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Eyewitness report

U.S. behind reign of terror sweeping Philippines

Published Jan 9, 2007 11:38 PM

The International Action Center (IAC) sent a fact-finding delegation to the Philippines Dec. 7 to Dec. 19. The delegation was comprised of IAC National Co-Director Teresa Gutierrez, and Dianne Mathiowetz of the Atlanta IAC. Also on the trip were two representatives of BAYAN USA and a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement from New York City.

International Human Rights Day
demonstration, Dec. 10, Cebu City,
WW photos: Dianne Mathiowetz

Jan. 8—Our trip coincided with the scheduled meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which was to take place the first week of December in Cebu City. ASEAN’s main role is to facilitate economic and political penetration of the area for imperialism. However, the Philippine government announced that the ASEAN meeting would be cancelled due to a reported typhoon that was to hit the island at the same time. It was evident, however, that the summit of 25 Asian countries was actually cancelled due to the political typhoon sweeping the country.

Major demonstrations and massive political sentiment against the president of the country, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, were the real reasons the summit was cancelled. As of this writing, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has announced that the ASEAN summit will take place here in Cebu City from Jan. 10 to 15.

One of the most outstanding developments revealed to our delegation was the tremendous wave of repression hitting the Filipino population. Since 2001, over 700 people in the Philippines have been killed or disappeared. The wave of repression against the people is so stark that every week since 2004 approximately two activists have been killed and one has disappeared.

This alarming situation was described to us repeatedly, confirming published reports by several sources. Amnesty International issued a report in August stating its concern over “continued violation of human rights in the country.”

In fact, during the two-week period since we arrived, a total of seven people have been reported missing or killed by the official newspapers of this country.

The findings of the “Stop the Killings in the Philippines Campaign,” published by the IBON Foundation, concluded that, “The pattern of assassinations and political persecution of activists, members of people’s movements, and leftist leaders in the Philippines has become an urgent international issue.”

IBON continued, “While killings and summary executions are not rare in the Philippines, this trend of political assassinations intensified in 2004 during the national elections, and has continued in the last two years—making it possibly the worst period for human rights violations since the Marcos era.”

Behind the wave of terror: U.S. imperialism

The wave of terror currently sweeping the Philippines is part and parcel of U.S. imperialism’s historical and bloody drive to dominate and control the South East Asian region, especially the Philippines. These aims are best capsulated in the words of U.S. Sen. Alfred Beveridge when he said in 1900, “The country that rules the Pacific, rules the world.”

U.S. imperialism invaded and occupied the Philippines and other countries of the Asia Pacific region at the beginning of the 20th century.

Indeed, East Asia is key to imperialist aims to control markets and make ever greater profits. Over 2.5 billion people live in this region—one-third of the world’s population—and their economies are 25 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. Southeast Asia is 9 percent of the world’s population and 5 percent of the global GDP.

The region is home to some of the most strategic countries in the world: China, Korea and Vietnam, which have all been at the center of imperialism’s war drive. Japan, an imperialist country, is a major rival to Wall Street.

According to the Institute of Political Economy, based in the Philippines, the U.S. currently has more than 386,000 U.S. troops deployed in 150 countries, including 70,000 troops in East Asia. There were 850 U.S. military bases in 138 counties as of 2005.

Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are key nations to Washington, used in every way possible to maintain its domination in the area.

The task of these thousands of troops is to make sure that the main strategic objectives of the U.S. are protected in the region. Southeast Asia is of particular interest to the U.S. It seeks to maintain hegemony with its puppet regimes and exclude Japan and China, one reason why the Philippines is key to the U.S. It wants free access to major sea lanes and to deepen and expand trade and investment in the area.

Imperialism carries out these aims at the same time that it drives the Asian Pacific people further and further into poverty and despair. Eliza Griswold, a journalist, writes: “[T]he most pressing problem in today’s Philippines isn’t terrorism or even government corruption but poverty and a lack of social mobility. About 15 percent of its people live on less than $1 a day.”

The war on terror: a basis for re-colonization

The U.S. has operated military bases in the Philippines since 1947. After righteous struggles that shook the country, most of these bases closed in 1992. But with the advent of U.S. imperialism’s so-called war on terror, there is now a concerted effort to once again militarize the Philippines. The rebuilding of official U.S. bases in the Philippines is centered in Mindanao, a primarily Muslim area.

U.S. Navy Commander Adm. William J. Fallon—commander of the U.S. Pacific command—said last March 7, “Southeast Asia is the front line of the war on terror.”

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has not only become a key ally of imperialism, she is a puppet of Washington.

This so-called war against terrorism is in reality a war of terror against the people.

Victims of repression in the Philippines—those who have died as a result of these extrajudicial killings—are mainly people who are fighting against deadly economic policies or who are denouncing the repression: activists, students, labor leaders, journalists, members of people’s movements and leftists.

State terror reigns in the Philippines. The situation is so serious and so critical that even spokespeople of foreign chambers of commerce and transnational corporations have been forced to pay lip service against the repression.

On Jan. 6 the Macapagal-Arroyo administration announced that the government will spend about 10 billion pesos in 2007—a lot of money for an impoverished nation. About $200 million is earmarked for the purchase of attack helicopters and other military equipment, which is a sign that the repression will not only continue but intensify.

Repression breeds resistance

Since Macapagal-Arroyo assumed office in 2001, about 730 people have been killed. (IBON)

They include Bishop Alberto Ramento; Markus Bangit, an indigenous leader of the Malbong Tribe of Tomiangan, Tabuk, Kalinga and the coordinator of the Elders Desk of the Cordillera People’s Alliance; activist teacher Napolean Pornasdoro; Bayan Muna Party (People First Party) members Jayson Delen and Jimmy Mirafuente; Cris Hugo, the regional coordinator of the League of Filipino Students; and Nestle Union president and KMU leader, Diosdado Fortuna. The KMU is the revolutionary workers union in the Philippines and stands for the May 1st Movement.

More than 168 leaders and activists remain missing.

The IAC delegation met with the mother of one of missing student leader, Sherlyn Cadapan. Sherlyn was abducted with another student leader, Karen Empeño, and 55-year-old activist Manuel Merino.

The young women, both in their early 20s, are students at the University of the Philippines (UP). The three were abducted on July 26, 2006. They were volunteers of the Alliance of Peasants in Bulacan, Philippines.

Six armed men forcibly entered the house where the students were staying. Merino, who was staying at a house nearby, came to help the two young women. All three were forced into a vehicle and driven away. The young women’s parents believe that troops of the 56th infantry Battalion in Bulacan were the ones who abducted the three activists.

The commander of the 7th Infantry Division, based where the abduction took place, told the family that the young women were members of the New Peoples Army, the armed wing of the resistance in the country. The family believes that such statements indicate the military knows the whereabouts of the three.

The mother of Sherlyn Cadapan told me at a demonstration against proposed changes to the Philippine Constitution that she will not stop until she finds her daughter.

Despite the wave of repression sweeping the country, the movement is strong. The abductions and assassinations have not stopped the people’s struggle for self determination and freedom from imperialist domination.

Despite a heavy police presence in preparation for the scheduled ASEAN conference here, the movement organized conferences for Jobs and Justice and against Global Terrorism, as well as demonstrations in the streets, which IAC representatives participated in.

Many of the people who attended these events told of family members missing or dead. But the history of the will of the Filipino people to resist domination is as long as imperialism’s aims in the region. It will be the Filipino people who will ultimately prevail, as seen by the courage and commitment here.

Copies of the IBON Foundation report can be ordered at leftbooks.com.