Politically motivated killings in the Philippines–the United States’ former colony and staunchest ally in Asia–have swelled since 9/11. According to Karapatan, an umbrella group for various Philippine human rights organizations, close to 900 men and women have been summarily executed since Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took over in 2001 from disgraced President Joseph Estrada. Continuing to support Bush’s “global war on terror,” President Arroyo has ratcheted up her government’s pressure on the Philippine left, reviving memories of the Marcos dictatorship and its dirty war against the opposition. Manila knows that as long as it supports the Bush Administration, thereby obtaining economic and military assistance from the United States, it can get away with murder–literally.
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights First have criticized the Arroyo government for failing to prevent–and even abetting–such killings. A report to the United Nations by Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, based on a fact-finding visit in February, echoes such criticism. Alston points to two underlying causes for the unchecked murders: the indiscriminate labeling of left-wing groups as “front organizations” for “armed groups whose aim is to destroy democracy” and a government “counter-insurgency strategy” that encourages “the extrajudicial killings of activists and other ‘enemies’ in certain circumstances.” Even the 2006 government-appointed Melo Commission blamed rogue elements in the military for these murders.
Those assassinated include pastors, labor leaders, student activists, farmers, workers and journalists–at least thirty-two of the last have been killed for reasons directly related to their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which ranks the Philippines as one of the most dangerous places for its profession. As veteran Manila columnist Luis Teodoro writes, “The killings are an integral part of the policy to dismantle whatever else remains of the democratic and populist legacies” brought about by the 1986 overthrow of the Marcos regime.
Last February the Philippine Congress passed the Human Security Act (HSA)–a virtual copy of the US Homeland Security Act–and many expect even more human rights abuses in its wake. By broadening the government’s arrest and detention powers, the law seriously undermines civil liberties. With its vague definition of what constitutes terrorism, HSA criminalizes dissent; thus, burning an effigy could be seen as a terrorist act.
Last August, in one of the first instances of the law’s application, three visiting women’s rights activists who are members of the US-based Gabriela Network (an affiliate of Gabriela Philippines, the nation’s largest militant feminist group) were initially prevented from leaving Manila: Annaliza Enrile, a US citizen and professor at the University of Southern California; Judy Mirkinson, also a US citizen; and novelist Ninotchka Rosca, a US permanent resident. Having attended the tenth Women’s International Solidarity Affair in the Philippines, the three found themselves on a government watch list because of suspected ties to the Taliban.