Militarizing the civilian bureaucracy for suppressing dissent

Progressive groups hold a protest action in front of Camp Crame, Nov. 4. (Photo by Carlo Manalansan / Bulatlat)

The counterinsurgency policy is not only targeted against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) but against perceived supporters or any groups standing in the way of the administration’s political and economic interests.

By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – The militarization of the Philippines’ civilian bureaucracy has never before highlighted under a post-Marcos administration until now — threatening hard-fought democratic institutions and ushering the return of an authoritarian rule in the country.

Reports showed how President Rodrigo Duterte has visibly turned to the Philippine military on various national issues. With at least 73 military and police officials appointed to key civilian government offices and government-owned and –controlled corporations, independent thinktank Ibon Foundation said there are now more military and police officials in government than at any time since the Marcos dictatorship nearly 50 years ago.

As it stands, the group added that at least 11 of the 50 or about one-fifth of cabinet and cabinet-level officials are retired military and police officials.

Their respective appointments, however, are not by mere preference of the country’s highest elected official as efforts in stifling any form of dissent in the name of counterinsurgency have been institutionalized.

Whole-of-nation approach

The “whole of nation approach” copied by retired Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista from the 2009 US Counterinsurgency Guide, is employed in President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70. Bautista is now executive director of Security, Justice, and Peace Cluster under the Office of the President.

This executive order institutionalized the “whole of nation approach” and summed up executive orders Duterte earlier signed related to the use of civilian agencies in counterinsurgency as all government departments, bureaus, offices, agencies were directed to render support to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, which EO 70 created.

In 2017, Duterte signed Executive Order No. 16, which directed all government departments and government-owned and –controlled corporations to adopt its national security plan.

The counterinsurgency policy is not only targeted against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) but against perceived supporters or any groups standing in the way of the administration’s political and economic interests.

A year later, in April 2018, he also signed Administrative Order No. 10, which directed the concerned government agencies to centralize their efforts “for the reintegration of former rebels.” This paved the way for forming of the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), which will provide a “complete package of assistance to former rebels,” who will surface upon the effectivity of the administrative order.

The said administrative order also paved for the forming of “Task Force Balik-Loob,” composed of ranking officials from the Department of National Defense, Interior and Local Government, the Office of the President, and the National Housing Authority.

The Department of Interior and Local Government issued Memorandum Circular Order No. 2019-125 on Aug. 6, 2019, creating the Local Task Forces to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, which directed local governments to cooperate with the Task Force on all fronts – from international lobbying down to their reintegration programs at every province, city and muncipality, and village levels.

Civilian agencies were also directed to provide regular reports to the Task Force, per the circular penned by retired general, now Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año.

Elected civilian government officials such as those in the barangay level, now serve as “ears and eyes” of the AFP in many communities, according to Davao City-based human rights defender Jay Apiag. Local govenment units conduct surveillance work against their own constituents, including those participating in protest actions. This, Apiag added, is apart from high-definition CCTVs installed in areas such as Davao City, which the military may have access to.

However, a civilian government position need not be occupied by a retired government official. The Department of Education, as part of the Task Force, ordered the permanent closure of tribal schools on allegations that these are run by New People’s Army.

Even the Land Transporportation Franchising and Regulatory Board is flagging jeepneys and buses being rented out by activists during protest actions for supposedly being “out-of-line,” according to Karapatan’s chapter in Southern Mindanao Region.

Kalikasan National Coordinator Leon Dulce said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, whose present head is also a retired general, Roy Cimatu, has also long been instrumental in undermining the basic rights of tribal communities facing threats of eviction due to large-scale and foreign-owned mining.

Under a retired military official, Dulce said the government agency has been lobbying for an “enforcement agency,” which may be used against the people’s legitimate struggle for land and rights.

Suppression of legitimate exercise of political rights is justified by linking people’s organizations to the communists, who are vilified as terrorists. This has often led to graver rights abuses such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and arrests.

Social services carried out by the military to stifle dissent

Even the delivery of social services is being used as an instrument of war against the people.

