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Opinion

US anti-terror scary/ Civil society in disarray

HERE'S THE SCORE - Teodoro C. Benigno -
The world has indeed changed since 9/11. And America is in the middle of it all, looming right in everybody’s midst as the dark, scowling, all-powerful avenging angel against international terrorism. Now we are being told by the US State Department that in our very own country, the US military can kill anybody it chooses to on suspicion of being a terrorist. In fact, this is exactly what it did recently in Yemen. Six suspected al-Qaeda operatives were exterminated by a Hellfire missile launched from remote-controlled CIA Predator 160 kilometers east of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital.

No proof, no documentation, no hard evidence have been presented to prove the six were indeed terrorists. Just suspicion, then boom. The six were blown to kingdom come, their bodies decapitated beyond recognition, any document or tell-tale papers in their possession now charcoal bits.

I find this frightening. And I find it all the more frightening because a top US counter-terror official, name of Francis Taylor bearing State Department credentials, told media here the Yemen killing was both necessary and legal. And if it was in Yemen, so it will have to be in the Philippines. Our country remains America’s "second front" after Afghanistan. And only a few days ago, the US drew a terror circle around the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. This was just after the Bali Bomb massacre October 12, which killed about 200, most of them Australians and white Westerners.

Okay. The US has all the right to protect its vital interests in Southeast Asia. But drawing that terror circle to warn us the American military can behave in our region the way they behaved in Yemen is just a little bit too much. I do not think US military might – no matter what its frightening and pulverizing power may be, has any right to shunt Philippine sovereignty aside. We Filipinos and only we Filipinos can decide who will or will not be killed in our country under the sovereignty principle of the United Nations. If the GMA government caves in to this "preemptive power" of America, then it becomes really and truly a puppet of Uncle Sam. And heaven help our country.

This is the salami strategy in reverse.

First
, during the regime of President Joseph Estrada, America sought and got government agreement – via the Senate – for the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). Second, with the VFA in its pocket, American combat troops started to come in purportedly just to train Filipino troops in the art of modern warfare. Third, the American soldiery hide to Basilan and backstopped the Philippine military campaign against the Abu Sayyaf. Aha, the Yankee strategic slip started to show. Fourth, the announcement was made about a thousand more or so US combat troops would shortly arrive under the VFA, this time spreading out to Luzon but still standing sentinel in Mindanao. Fifth, the US tagged the CPP-NPA as a "foreign terrorist organization" presumably on the request of Malacañang. This gave the US virtual carte blanche to strike militarily against the local communist network from the ground, from the air, from the sea. Gone was the essence of the VFA, anchored on one point and one point alone, just train Filipino troops.

Sixth
, there was a flood of American reports identifying the Jemah Islamiyah as teh overall terrorist organization loading it over Southeast Asia. Care was taken to mention that JI was an al-Qaeda likeness and that Abu Sayyaf, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), had ties with JI, not to mention al-Qaeda. Seventh, US reports came that the MILF would soon be branded by Washington as a foreign terrorist organization. Eighth, the Bali massacre occurred, sending huge shivers throughout Southeast Asia. Ninth, State’s Francis Taylor announced the Philippines would be a sitting duck for an American counter-terrorist strike, like James Bond with a license to kill anywhere, whatever, whenever.

What is even more frightening is that the Philippine government has not reacted to the Taylor announcement. The impression is that Malacañang Palace agrees. And now, or so it seems, we’re back to being a colonial ward of America, sitting right atop Uncle Sam’s laps, stroking his white beard. We are back to our role as Gunga Din, harkening to America’s bidding as a sheep herd to its master’s whistle call.

I can only warn President GMA that she is playing with fire.

