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Shattered Peace Talks and Grinding Conflict: How U.S. Support Bolsters the Philippines' War on Dissidents

The government of the Philippines has continued to harass the opposition and extrajudicially kill dissenters.

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In the aftermath of Al Qaida’s 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the USA, the US role in the Philippines shifted. In 2002, the US declared the Philippines to be the second front in the war against terrorism. Then, out of nowhere, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that the USA was putting the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army on the list of terrorist organizations. This step not only did nothing to encourage a peaceful settlement of the conflict, but instead upped the ante by treating the CPP/NPA as the equivalent of Al Qaida, a completely fraudulent analogy given the ideologies, histories, strategies and tactics of both organizations. Interestingly, the USA did not put either the MNLF or the MILF on the terrorist list, but instead placed great attention on the role of the shadowy Abu Sayyaf organization, a group that many observers have actually tied to the Philippine government, i.e., as a sort of Wizard of Oz created to scare the population, influence world opinion, and justify the further militarization of conflict in the Philippines. The further militarization has brought with it a greater involvement by the USA. This has included the use of the so-called Visiting Forces Agreement in order to station US troops in the archipelago, engage in joint trainings as well as certain joint military exercises.

Though negotiations continued with the NDFP—up through this past April—they did so under very difficult conditions. One of the oddest conditions, referenced earlier, has been the imprisonment of members of the NDFP negotiating team, the “peace consultants.” The government of the Philippines chose to violate protocols on the status of negotiators and allege various crimes on the part of the NDFP team members. Such a step is not only outrageous in the realm of diplomacy, but undermined the ability of the peace talks to proceed. Of those NDFP team members imprisoned, the NDFP noted in a recent statement that those team members released were released not due to the good will of the Philippine government, but rather as a result of litigation taken by representatives of the negotiators.

The break off of negotiations must also be understood in the context of the adoption, by the Philippine government, of a policy known as Oplan Bayanihan. A well-crafted document, Oplan Bayanihan outlines steps that the Philippine government seeks to take in order to gain internal peace and security. Reading this document one could conclude that the Philippine government seeks to narrow military operations and engage in activities to win over the population. In fact, there is an interesting statement in the Executive Summary of the report that reads in part: “To highlight the AFP’s [Armed Forces of the Philippines—author] mandate as wielders of legitimate force, military operations shall focus only on the armed components of insurgent groups. Under this concept, the AFP shall employ distinct methodologies for the NPA, MILF, and ASF and other terrorist groups [3].” Such a statement stands in contrast to the actions of the Philippine government and its allies, raising the provocative question: who are the real terrorists?

If terrorism is the use of violence against non-military targets in order to advance political objectives, the Philippine government should be indicted, at the minimum, in the court of world opinion. Terrorist attacks, euphemistically referenced as “extrajudicial killings” take place on a regular basis in the Philippines against opponents of the government and social reformers. Human Rights Watch noted that while extrajudicial killings dropped in 2012, not a single case has resulted in prosecution since the assumption of office by President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino. Compounding this are the, apparently, disingenuous actions of the Philippine government when it responds to pressures in connection with human rights abuses. Karapatan noted, for instance, that among the nine members of the interagency body to investigate extrajudicial killings are the chiefs of both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, institutions that have regularly been criticized for complicity in such abuses. [4]

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