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October 21, 2006


These are the constant refrain, almost a continuous wailing, in the Philippines these days. It has been going on for some time now. Human rights groups, international groups, church and religious groups, activist groups, and even the military themselves who are suspected of being the killers have been “documenting” instances of killings.

Activist groups have been keeping a tally of people killed whom they claim have been slain by Filipino soldiers. They are comparing the number of slain activists during the time of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos who ruled the Philippines for 20 years and the presidency of Ms. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo which started in 2001. Their conclusion: More people have been killed during the presidency of President Arroyo than during the time of the dictator Marcos. The Philippines seems to be a well known “killing fields” of journalists and radio commentators also.

The case of Marlene Esperat in Mindanao is tragic example. Her killers knocked on their humble home while she and her young children were having supper when dusk was settling. They shot her on the head. Blood probably splattered on the dinner plates of her sons where pieces of “tuyo” (fried dried sardines) — the viand of the poor in the Philippines — and camote were on the plate.

Known drug dealers have also been killed. Anti-social elements, perhaps petty criminals, have been summarily disposed of by vigilantes in Mindanao and Cebu.

Among militant critics of the government who are labeled as belonging to “progressive” or “leftist” groups, those associated with “Bayan Muna”, the “League of Filipino Students”, peasant groups, even government civilian employees who have been observed to be extra militant in their criticisms of the deficiencies of the government, in general, those perceived to be associated with the National Democratic Front (NDF) of the Philippines are being taken out like clay pigeons. Their families and the leaders of the organizations they belong to are helpless to do anything. Sure, they write about the killings. Sometimes they organize mass actions to dramatize and protest the killings. Sometimes, they go to court, thinking that those LLBs are going to be respected by Armalite-toting soldiers. And of course, the killings continue.

In most cases, the killers are usually reported as motorcycle-riding men whose faces are covered with bonnets when coming in for the kill. They are merciless. A male target, like a United Church of Christ of the Philippines pastor, riding in a tricycle with his wife, is shot, including the wife, who may not necessarily share the political beliefs of her husband. Death by association, for the simple reason that the UCCP pastor, a Protestant religious man, probably thought erroneously that by exercising his democratic rights, he was being true to the liberal, democratic tradition of America, the greatest, richest, most powerful country on earth since time began, a beacon light to the multitudes all over the world. Poor, innocent, na´ve UCCP Protestant pastor.

Why all these killings in the only colony of the United States, in the only Christian country in Asia, in a country where at one time its number of college graduates was only second to the United States, where in terms of various social, economic, and other indicators, the Philippines was second to Japan in the 1950s, where universities and colleges churn out thousands and thousands of law graduates who would be expected to uphold the rule of law, due process, and not summary execution of their own kind, especially mothers and young women, in their very own country?

The reasons are legion. But they can be summed up in one word — POVERTY

The consequences? Some 8 million Filipinos roaming the world as domestic helpers, exploited workers and technicians, teachers, nurses who used to be doctors, nurses who are nursing assistants. A 38-year rebellion of the Maoist National Democratic Front (NDF) which has resulted in some 40,000 people being killed. Many other “progressive” groups on the same political spectrum as the NDF but abjuring the “armed struggle” to attain their objectives. Generals, colonels, soldiers, organizing to topple down the administration of President Gloria Arroyo. And many others more, ad nauseaum.

For some of us outside of the homeland who still care very deeply about our people and perhaps molded by our experiences and insights outside of the suffocating and murderous confines of Philippine society, some thoughts present themselves as possible strategies to minimize, and hopefully end once and for all, the ongoing killings in the Philippines and the almost unending misery that our relatives and fellow Filipinos have to endure daily.

Our humble thoughts include the following:

For the ruling group of President Arroyo, reorganize her cabinet. Beg the generals who are all over the place and who are perceived by some people as having her by her throat that a purely military solution to the poverty of the 90 million Filipinos by killing their leaders is a pathetic approach. It can make you cry. It could be hilarious but for the agony and the pain suffered by the victims of their paranoia, to kill all those who disagree with them, so that there is peace and order in the Philippines, a kind of peace and order in the cemetery, which is not even happening because live people reside there.

For the group of Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. and his kindred spirits who want to replace President Arroyo through constitutional processes such as her resignation and calling for a snap election, we have to realize that the kind of political and social system we have at the moment requires more than marching in the streets and waving those banners and shouting those slogans since the sons and daughters of Ferdinand Marcos were in diapers. In contemporary, Third World societies, the politics is not the Jacksonian variety of “To the victors belong the spoils!” Or winner take all. The politics is an arduous, difficult, thankless, sometimes painful process of nation-building to provide the basic needs of the 90 million Filipinos. This task transcends what traditional politicians and their corrupt and detestable ward leaders are used to.

For the “Progressive Groups” such as the armed groups of the National Democratic Front and the members of their “United Front”, including other progressive groups who have metastasized from the NDF, I think it is high time that they cease to be narcissistic, fascinated with their own brilliance and intellectual acumen while their innocent followers are being killed in the Philippines. They are no better than those who order the merciless bonneted killers to do their evil work. If they do not watch out, people will look at them as just being paranoid, convinced that their thoughts on historical, economic, and social developments are mandated by God, as interpreted by Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, Jose Maria Sison, and other prophets.

It would help the 90 million Filipinos if “Progressive Groups” can be more realistic and practical. They have to reorganize also. In the process, they can rethink their theories on radical and massive economic, social, and political transformation. Those grey-haired revolutionaries sending e-mails from the Netherlands have to give way to a new leadership who should reach out to other groups, in an honest-to-goodness effort to organize a broad united front, and not just among themselves. In this manner, they can provide an alternative to the stranglehold of the Trapos on Philippine society. But this devoutly-to-be-wished broad united front has to renounce the armed struggle. At the moment, harking back to the days when multitudes like those in China and in Vietnam can hurl themselves at their enemies and dance in the rice fields while helicopter gunships, B-52s, and Phantom bombers were dropping Agent Orange and Cluster Bombs to them seems pathetic. Besides, one can be blown to bits in the Liguasan Marshes by someone manipulating a drone in Arizona while watching football or baseball. But more importantly, for all the sacrifices of the young idealists and the 40,000 Filipinos who have died in this armed struggle, there is nothing to show for after 38 years.

Moreover, something is wrong when former President Joseph Estrada, Moro National Liberation Front bigwig, Nur Misuari, Brigadier General Danilo Lim, the commander of the Úlite Scout Rangers, Marine brigade commander Ariel Querubin and police superintendent Narzalino Franco, and some 4,000 children who were shown by CNN two times all over the world, are in prison, while some who have provided inspiration to the 7,500 New People’s Army guerillas are practicing their vocal chords trying to determine if they can still sing with passion the stirring lines of “The Internationale” in faraway Netherlands.

[This is the original version of the piece published in October 2006 in The Filipino Insider, a monthly supplement of the San Francisco Chronicle. The author was a former faculty member of the University of the Philippines Department of Political Science. He can be reached at Cesar1185@aol.com ]

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