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Mass graves and body bags define Philippine President Arroyo’s legacy

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Contact: Rhonda Ramiro
Secretary-General,  BAYAN-USA

BAYAN-USA kicks off election countdown with protests against Arroyo and Oplan Bantay Laya

BAYAN-USA kicked off its one-month countdown to the Philippine elections with protests at Philippine President Gloria Arroyo’s stops in California and Washington DC along her way to a nuclear arms meeting in the U.S. capitol.  BAYAN-USA condemned the Arroyo regime’s corruption and demanded an end to the Operation Plan Bantay Laya (OBL) counter insurgency program. Dubbed a “blueprint for impunity” by human rights advocates, OBL has been blamed for thousands of killings, torture and other human rights atrocities committed by the Philippine military.

“OBL guarantees that Arroyo’s legacy will be marked by mass graves and a trail of body bags,” said BAYAN-USA Chair Berna Ellorin. “The elections give Filipinos a chance to chart a course for peace instead of following Arroyo’s roadmap to ruin.  The next president and other elected leaders must abandon the OBL counter-insurgency model if there is to be any hope for genuine peace and democracy in the Philippines.”

BAYAN-USA also condemned the Philippine military and police for using OBL-type tactics to bully voters and campaig against opposition candidates—in direct violation of the Constitution. The military’s operation codenamed “Zero Campaign” sent camouflage-clad military personnel into Davao, Agusan del Norte and surrounding provinces to conduct house-to-house campaigning against Senate candidates Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza. The troops are distributing black propaganda fliers and posters and conducting weekly meetings to coerce community members not to vote for Ocampo and Liza.  “The military and Arroyo’s allies are resorting to illegal tactics to subvert the elections,” stated Ellorin. “Section 2 (4), Article IX-B of the 1987 Constitution explicitly prohibits civil service officers and employees from engaging in partisan political activity.”

Poll-watchers in Hong Kong reported glitches plaguing the opening day of overseas absentee voting in Hong Kong, prompting calls for more mock elections in the Philippines to prevent wide-scale malfunctioning of the new automated voting equipment and a potential failure of elections.  Advocates have also criticized the use of the Smartmatic voting equipment for the ease with which it can be tampered.

“The Hong Kong experience compounds the need for vigilance in observing the elections on May 10, which is one of the reasons BAYAN-USA is participating in the People’s International Observers’ Mission 2010,” said Ellorin. “We need to expose all fraud and corruption and provide an international voice for people who are simply trying to exercise their democratic right to vote.  We can not allow a counter-insurgency crazed military to overrun the Philippine elections with OBL tactics that force people to vote a certain way, or skip going to the polls altogether.”

BAYAN-USA is also conducting “Power in Numbers” concerts in New York, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area over the next month to uphold the Filipino people’s right to vote in free and fair elections, condemn all attempts to undermine democracy through violence and fraud, and educate our community about how to use the polls to push for meaningful change in Philippine society.  “The Power in Numbers shows will draw acclaimed local performers to underscore the message that while Arroyo and her supporters use brute force to maintain the status quo, the Filipino people have the ultimate power to change society,” said Ellorin.