of concern as much as the extra-judicial killing of leftist activists because they are part of the same lawlessness that has thrown the country into near-anarchy.

The politicians and their followers have been killing each other since elections were introduced in this country. The most recent and so far most spectacular case is that of Basilan Congressman Wahab Akbar, who was killed by a bomb on the grounds of the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City last November 13.

Police say Akbar was likely to have been killed by his political enemies, of whom there are legion. It is almost impossible for politicians not to have enemies, but Akbar’s seem to have been more determined and more ruthless than most. They killed three other people and injured 13 others through the unprecedented act of planting a bomb where Philippine laws are made.

But if the Akbar killing—if indeed Akbar was the target—indicated anything, it was the degree to which, despite government’s claims to the contrary, lawless violence has become the preferred means of settling differences in this country. There are a number of reasons for this, among which we must include police corruption, incompetence, and lack of professionalism. A situation in which the police are very often the partisans of politicians and other interests is hardly conducive to impartial inquiry.

But there is also the demonstration effect of impunity. That too many killings remain unsolved results not only in the killers’ remaining free to kill again, but also in encouraging others to kill.

That the killers of politicians and their followers are too often not even identified, much less apprehended, is not, however, solely the result of police incompetence and corruption. In recent times this has also been the consequence of the government policy of hunting down the leaders and members of legal leftist organizations, whose military killers are, naturally, never identified and punished.

The policy has resulted in the legitimization of violence, first, against “enemies of the state,” and second, against anyone else. The result is the flurry of political killings and attempted political killings that have become so characteristic of the Arroyo watch. For while violence of the type once typical of the Ilocos had been a fact of life in this country, that kind of violence had waned during the martial law period as well as during the administrations of Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada.

The killing of leftist activists by state actors has eroded the rule of law and undermined the very basis of civilized life as this is rooted in debate, elections, and those other rational, non-violent avenues through which disagreements are resolved. It has made violence legitimate.

The Alston report falls short of explicitly attributing the killings to government policy. But its recommendations anyway imply that the killings are as much the direct responsibility of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as of the Arroyo government, which, after all, commands the AFP.

The Report thus urges Mrs. Arroyo, as President of the Philippines, to “take concrete steps to put an end to those aspects of counter-insurgency operations which have led to the targeting and execution of many individuals working with civil society organizations.”

Alston also pointedly asks for the adoption of “measures…to ensure that the principle of command responsibility, as it is understood in international law, is a basis for criminal liability within the domestic legal order.” Further, he in effect urges the government to take control of the military by directing the latter to stop making statements linking legal personalities to the armed insurgencies, and to see to it that the purpose, and the numbers of names as well as criteria for inclusion in AFP “orders of battle” and “watch lists” be made public.

No, another task force– in which the task is simply forced on unwilling members no matter how “high level”– will not do. Only an immediate halt to the extra-judicial killings can arrest the country’s continuing slide to anarchy and violence, as these have been encouraged by government policy. The policy must be abandoned, concrete steps taken to halt its implementation at all levels, and all those responsible punished. The catch, however, is that the Arroyo regime may not be inclined to do anything beyond creating another task force.



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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