SPEAKING FREELY Philippines under the neo-colonial boot
By E San Juan Jr
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's visit to Manila in August and the proposal for a semi-permanent "rotational" stationing of US troops and military hardware in the Philippines are harbingers of a new Cold War in Asia. The Philippines is serving as a precarious lever in Washington's "pivot" towards Asia, a bid to restore the US's eroding hegemony over the planet.
A classic US colony from 1898 to 1946, the Philippines today
remains a semi-feudal neo-colony ruled by holdover oligarchs led today by president Benigno Aquino III. Resisting the US behemoth in the 1899-1913 Philippines-American War, 1.4 million Filipinos perished in the name of US "manifest destiny".
Ever since, including after achieving independence, the Philippines has functioned as a strategic springboard for projecting US power throughout the Asia-Pacific. This has become more crucial with the recent "pivot" of US military resources - where 60% of total US naval assets are destined to be based in the Asia-Pacific by 2020 - amid intensifying territorial disputes among China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
US-assisted state terrorism has long thrived in the Philippines. Tutored and subsidized by the US Pentagon, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) are the two state agencies leading the US-designed counterinsurgency plan known as "Oplan Bayanihan" against the Communist-led New People's Army (NPA) guerillas and other revolutionary groups led by the National Democratic Front.
They are aided by government-established "force multipliers" such as civilian volunteer organizations, police auxiliary units, and the notorious Citizens' Armed Forces Geographical Unit, whose members double as agents of local warlords. Aquino's coercive surveillance and enforcement apparatus strictly obeys the privatization-deregulation ideology of US-led global capitalism, resulting in severe unemployment, rampant corruption, widespread poverty and brutal repression at home.
US imperial hegemony manifests itself in the use of Philippine territory by US warships and military through the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement and other treaties. This rotational agreement has allowed hundreds of US Special Forces, Central Intelligence Agency and other clandestine agencies to operate in helping the AFP-PNP counterinsurgency campaign, which at times doubles to brutally suppress indigenous communities that have protested mining by foreign corporations and other state-backed seizures of their land.
From 2001 to 2010, the US provided over US$507 million worth of military assistance to the Philippines. More recently, the US has significantly raised those annual disbursements, including to assist in the acquisition of patrol boats against Chinese incursions in the disputed Spratly Islands. Part of the disbursements have also been earmarked for so-called "civic action" projects, reminiscent of the US-CIA pacification schemes deployed during the anti-Huk guerrilla campaign in the 1940s-50s, including under Ramon Magsaysay's presidency.
While these past US interventions are by now well-documented, Washington's current involvement in the Philippines' various ongoing civil wars is less appreciated. Prominent are the thousands of cases of unresolved extra-judicial killings, torture and abuse of political prisoners, warrantless detentions, enforced disappearances or kidnappings of dissenters by government security forces funded in part by Washington.
These actions, all in the name of national security, have engendered a culture of impunity that effectively silences the voices of those who would most strongly oppose the planned heightened US military presence in the country.
To keep the country underdeveloped, secure for investments by multinational corporations, and safe from strikes and political dissent, the US supports a tiny group of political dynasties and their retinue whose victory in periodic "democratic" elections guarantees the perpetuation of a society polarized into an impoverished majority and a privileged minority.
Violence and a corrupt court system underwrite the maintenance of a status quo for corporate profit-making and legitimization of torture, kidnappings, assassinations, and other state crimes against citizens who oppose this neo-colonial order.
Since the fall of the US-propped Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship in 1986 and its destruction of constitutional processes and civil liberties, the volume and scope of human rights violations have jumped to staggering proportions.
In 2011, for instance, Amnesty International stated that "More than 200 cases of enforced disappearances recorded in the last decade remain unresolved, as did at least 305 cases of extrajudicial execution (with some estimates ranging as high as 1,200). Almost no perpetrators of these crimes have been brought to justice."
Even the US State Department's 2011 country report on human rights in the Philippines confirmed the persistence of "arbitrary, unlawful, and extrajudicial killings by national, provincial, and local government agents" including "prisoner/detainee torture and abuse by security forces, violence and harassment against leftist and human rights activists by local security forces, disappearances, warrantless arrests, lengthy pretrial detentions, overcrowded and inadequate prison conditions".