We could all swallow the VFA, even if the pill was somewhat bitter…To a certain extent, we even welcomed America’s intrusion into Basilan. The objective was the extermination of Abu Sayyaf. And when Abu Sabaya was reportedly blown to its bits, we even rejoiced somewhat. But now, there is no longer any pretension, any hypocrisy, any illusion as to why the Americans are here. In their war against international terrorism, they have erased all lines in the ground. They are here to kill the enemy, largely their enemy, in whatever way the choose too. And our sovereignty be damned.
* * *
I am in receipt of a still unpublished statement issued by the Council on Philippine Affairs (COPA) as a "rejoinder" to my November 6 column. As a former member of COPA (from which I resigned with good and ample reason more than a year ago), I must say that the COPA rejoinder was a mountain laboring and bringing forth a mouse. The meat of that column focused on current and still reverberating news that elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, principally RAM, were engaged in "destabilizing" efforts to topple GMA. I further emphasized that COPA and the (Philippine Consultative Assembly) PCA were the two civic organizations linked to the so-called destabilization campaign on the part of ultra rightwing military elements ostensibly to seize power. While PCA’s Linda Montayre remained silent, COPA’s secretary-general Pastor (Boy) Saycon categorically denied his group had met of late with elements of the RAM.

A companion theme of that column was my insistence that, given the swift slash of events – the communist Left and the military Right now sharpening their blades – it was time civil society got together. The battle lines had shifted, the war to be fought in the near future a different war. It was war largely against a corrupt and decaying system, not just individual leaders anymore. In this kind of war, civil society had to be the organized spearhead. Its mission was to prevent the nation from falling into the claws of the communist left which advocated bloody revolution and the military right which would impose martial rule.

This is where the meat of that column began and ended.

But COPA’s spokesman Jose Ma. (Boy) Montelibano focused instead on definitions, splitting hairs on what really civil society meant or represented. COPA also vent its wrath on KOMPIL II, a component of civil society, but a "small" component representing Makati’s privileged business community, he said. Montelibano added the businessmen refused to soil their hands when asked to eat kamayan-style with other demonstrators. Montelibano boast that COPA "was privileged to have been the key organizer of a broad spectrum of civil society" during the EDSA II street demonstrations. Yes, that’s true. And bravo for COPA. But Montelibano deliberately fails to mention the fact it was into COPA’s laps that Luis "Chavit" Singson fell. And from these, with Jaime Cardinal Sin’s cooperation, Singson proceeded to destroy Joseph Ejercito Estrada on plunder charges. Singson sought out COPA’s Peping Cojuangco, who was an old political buddy, back to the days of Ninoy Aquino. With Boy Saycon helping out, the demos laid a curse on Estrada. With the Senate impeachment proceedings lathered on, it was finito for Erap Estrada.

COPA may have all the right to inveigh against KOMPIL II.

But it should do that in another forum and not use my column as an excuse for a "rejoinder". I never put KOMPIL II on a pedestal. On the contrary, and in retrospect, it looked like a "company union" from the outset. Contrary to what Montelibano states, I never said civil society has been coopted by GMA. Portions of it were. In fact, I continue to call upon civil society to reform its ranks, get organized and structured as the Left and the Right are. And neither can COPA escape charges some of its members were also coopted. They were. All this harping on the past and swaggering about the past – who COPA is – who KOMPIL II is, now make little sense. The nation – sucked or suckered into America’s war against terrorism – has changed complexion overnight. To remain relevant, COPA should understand this. Right now, COPA shudders pitifully in the wind with all its reported involvement with RAM, and its coupling with PCA and Lydia Montayre, allegedly a fellow traveler of the "fascist right".

As a last fillip, Boy Montelibano credits an "advocate" Nicanor Perlas as having ridden saddle on the definition of civil society. If memory serves, it was Lenin, that unreconstructed Bolshevik, who first broached civil society as the third societal sector, the first two being the communist apparatchik that held power, and the huge mass of the public sector. The people constituted the third. But let’s not quibble. Civil society, as we understand it today, refers principally to the dynamic bulges of the middle class that turned out for EDSA I and EDSA II.

The "critical mass" of the near future will depend on how civil society has its collective ear geared to the drumskin on the ground, how it understands and interprets the mighty rumblings underneath. And, finally, on how it mobilizes to effectively cope with the grim challenges ahead. As I said, it’s a different war.

ABU SAYYAF

AMERICA

CIVIL

COPA

FRANCIS TAYLOR

MONTELIBANO

QAEDA

RIGHT

SOCIETY

SOUTHEAST ASIA

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