U.S. Imperialism and Arroyo Regime in the Philippines on Trial at the Permanent People’s Tribunal, the Hague


An interview with Luis Jalandoni, chairperson of the National Democratic Front-Philippines Negotiating Panel, follows E. San Juan, Jr.’s analysis.

The February visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, Prof. Rodolfo Stavenhagen, reconfirmed the barbarism of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s de facto martial-law regime in the Philippines.  Stavenhagen bewailed the worsening pattern of human rights violations perpetrated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).  Since 2001, Amnesty International, the Asian Human Rights Commission, and other international monitors have condemned the Arroyo government for the systematic repression of dissenters from all sectors: workers, women, farmer activists, union leaders, students, middle-class professionals, church people, lawyers, journalists, and indigenes.

This repression is part of the counter-insurgency program known as Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) launched by Arroyo’s “total war” policy against progressive, nationalist forces.  Designed to “neutralize” members of people’s organizations deemed sympathetic to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the New People’s Army (NPA), and the National Democratic Front (NDFP), the policy has resulted in massive killing of civilians whose total has now exceeded the number tallied during the entire period of the brutal Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986).  Meanwhile, millions of refugees continue to flee from zones contested by the AFP, the NPA, and Moro (the term for Muslims in the Philippines) rebels since the beginning of “people’s war” thirty-eight years ago.  Moro resistance dates back to the ruthless U.S. “pacification” of the colony at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Foremost among the countless victims of Arroyo’s OBL are Rafael Bangit, a tribal leader of the Kalinga Malbong community in northern Philippines, and Dr. Alice Omengan Claver.  Both led the resistance to the dispossession of ancestral lands and the plunder of indigenous resources by transnational corporations and their accomplices, local bureaucrat-capitalists and landlords.  From February 2001 (when Arroyo assumed the presidency) to January 2007, 123 indigenous persons have been killed.  According to KARAPATAN (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), the number of victims of extra-judicial execution has reached 841, with at least 193 civilians abducted and tortured.  Shockingly awful news, indeed, for the heart and conscience of the world community.

Jurisprudence of Cruelty

Commentaries on the recent passage of an Anti-Terror Bill (ATB) by the Philippine Congress have kindled the citizenry’s fear of full-blown fascist malevolence.  ATB gives unlimited license to Arroyo to classify nationalist critics and dissenters as “terrorists.”  Even without this bill, the government has persecuted members of legitimate political parties like BAYAN MUNA (356 members have been killed since 2001, the largest of any group), ANAKPAWIS (whose elected representative, Crispin Beltran, remains imprisoned for a year now, denied any trial), GABRIELA (the leading progressive women’s organization), and various youth and indigenous associations.  Prominent nationalists such as Dr. Francisco Nemenzo, former president of the University of  the Philippines and head of the anti-Arroyo coalition, Laban ng Masa, have not been spared police harassment.

Modeled after the USA Patriot Act, ATB drastically constricts the civil rights of citizens, particularly those involved in media, education, and certain business enterprises, by permitting government to spy on communication, bank accounts, and other private transactions.  It eliminates the constitutionally mandated presumption of innocence and right to bail.  It punishes suspects by imprisoning them without due process, vulnerable to all kinds of treatment that violate the Geneva Convention and other international covenants (such as those witnessed at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, the Guantanamo Naval Base, and elsewhere).

The consensus of media and public fora registers vigorous opposition to ATB.  According to Neri Javier Colmenares, head of CODAL (Counsels for the Defense of Liberties), this draconian law will sanction the abuses of Arroyo’s harsh authoritarian rule.  It will intensify the vicious attacks against critics of Arroyo, in particular, against 8-10 million-strong Moro community.  The Moros have already suffered unrelenting government surveillance because of their determined resistance to neocolonial oppression (ignored due to the officially tacit patronage of the Abu Sayyaf , the pretext for U.S. intrusion) and their long memory of legitimate historic grievances.  Bobby Tuazon, director of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, warns of the ATB’s equation of the exercise of civil liberties with abetting, or directly participating in, terrorism.  In the same spirit, Dean Luis Teodoro of the University of the Philippines criticizes the retrogressive nature of the ATB in deliberately confusing legal media and civil society institutions (like the National Union of Journalists) with the outlawed CPP-NPA, serving as “a convenient excuse to suppress dissent and to curtail political and civil rights” (Business Mirror, February 9, 2007).