National Council of Churches in the Philippines’ Minnie Ann Calub, who headed its humanitarian aid for three decades, told Bulatlat that the military has no business in carrying out social services as they are not considered as “neutral,” per the humanitarian principles being adhered to globally.

Militarizing humanitarian response

“In conflict-related disasters, how can the military, which is a party to the conflict, provide due humanitarian aid to those in need?” she said.

Among the militarized government agencies that are at the fore of social services are Philhealth and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Philhealth militarization, ‘ghost’ claims reflect problems in health services

Apiag said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) usually comes in first to assess the needs for the implementation of either E-CLIP or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), the government’s conditional cash transfer program. Karapatan, however, has received reports of legitimate 4Ps beneficiaries who were delisted from the conditional cash transfer program after joining protest actions.

“In the name of cash grants, the government wants the people to surrender their democratic rights,” Apiag said.

Apart from being delisted from 4Ps, human rights defenders such as Jennilyn Baguio of Hustisya – Southern Mindanao Region was not issued a certificate of indigency, which she needed in order to avail of government health services when she fell ill in 2018. Soldiers, too, have warned village officials against issuing the certificate, claiming that Baguio was an NPA member.

Local governments are also being used to bloat the number of forced surrenderees. In the Cordillera region, peasant group Apit Tako, said there were about 200 residents in Asipulo, Isabela who were accosted and instructed to stand before a table with firearms they have never seen before, and later presented to no other than President Duterte himself as “NPA surrenderees.”

“They could not resist. The soldiers were armed. It left them with no other choice,” Nestor Peralta, secretary general of the Ifugao Peasant Movement, told Bulatlat.

In Escalante City, 7,000 farmers were falsely presented to the media as rebel returnees. “The farmers were invited by their respective barangay chairpersons to attend a livelihood program launch. They had no idea they were to be introduced as NPAs returning to the fold,” Rey Alburo of Karapatan-Negros told.

Alburo said the farmers were made to sign documents stating they were former rebels in exchange for P5,000, two kilos of rice, two cans of sardines and two packs of instant noodles. According to the government’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), each rebel returnee should receive P50,000 in livelihood assistance and P15,000 immediate assistance.

Just before the year ended, the Philippine Army posted a photo of over 300 alleged surrenderees, which netizens pointed out to be manipulated. Amid the backlash, the Army later claimed that the firearmes and former rebels were authentic but were “merged together.” The same photo, however, was first posted by a Facebook page dubbed as “Legal Army Wives” and labeled “18 June 2019.”

From July 2016 to June 2019 alone, Karapatan documented at least 2,924 cases of fake and forced surrenderees

Rights violators

Forced and fake surrenderees, Apiag said, aims to destroy people’s organizations on the ground and shape public opinion in favor of the AFP.

Davao City, for one, has been heavily militarized. Apiag said military presence and checkpoints have become the “new normal.”

Martial law in Mindanao has made it difficult for human rights defenders to investigate cases of rights abuses – from the indiscriminate bombings to forced surrenderees. Several humanitarian efforts, too, in the past, have been blocked, said Apiag.

In the face of various attempts to quell dissent in nearly all fronts, Apiag said human rights defenders carry out “creative” means to fulfill their mandates.

Apiag said efforts to crush any form of dissent has also led to the politicization of the people – as they continue to resist and defend their hard-earned rights together.

During the International Human Rights Day, Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said that while the Duterte administration is vindictive, “it is scared and desperate” as capitalizes on narratives aimed at glorifying Duterte and his so-called iron fist rule, but it buckles down when investigations on its crimes against the Filipino people are encouraged and conducted.”

She said, “alongside the families of victims of human rights violations, we must always remind this government that impunity is not forever; that the day for justice and accountability is just around the corner.”

For Jose Maria Sision, founder of the re-established Communist Party of the Philippines, “all efforts of the Duterte regime to destroy the CPP and the revolutionary mass movement have failed.”

“Duterte’s escalating oppression and exploitation drive more Filipinos to wage people’s war and all forms of resistance,” Sison said in a statement issued on the Communist Party of the Philippines’ 51st anniversary. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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