She was a farmer’s daughter who completed a bachelor’s degree at the University of the East and then worked her way to a law degree in another downtown Manila university. After passing the bar she practiced law in Manila, but soon returned to her native Mindoro to be with her aging parents. She became a municipal councilor of her birthplace Naujan, Mindoro Oriental, in 1998, and then successfully ran for vice mayor in 2001.

From her college days she had been a human rights advocate and activist. She was active in the UE student government, was a member of the militant League of Filipino Students, and was among the demonstrators at Mendiola where a dozen farmers were killed during the Corazon Aquino administration.

At the time of her death she was the Lakas-CMD candidate for mayor of Naujan. She was also chair of the human rights group Mindoro for Justice and Peace. She was an honorary member of the women’s group Gabriela. She did not own a car, and her parents still lived where she had been born and raised.

Juvy Magsino, 34 years old, vice mayor of Naujan, Mindoro Oriental, was murdered February 13, and became the first woman in Mindoro politics ever killed in what could have been a politically-related assassination.

Her political opponents could indeed have been responsible, as military spokesmen aver. But her killing could also be part of a broader political campaign meant to contain Leftist involvement in Philippine elections.

Although running under the administration party Lakas-CMD, Magsino had been endorsed by the party-list group Bayan Muna for mayor, and was expected to win handily this May. Magsino was in fact killed together with public school teacher Leima Fortu, 27, who was acting Secretary General of the human rights group Karapatan Mindoro Oriental, and who was also a member of Bayan Muna, Calapan City chapter.

Though already an elected official, Magsino remained committed to the farmers and small fisherfolk to whom she traced her social roots. She opposed plans of the Naujan mayor she believed to be detrimental to the poor. She protested the assassination of Bayan Muna leaders and members in her province, assisted the family of an alleged NPA guerilla killed by the military, and opposed the deployment of two Army battalions in Oriental Mindoro in 2001.

In 2002 a spokesman of the Army’s 204th brigade accused her of supporting the NPA. The then commander of the 204th, Col. Jovito Palparan, Jr., who now commands the Philippine contingent to Iraq, told media then that the Army would be “watching” Magsino.

It’s not only Magsino the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been watching. The Philippine military is apparently alarmed over Bayan Muna’s winning three seats in Congress in 2001. The possibility that other Left groups could win in May this year and swell the number of progressives from the present three to eighteen, thus widening the Left’s influence, is a possibility on which it doesn’t look kindly.

An article in an official AFP publication, Tala, (“Implications of Bayan Muna in the AFP Internal Security Operations” by Lt. Col. John S. Bonafos of the Philippine Army) in fact “exposes” Bayan Muna as a front of the Communist Party of the Philippines and urges “Special Operations Teams” (SOT) to include in their operations “identification and neutralization of Bayan Muna members in the barangay.”

SOTs are platoon-sized clandestine units charged with intelligence-gathering, recruitment of government military agents, and assassinations. During a hearing in Congress last year, the military through AFP Chief of Staff Narciso Abaya denied that “neutralization” meant assassination, and claimed that it meant political neutralization.

The Bonafos article indeed recommends exposing Bayan Muna’s supposed links to the NPA and the CPP among other means, the creation of counter-organizations, and the military’s supporting its own party-list groups.

However, it also asserts that while “the identification of target personalities [in Bayan Muna], might be easier job (sic)… the neutralization will require special effort from SOT operations.”

The terms “neutralization” and “special effort” are open to various interpretations, primarily the use of the one skill in which the military and the para-military groups it commands are expert. On the ground, given the context in which both were recommended, that interpretation is likely to be so obvious not an iota of doubt is likely to be raised as to their meaning.

Even as the Bonafos article appeared in the first quarter issue for 2003 of Tala, about two dozen Bayan Muna leaders and members had been killed nationwide. As 2003 progressed, more were killed, including four last December. Magsino and Fortu were the 36th and 37th in the list of Bayan Muna casualties nationwide, and its 19th and 20th in Mindoro.

The Bonafos article is typical of the AFP’s thinking, however. The military has alleged that Bayan Muna—and of course such other groups it associates with the Left—is a front of the CPP to justify its hostility and open commitment to its “neutralization”. The Bonafos article thus recommends the conduct of an information campaign to trace Bayan Muna’s origins to Bayan (a fact neither organization denies), which it says is part of the National Democratic Front, which it says is in turn “under” the CPP. The military has also linked Bayan Muna to the NPA, just as the 204th Brigade linked Magsino to it.

Bayan Muna has denied such links. But even if those links do exist, the fact remains that Bayan Muna is an effort at involvement in electoral politics, which to anyone with any kind of strategic sense would be to the state’s advantage rather than its detriment.

The unrestricted freedom of the Left to involve itself in electoral politics—in Europe, for instance—does two things: it undermines the Leninist thesis that the ruling class will not permit the empowerment of groups with alternative programs, and it focuses the energies of Left groups away from the armed option as the gateway to change. The participation of the Left in electoral politics should thus be in the interest of the government to encourage.

The military’s strategists could do worse than to go back for instruction to the history of rebellions and insurgencies in this country as well as in others, particularly on the question of the parliamentary road to change. Unbeknownst to the military, the primary reason insurgencies exist is the conviction that there is no other route to change except through the use of arms.

The New People’s Army was organized in furtherance of the view that only armed struggle can achieve change in this country because its rulers will not permit the advocates of authentic change to participate in the electoral process. This is a lesson the Philippine Left learned firsthand in 1947, and again in 1987.

In 1947 the six members of the Democratic Alliance who had won seats in Congress were disqualified supposedly for fraud to prevent them from voting “no” to the Parity Amendment. In 1987 the Partido ng Bayan’s chair, labor leader Rolando Olalia, was assassinated, as were several other PnB leaders.

All these—and the killing of people such as Magsino—validate the thesis that fundamental change via electoral politics cannot be achieved. And yet government functionaries including the military routinely chastise the CPP and the NPA for persisting in the armed struggle for change, and urge them to participate in the electoral process.

If the military is indeed “neutralizing” Bayan Muna and other legal Left organization members engaged in electoral politics, it is thus not only engaged in partisan politics. It is also encouraging armed resistance and undermining the very state it claims to be protecting by validating the thesis of its NPA enemy that only the armed option of winning power makes any sense in this country.

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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