Last February 2006, Arroyo proclaimed a state of “national emergency” to prevent the eruption of a massive “people power” revolt against her corrupt rule.  Exposed in the “Garci tapes” (Arroyo’s secret conversations with officials to “fix” the votes in her favor) for brazenly manipulating the 2004 elections, Arroyo has arrested military officers suspected of sympathizing with political opponents such as the detained President Joseph Estrada, former president Corazon Aquino, and other sections of the oligarchy.  A broad united front of anti-Arroyo groups with diverse ideologies and class backgrounds has emerged in the last three years demanding her impeachment.  Two attempts so far have failed because of bribes, threats, and harassments.  Universal protest against the emergency proclamation, including fascist schemes such as the “Calibrated Preemptive Response” banning peaceful rallies and Executive Order 464 forbidding officials from testifying in Congress about the regime’s fraud, forced Arroyo to retreat and hypocritically plead for cooperation, transparency, and peace.

With the help of the generally conservative Catholic Church, the progressive bloc  defeated Arroyo’s plan to revise the 1987 Constitution to allow 100 percent foreign ownership of land, utilities, media, etc., unrestricted entry of U.S. troops, and extension of her rule.  Some speculate that the plan to purge the Constitution of provisions safeguarding national sovereignty may have been shelved temporarily.  This coming May election for Congress offers another occasion for fierce internecine struggle among the elite.  It also provides opportunity for popular mobilization and political consciousness-raising.  But, without a doubt, it will be manipulated again by Arroyo’s clique, using funds from the public treasury, so as to prevent any chance of another impeachment attempt — unless the majority of Filipinos exercise vigilance and oppose cheating, vote-buying, and indiscriminate state terror.

Post-Colonial Blues?

The Philippines was declared “the second front” after the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan in the wake of September 11, 2001.  Immediately, the Pentagon announced that it was sending 3,000 US troops to the Philippines.  In November of that same year, Arroyo avowed support of Bush’s “global war on terror” and began calling the Abu Sayyaf “terrorists,” not just plain “bandits.”  As a reward, Arroyo received $4.6 billion worth of military aid and investment.  U.S. military assistance soared from $38 million in 2001 to $114 million in 2003 and $164 million in 2005, making the Philippines the fourth largest recipient of US military aid (U.S. Congress-Federal Research Division, March 2006).  Clandestine transfer of other funds and resources for secret operations cannot of course be documented.  Millions more were given as part of the International Military Education and Training Program, thus insuring that the AFP perform its traditional role as the Pentagon’s “surrogate army.”  It is no secret that, since 1946, the AFP has been completely dependent on Washington for weapons, advice, and training of officers (including police) for counterinsurgency and maintaining the status quo.

Various legislations have sealed the contract of puppetry.  In 2002,  a Mutual Logistics and Support Agreement (MLSA) was signed between the AFP and the U.S. Pacific Command to allow logistics support and pre-positioning of war materiel for U.S. military operations.  In the same year, 660 U.S. troops, including 160 U.S. Special Operations personnel, arrived in Basilan (where the Abu Sayyaf was sighted) and other provinces of Mindanao ostensibly to help fight the terrorists in open and covert combat (Bulatlat.com/MindaNews, January 6-12, 2002).  This joint exercise with the AFP was repeated in February 2003 when 3,000 US. army, marine, and navy forces were deployed to Jolo island (Washington Post, February 23, 2003, A30).  Plans for continuing joint exercises in the next five to ten years have been announced by the AFP and the Pentagon.

The subservience of the AFP and the Arroyo regime to the U.S. long-range program of reinforcing its global hegemony after the Cold War has been confirmed, among others, by the implementation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).  This agreement, ratified in 1999 by the Philippine Senate but not by the U.S. Senate, has proved extremely onerous, particularly after the Subic Rape trial (more later).  The VFA allows for the unhampered entry of U.S. troops into any part of the Philippines in the guise of participating in joint war exercises called “Balikatan.”  This compensates for the loss of the huge Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base in 1991; both bases served as springboards for U.S. wars of intervention in Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.  A resurgent storm of nationalist protest, whose origin goes back to the time of Senators Claro Recto and Lorenzo Tanada in the fifties, finally led to their termination in 1991.

Needless to say, the U.S. corporate rulers need the Philippines more than the ordinary Filipinos need U.S. soldiers roaming the countryside.  It is no longer scandalous to say that U.S. military bases have returned via the VFA and other anomalous arrangements.  Buttressing the VFA and the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, a new Security Engagement Board was formed last year to guarantee U.S. access to facilities not only to ward off external aggression but also to engage in operations against terrorism, piracy, maritime disasters, epidemics, and so on.  It will use the US Agency for International Development to promote civil-military, humanitarian activities (infrastructure, social services, livelihood projects) that ultimately function as a cover for counterinsurgency operations.

