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Bloodshed and corruption mark Arroyo legacy: BAYAN-USA calls on incoming Aquino administration to live up to campaign promises

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Contact: Rhonda Ramiro
BAYAN-USA Secretary General

A body count of six activists murdered within two weeks this June marked the countdown to the end of Gloria Arroyo’s presidency—a grim yet fitting conclusion to Arroyo’s nine-year presidential term infamous for extrajudicial killings, torture, mass arrests, and disappearances perpetrated by military, police and paramilitary forces. BAYAN-USA, an alliance of 14 Filipino American organizations, condemned the rash of killings and the brutal record of Arroyo.  The Alliance also challenged president-elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III to make good on his campaign promises and take concrete steps to right the wrongs of the Arroyo administration.

End Counter-Insurgency Ops, Investigate HRVs Starting at the Top

“We can’t resurrect the dead or erase the scars of torture, but we can prosecute the perpetrators and attain justice for the victims,” said Bernadette Ellorin, Chair of BAYAN-USA.  “Aquino must start on July 1 by immediately investigating Gloria Arroyo for the bloodshed committed under her watch,” Ellorin stated.

One of Arroyo’s signature policies was the Operation Plan Bantay Laya (“OBL”) counter-insurgency program. Dubbed a “blueprint for impunity” by human rights advocates, OBL has been blamed for 1,201 cases of extrajudicial killings, 205 enforced disappearances and more than a thousand cases of illegal arrests and torture.  The Philippine military, including the likes of Major General Jovito Palparan, has been implicated in the vast majority of the cases.

“Aquino must abandon the failed OBL and all other counter-insurgency schemes if there is to be any hope for genuine peace and democracy in the Philippines.  Aquino can demonstrate his commitment to change by freeing all political prisoners, including the Morong 43,”  stated Ellorin, referring to the 43 health workers who were arrested en masse on trumped up charges with an illegal search warrant on February 6, 2010.  The health workers remain in jail up to this day, despite an international outcry by prominent leaders of large human rights, labor, health care and faith organizations, as well as dignitaries and former elected officials.

“It would make far more sense for Aquino to resume peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) than to pursue the disastrous counter-insurgency programs that Arroyo and her generals concocted,” said Ellorin. Arroyo’s administration has been criticized for paying lip service to peace talks while undermining them with unrealistic demands.  “The peace negotiations as laid out by the NDFP provide a framework for attaining comprehensive social and economic reforms to end widespread poverty and exploitation, which all agree are at root of the conflict,” said Ellorin.

Treat Migrants Like Heroes, Not Criminals

“With her labor and economic policies, Arroyo pushed more Filipinos out of the country than any of her predecessors, but she never lifted a finger to ensure their safety,” said Ellorin. “Arroyo never advocated for immigration reform in the U.S., even though tens of thousands of Filipinos have been waiting for more than 20 years to reunite with their families because they are stuck in the immigration backlog, and about a million undocumented Filipinos work in slave-like conditions for American employers.”  Immigration policies in the U.S. have been harshly criticized worldwide especially in the wake of September 11, 2001 when the already law enforcement-heavy system turned more openly racist and militaristic.

“Filipino migrants are the backbone of the Philippine economy, but Arroyo was spineless when it came to standing up for migrants’ rights.  Aquino needs to take a position in favor of protecting the safety and well-being of migrants.  That includes advocating for immigration reform in the U.S., which receives more Filipino migrants than any other country,” said Ellorin. Since 2005, BAYAN-USA has been part of the immigrant rights movement calling for comprehensive immigration reform and legalization for all, elimination of the visa backlogs, an end to collaboration between local police and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and a stop to the skyrocketing deportations.

End Corruption at All Levels

“From ‘Hello Garci’ to NBN-ZTE, corruption was the lifeline of the Arroyo presidency,” said Ellorin, referring to two of the dozens of corruption scandals that plagued Arroyo throughout her nine years in office.  “Aquino should ensure that Arroyo and her cronies are held accountable for the elections, lives and billions of pesos that they stole from the Filipino people.  He can start by investigating the wholesale electoral fraud committed in both the 2004 and 2010 elections.”

People Over Profits, Sovereignty Over Subjugation

“Under Arroyo, Filipinos got hit with the Value Added Tax (VAT), rice shortages, and tuition fee hikes.  Government spending for health care, education and housing shrunk, while spending on national debt and military increased.  Is it any wonder that poverty is at a record high while Arroyo’s approval rating is at a record low?” said Ellorin.  “Aquino can stop the nation’s endless downward spiral by repealing the senseless automatic appropriation law for debt servicing, and redirecting funds to meeting the people’s basic needs.  He should also provide immediate relief to the poor by scrapping the VAT and increasing wages to a livable level.”

“The Philippines will remain an outpost and launching pad for imperialist ambitions unless Aquino changes course immediately,” said Ellorin.  “Arroyo did nothing to stop the rapes of countless ‘Nicoles’ by U.S. soldiers, the injury of Filipino children by U.S. war games, the displacement of thousands of Bicolanos for the Balikatan exercises, or the death of Gregan Cardeno while working for the U.S. military.  Aquino needs to stop the hemorrhaging of the Philippine nation by terminating the R.P.-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement, which has sold off Philippine sovereignty and turned the entire Philippine archipelago into one big military base for the U.S. to use at will.  He should also evict all U.S. forces currently in the country and thoroughly investigate all allegations of human rights violations committed by U.S. military personnel in the Philippines,” stated Ellorin.