‘Not really bloody’ but unjust, repressive
AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo (The Philippine Star) - November 23, 2019 - 12:00am

In August President Duterte vowed to distribute all agricultural lands equitably through a “unique brand of agrarian reform” to accomplish the program’s primary aim: “uphold the welfare of the landless farmers, promote social justice, and attain sound rural development.”

Moreover, he conflated this ambitious goal with another one – ending the five-decade armed conflict with the CPP-NPA by grabbing from the revolutionary movement “the richest issue of them all – land reform.” Focusing on Negros, where he said the farmers’ struggle for land is deep and protracted because of the feudal system obtaining there, Duterte stated his game plan thus: “Kunin mo ang initiative sa komunista. What they are really parlaying is land. Eh di unahan na natin, ibigay na natin.”

He taunted the CPP-NPA: “You cannot win a fight for social justice or for a better life…if you go to revolution, it won’t work. I am not challenging [you]. You might win or you may lose, but that is something to be seen.”

Then he made the cryptic statement, “I am serving notice to everybody that in the coming months it will be – not really bloody, but there will be, at least, a little trouble for our country.” Carrying out his plan, he added, would “make us a magnet for all criticisms” and critics are “waiting for us to commit a wrong.”

Were the simultaneous raids in Bacolod City, on October 1, part of the “little trouble” Duterte warned about in August?  

The operations carried out by joint AFP-PNP security forces on the offices of progressive organizations resulted in the arrest of 57 persons, including 14 minors. It was covered by search warrants issued by a Quezon City RTC judge and directed by the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC, formed via Executive Order 70 and headed by Duterte).

If the Bacolod operation was “not really bloody,” let us not forget the AFP-PNP operations twice carried out earlier in Negros Oriental (first on Dec. 27 to Jan. 15, then on March 30 this year), during which 48 civilians were killed and several others arrested.

That was a really bloody operation, legally enabled by a hundred search warrants issued by a single RTC judge in Cebu City, in pursuance of Memorandum Order 32, issued by Duterte on Nov. 22, 2018.

Mind these facts: 1) Most of those killed in their homes and arrested in Negros Oriental were landless farmers fighting for land and social justice, advocacies that Duterte vowed to uphold. 2) Among the offices raided in Bacolod was that of the National Federation of Sugar Workers, its leader (among other mass leaders) was arrested. And 3) those arrested in both operations have been charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, a nonbailable offense. They all aver that the firearms and explosives were planted in their houses and offices during the supposed searches.

Metro Manila has not been spared: in the nation’s capital, two parallel raids, arrests, and charges were carried out on Oct. 1 and 5. The series of AFP-PNP operations have been promptly denounced, here and abroad, as foul, unjust, and repressive actions taken by the state against progressive organizations critical of certain policies and programs as well as human rights violations by the government. Preemptive steps, taken by the national offices of the progressive organizations, have apparently deterred wider raids and arrests.

Meantime, the NTF-ELCAC is pursuing another tack. It is now seeking to disperse political detainees, among them NDFP peace consultants, being held in Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City by sending them to already overcrowded provincial and local jails in places where trumped-up charges have been filed against them. Thus far, the chief of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology has written to three Regional Trial Court judges to issue court orders for the transfer, and one judge has already acceded to the request to transfer two detainees.

In seeking the transfer of these political detainees to Lucena City; Sta. Cruz, Laguna; Gumaca, Quezon; and Malolos, Bulacan, the BJMP chief cites as ground the “institutionalization of the whole-of-nation approach” under EO 70 that “includes national efforts to prevent opportunities for Communists  Terrorist Groups (CTGs) to conduct organized activities while under detention”(emphasis mine) and the “timely resolution” of the cases against the detainees pending before the regular courts.

In a statement given to media, the Bicutan political detainees accuse NTF-ELCAC of “blatantly interfering in the judicial process, fabricating lies and false scenarios.” The move to disperse them, they say, runs counter to the long-established practice, even during the Marcos dictatorship, of detaining political detainees in “common facilities for practical reasons, including easier monitoring and control by the state authorities.”

Court records, they add, show that most of the political detainees in Bicutan had been transferred there from local jails – such as the couple Frank Fernandez and Cleofe Lagtapon, NDFP consultants from Negros – upon motion of local wardens “who were worried about security risks in holding them.”

As regards “organized activities,” the Bicutan detainees point out that whatever they have undertaken “cannot be anything but legitimate and justified.” They cite political discussion among themselves and their visitors, social gatherings and celebrations, handicrafts and other livelihood projects, sports, and health and wellness activities.

 In my eight years of detention at the former Bicutan Rehabilitation Center during the Marcos dictatorship, we political detainees were able to organize ourselves and manage our day-to-day activities, including cooking our own meals. I was elected spokesperson and chief negotiator with the Command for the Administration of Detainers (headed in succession by Defense Undersecretaries Jose Crisol and Carmelo Barbero, and Col. Jose Sta. Romana). We took up matters relating to our rights and welfare (easing restrictions, improving facilities, health care), priorities in detainee releases from time to time, etc.

In cases of deadlock, we resorted to fasting and hunger strikes. In all instances these militant actions forced the authorities to recognize the reasonableness of our demands, and we prevailed.     

So what’s bugging the NTF-ELCAC?  Are they scared of what the political detainees can do, cooped up in such a limited space in a high-security facility in Bicutan? Is it because, as Secretary Año has admitted, the government is losing “in the propaganda war”?

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com


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