The local rights monitoring group Karapatan recently documented Aquino's abysmal human rights record from July 2010 to April 2013. It found 142 victims of extrajudicial killings, 164 cases of frustrated killing, and 16 victims of enforced disappearances. In that vein, the high profile murders of Father Pops Tenorio, Dutch volunteer Willem Geertman, botanist Leonardo Co, and environmentalist and journalist Gerry Ortega remain unsolved under Aquino's watch.
Meanwhile, military officials like ex-General Jovito Palparan, Major Baliaga, and others linked by courts to the kidnapping of Jonas Burgos, Sherley Cadapan and Karen Empeno and other crimes against humanity remain at large.
Karapatan chairperson Marie Hilao-Enriquez noted that the victims of state terror are generally those who challenge inequality and oppression, those who were displaced by logging and transnational mining companies, and those branded as sympathizers of the NPA by the Oplan Bayanihan counterinsurgency campaign, which to date is responsible for at least 137 extra-judicial murders and thousands of suspects detained on dubious legal grounds.
Women stand out as particular victims of the Aquino regime and more generally of the country's patriarchal authority structure. They are discriminated and inferiorized by virtue of their gender, caste, class and ethnicity. In 2011, half of the 78 political detainees arrested by the Aquino regime were women. Since 2001, 153 women have been targeted by extrajudicial assassins allegedly sponsored by the AFP-PNP, according to local human rights groups.
The Center for Women's Research (CWR) has claimed that women political prisoners suffer twice the violence experienced by men; they "are more vulnerable to intimidation, sexual harassment and abuse, as well as torture," CWR said in a report. A significant number belong to ethnic or indigenous communities where US-sponsored counterinsurgency campaigns are underway. They languish in jail as "enemies of the state," charged with rebellion and other fabricated criminal charges. Some have suffered from torture and sexual assault while in detention.
Many of them are human rights defenders or activists involved in advocacy for national sovereignty and genuine economic development for the poor and marginalized. Because they work for deprived sectors of peasants, workers, urban poor, youth, and indigenous communities, they are frequently accused of being supporters of the communists (the NPA is labeled a "terrorist" organization, like the Abu Sayyaf, as per US State Department doctrine) to justify their illegal arrest and continued detention in horrible conditions.
This is only the tip of the iceberg of the cruel and inhumane punishment inflicted by Aquino's and previous administrations' US-backed neo-colonial order. Every day, warrantless arrests and torture of activists are occurring while national living conditions stagnate or deteriorate.
With the extra-judicial killing on March 4 of Cristina Morales Jose, a leader of Barug Katawhan (People Rise Up!), an organization of the survivors of the typhoon Pablo in Davao Oriental province, it now seems probable that instead of adding to the country's overcrowded prisons and detention centers the Aquino regime is resorting to the outright extermination of grassroots protest leaders.
All of these crimes may be attributed broadly to the US-supported "national security state" in the Philippines. This state of affairs is epitomized in the Department of National Defense and Department of the Interior and Local Government's Joint Order No. 14-2012, which lists the names of alleged communist leaders and offers massive peso rewards for their capture - a potential bonanza for AFP and PNP bureaucrats and officials.
Under this order, Estelita Tacalan, a 60-year-old peasant organizer and rural health worker in Misamis Oriental was kidnapped by AFP-PNP agents on April 27 this year. On May 7, the PNP announced that they had detained Tacalan for being listed in the Joint Order and spuriously charged her with murder and arson. Countless arrests and detentions have since been made pursuant to this broad and dubious order.
The Philippines' "national security state" under Aquino has effectively criminalized activism against this neo-colonial order, notably at a time Manila and Washington plan to significantly boost their strategic ties, including through a greater presence of US soldiers on Philippine soil. Now as in the past, these state-sponsored violations hide behind the US-promoted false concepts of free markets, democracy, liberty and justice for all.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
E San Juan, Jr is emeritus professor of Ethnic Studies, English and Comparative Literature; former fellow at the WEB Du Bois Institute at Harvard University and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. He was previously a Fulbright professor of American Studies at Leuven University, Belgium. His recent books include In the Wake of Terror (Lexington Books), Critique and Social Transformation (Mellen Books), and US Imperialism and Revolution in the Philippines (Palgrave).