In 1989, Col. Nick Rowe, a Green Beret Vietnam veteran working as chief of the army division of the JUSMAG (Joint US-Philippine Military Advisory group) training AFP soldiers, was allegedly killed by NPA agents in a Manila suburb.  Who knows how many CIA and other U.S. intelligence agents are deployed in every level of government and various sectors of civil society?

Sovereignty for Sale

Earlier, we mentioned Arroyo’s campaign for charter change.  The Philippine Constitution prohibits the use of foreign military units to resolve local “peace-and-order” problems such as the Abu Sayyaf , Moro separatism, and the self-emancipatory projects of armed peasants and workers in numerous liberated zones.  But the U.S. militarists have been accustomed to behaving as occupiers/”liberators,” as during the violent pacification of 1898-1913 and General McArthur’s return in 1945.

In 2004, heavily armed U.S. Special Forces occupied the University of Southeastern Mindanao in Kabacan, Cotabato, as their temporary quarters, endangering the lives of civilians.  Despite disclaimers, US forces are deeply involved in the fighting in Mindanao between the AFP and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, together with factions of the Moro National Liberation Front that have refused any compromise with the government.  Various elements of guerilla Lumads (indigenous communities) and national-democratic partisans are also involved in resisting AFP incursions and depredations in resource-rich Mindanao and Sulu islands.

Last year, the biggest joint military exercise, the 22nd RP-US “Balikatan,” was carried out from February to March, consisting of 5,500 US troops and 2,800 Filipino soldiers.  The three locations where it occurred — Jolo, Cebu, and Luzon — happen to be battlefields for the Moro and NPA guerillas, hence the “exercises” may be construed as actual interventions into internal affairs, violating the sovereignty of the Philippines as an independent nation-state.  The CPP/NPA have publicly warned the U.S. not to participate in AFP counterinsurgency drives lest they suffer intolerable fatalities and humiliation.

In March 2006, the US Navy Commander of the Pacific Command, Admiral William J. Fallon, stated that “Southeast Asia is the front line of the war on terror.”  Situated between Hawaii/Guam and mainland China, the Philippines serves as a vital link in the security chain of the U.S. empire in the Western Pacific.  It offers a strategic “virtual base” for refueling and logistics to sustain military operations in the Middle East and South Asia, as well as for monitoring the signs of “Islamic revivalism” in Southeast Asia (specifically, Indonesia and Malaysia) that may threaten U.S. economic and political dominance in the region.  Cognizant of the country’s geopolitical importance, the Australians are deepening their military ties with the AFP.  Arroyo’s sponsorship of the January summit of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) testifies to the government’s cooperation in advancing the U.S. imperial plan of waging a war to maintain its economic and political ascendancy (known as the “Washington Consensus”), complementing the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank. and World Trade Organization’s stranglehold on the economies of the region.

Preempting Any Paradigm-Shift

When President Bush visited the Philippines in October 2003, he called the 1898-1913 U.S. military occupation of the Philippines “a model for Iraq.”  After the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the U.S. was forced to wage a brutal “pacification” campaign (now called the Filipino-American War) to destroy the army of the first Philippine Republic that had already freed the country from Spanish domination.  This resulted in the death of thousands of U.S. soldiers and 1.4 million Filipinos in what advocates of imperialism call a “savage war of peace.”  Imperialism has now acquired a positive resonance, if not a redeeming value.

From 1899 to the present, despite nominal independence in 1946, the Philippines has remained a dependent neocolonial formation of the United States.  Millions of Filipinos have been thoroughly “Americanized” through education, media, consumerism, and other ideological processes.  Asked in a recent survey what nationality other than Filipino they would want to be if given a choice, most Filipinos answered: “American.”  Through various unscrupulous maneuvers (such as the Bell Trade Act of 1946) and outright military-political intervention (as in the suppression of the Huk uprising in the fifties, the February 1986 revolt, labeling the CPP/NPA as terrorists), successive U.S. administrations have astutely preserved the underdeveloped, dependent character of the country’s political economy, its iniquitous class structure and property relations.  It has also guaranteed its subservience to the combined diktat of the WB, IMF and WTO (for documentation, see Jose Ma. Sison and Julieta de Lima, Philippine Economy and Politics, Manila, 1998; and Alejandro Lichauco, Hunger, Corruption and Betrayal, Manila, 2005).

What is the fruit of a hundred years of U.S. domination?  Today, 89% of 85 million Filipinos live in poverty, living on the equivalent of less than $3 a day.  About 12.8 million people (16.9% of all households) experience hunger; at least 10 millions live in slums.  I have seen a report that approximately 3,000 desperate Filipinos have sold their kidneys for less than two thousand dollars.  Meanwhile, 2% of the population control and benefit from the social wealth much of which comes from remittance sent back home by nearly 10 million overseas contract workers.  Over a million Filipinos leave every year for jobs in other countries, either temporarily or permanently — as domestics, seamen, cheap labor in U.S. military barracks in Iraq, or as “sex workers” in Japan and elsewhere.  Over three million Filipinos currently reside in the United States, some “undocumented” and others “in transit,” but many willing or ready to become 200% Americans, so grateful for having escaped what Jose Rizal, the national hero, once eulogized as “the pearl of the Orient Seas.”

