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In honor of the Disappeared, Fil-Ams reiterate call for Aquino to end Oplan Bantay Laya

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Contact: Bernadette Ellorin
Chairperson, BAYAN USA

The new Aquino administration’s decision to officially extend the national counter-insurgency program known as Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) can only signal an aggravation of the already acute human rights crisis in the Philippines. As today marks the 27th anniversary of the International Day of the Disappeared, a day created by Latin American groups to draw international attention to the fate of individuals imprisoned in places and under poor conditions unknown to their relatives, BAYAN USA reiterates its call to the Aquino government to ensure justice for the over 1,205 cases of extrajudicial killings and over 206 cases of abductions by terminating Oplan Bantay Laya once and for all.

OBL was concocted and launched during the previous Arroyo government in 2001 and re-launched in 2007. In both cases, it failed to meet its objective to annihilate the so-called armed insurgency in the Philippine countryside. OBL was also heavily scrutinized and condemned worldwide by international human rights bodies, including the United Nations, for its general tactic of targeting unarmed civilians critical of the Philippine government. As essentially an assassination, abduction, torture, and red-baiting campaign, OBL bears strong resemblance to the US-funded and designed Operation Phoenix during the 1960’s in Vietnam.

Because of this, instead of quelling armed rebellion, OBL made over 206 promising lives disappear– including bright, young minds such as University of the Philippines student Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, agriculturalist Jonas Burgos, indigenous right advocate James Balao, and many more whose whereabouts remain unknown and whose families remain tortured because they were never able to say goodbye. Last year, Filipina American activist, Melissa Roxas, was disappeared and tortured by the military for six days. This is the real effect of OBL.

While the Philippine government claims its intent to stop so-called armed rebellion in the countryside, the reality is that armed rebellion cannot be stopped by counter-insurgency programs. The counter-insurgency programs have only claimed more casualties and disappeared unarmed civilians exercising their most basic democratic rights. Further, the counter-insurgency programs do not solve the root problems of the poverty, landlessness, and government corruption that plague the country. Until such time these deeper problems are solved, no Philippine president should expect to quell armed struggle in the country.

Moreover, peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippine (NDFP) and the Philippine government prove that many of these armed groups have taken up arms for principled reasons, including land, livelihood, and to oppose intensified state repression. Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines continue to violate the rules of war as outlined in International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, while a policy of impunity for known human rights abusers persists in the government.

As a cause-oriented organization that has been arduously advocating for human rights in the Philippines as its main campaign since 2005, BAYAN USA will not cease to seek justice for the victims of OBL and their families who are still suffering. We will continue to hold Aquino accountable to his promise of change and call on US Congress to cut military aid to the Philippines for its link to human rights abuses in the country. ###