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US-funded Oplan Bantay Laya must end

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Contact: Bernadette Ellorin
Chairperson, BAYAN USA

The US Chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, or BAYAN USA, an alliance of 14 Filipino organizations in the United States, vehemently condemns the government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for its escalation of the national counter-insurgency program known as Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Freedom Watch) as its scheduled June 2010 deadline fast approaches. Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) was crafted and implemented by the Arroyo government in 2001 with the said objective of annihilating the armed insurgency raging the Philippine countryside for over four decades. Its utter failure to meets both its deadlines in 2007 and now in 2010 to expunge the Communist Party-led New Peoples Army (NPA) exposes Arroyo’s inherently flawed approach to “resolving” Asia’s longest-running armed conflict.

At the crux of the armed insurgency in the Philippine countryside is the matter of genuine land reform and redistribution. The majority of those who turn to armed struggle are poor farmers that must contend with backward agrarian policies that essentially obliterate their livelihood and displace entire communities. Popular opposition to these neoliberal policies on agriculture are commonly met with brute military force and violence. The most outstanding example of this in recent history is the case of Hacienda Luisita, a sprawling 6000-hectare sugar estate where in 2004, hundreds of farm workers on strike were met with military tanks and bullets from the 69th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in Tarlac. At the heart of the strike launched by the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) and the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) was the broken promise of land distribution of Hacienda Luisita to the farmers by the estate’s owners, the Cojuangco family, a powerful political clan, coupled with an exploitative take home pay of 9.50 pesos or 17 US cents a week. Instead, an unscrupulous sham operation known as the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) engineered by powerful Cojuangcos in government has been made to pass off as so-called “land reform”, much to the offense of the Hacienda Luisita workers and their families. Without the implementation of a genuine, pro-people national land reform program that gives land to tillers rather than concentrates land ownership to a privileged few wealthy families, every Philippine president will fail to end armed insurgency in the countryside.

The real objective of Arroyo’s OBL, though touted as a counter-terrorist cum national security campaign, is to continue the US government’s relentlessly violent assault on Philippine sovereignty by destroying a strong and capable national liberation movement. By recycling McCarthyist tactics of red-baiting, the US puppet Arroyo government justifies its modus operandi of pointing its guns at legal, unarmed activist organizations and partylists that are also the strongest and most vocal critics of the Philippine government. By upholding a culture of impunity, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are ensured a free pass at mercilessly targeting civilians without having to answer to the country’s justice system, nor the numerous international covenants and accords on human rights signed by the Philippine government.

Fortunately, public outcry from a strong pro-democracy movement in the country and the international community on escalating human rights abuses committed by the Philippine military and private armies continues to pressure the Arroyo government to account for its poor human rights record. This includes the growing campaign led by taxpayers in the United States to cut all forms of US economic aid to the Philippines. A historic 2007 US Senate hearing linked the US government’s Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to the Philippine government to over 1000 cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances perpetrated by the Philippine military. This eventually led to the placing of human rights conditions on a portion of the US military aid package to the Arroyo government the following year. BAYAN USA vows to advance the campaign to cut all forms of aid to the Philippines and mobilize within the US against the structure of reactionary violence in the Philippines upheld by US puppet presidents in order to maintain the archipelago as a reliable enforcer of US neoliberalism in the Asia-Pacific region.

As 2010 brings the promise of elections and the end of the Arroyo presidential term, it must be expected that Arroyo will intensify OBL and claim that it will try to reach its goal before the June 2010 deadline. It will not. Pro-democracy and human rights advocates both in and out of the Philippines must also heighten our vigilance to stop this escalation. In addition, her drive to escape the thousands of criminal charges against her waiting to be filed by the families of victims of OBL has predictably prompted Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to file candidacy papers for a seat in the Philippine Congress, a position that would ensure her immunity from suit. In this regard, the campaign to ensure justice for the scores of victims of OBL by filing class suits against Arroyo for human rights violations
is integral to the campaign to end OBL.

Time has proven how the international community plays an important role in the struggle for human rights in the Philippines. With the Arroyo government banking on national election mania to divert the public from the headlines on the absolving of Arroyo crony Andal Ampatuan Jr. for the Maguindanao Massacre and the illegal mass arrest and continued detention and torture of the Morong 43 healthworkers, its time for the international community to make 2010 a banner year in human rights advocacy for the Philippines by raising the demand to stop Oplan Bantay Laya once and for all.