Something unprecedented occurred last December.  When, in November 2005, a twenty-two year old Filipina, “Nicole,” was raped in Olongapo, near the former Subic Naval Base, by four American servicemen off from a joint US-RP war exercise, there was a display of public anger against the US.  Arroyo’s officials dragged their feet in prosecuting the malefactors; they even blamed the victim.  After Marine Corporal Daniel Smith was found guilty by a Filipino judge last December — at last, a miracle: a Filipino judge showed enough courage and intelligence! — Arrroyo’s Secretary of Justice colluded with the US Embassy to kidnap the prisoner from the local city jail and transfer him to U.S. territory, the U.S. Embassy.  The VFA is then invoked to legitimize the gangster tactics of the superpower diplomats and their local subalterns.  After a year, when Smith’s appeal is not acted upon, he can be flown to the US with impunity.  It seems that the “good old days” of William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt may be here again in this “tropical paradise” of the empire.  Rarely can one find in the annals of empire such a self-congratulatory record of disingenuous colonial suzerainty.

Back to the “Good Old Days”

A flurry of journalistic articles sought to justify the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq by belaboring the analogy between it and the war against Filipino “insurrectionists” from 1899 to 1913.  U.S. “pacification” was carried out in the Philippines, however, not to give freedom and democracy to the natives, but to suppress their resistance and annex their territory, with millions sacrificed in the process.  Thousands of Moros were massacred for the sake of U.S. “Manifest Destiny” and its “civilizing mission.”  Except for new missionary slogans and updated apologetics, the same process seems to be unfolding in Iraq, with equally horrendous genocidal results.

In the fifties, the U.S. sent to the Philippines two CIA operatives, Col. Edward Lansdale and Charles Bohannan, to pioneer the establishment  of a counterinsurgency scheme that later became the bloody “Phoenix” program implemented in Vietnam and then copied in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and other countries.  In December 2005, John Negroponte, the current director of National Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism Center, conferred with Arroyo’s security officials (among them, General Eduardo Ermita, Arroyo’s Executive Secretary, who worked with Negroponte in Vietnam) to enhance clandestine operations against “terrorist groups.”  In this context, the enemy not only refers to the Abu Sayyaf but primarily to the CPP and the NPA,  labeled “terrorist” by the U.S. State Department (which explains the European Union’s stigmatization of Jose Maria Sison, the chief political consultant of the NDFP, as a “terrorist” during his petitioning for asylum in the Netherlands — see Jalandoni interview below).

Negroponte’s visit was followed by the intensification of “death squad” operations.  Throughout Latin America, Negroponte is notorious for having organized counterrevolutionary death squads to suppress national liberation forces in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and other places.  It was during Negroponte’s Ambassadorship to Iraq that General Jovito Palparan, alleged to be the mastermind of extra-judicial killings, led the Philippine contingent in Iraq.  General Ermita reported to Negroponte Arroyo’s accomplishments in “neutralizing” (that is, killing) terrorist suspects — at that time, 534 unarmed civilians had been “neutralized” by government agents.

Arroyo’s OBL thus resembles the “Phoenix” program in its target of seeking to destroy the political infrastructure of the national democratic resistance by assassinating its unarmed leaders, members, and sympathizers.  IBON research director Antonio Tujan observed that “Like Marcos’ [schemes], Arroyo’s strategy to defeat the broad opposition to her regime intersects with the long-standing counterinsurgency campaign being launched by her government in coordination with the US as the Philippine equivalent of the war on terror” (IBON Media Release, September 21, 2006).  The various agreements cited earlier and the Philippine anti-terrorism bill all converge with OBL to form the structure and mechanism of state-administered terrorism as practiced in a contemporary, true-to-life U.S. neocolony, the Philippines.

Thirty-four years after the declaration of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos, US military aid and political advice are once again nurturing a brutal, corrupt presidency.  Marcos then summoned the communist bogey to justify his tyranny.  Today, Arroyo invokes “terrorism” to maintain her hold on power.  In the 14 years of Marcos’ rule, the dictator arrested and detained over 120,000 people, ordered the summary execution of 1,500 activists, and orchestrated the forced disappearance of 769 citizens.  Arroyo’s method of whipping up anti-communist hysteria and selectively assassinating or kidnapping partylist leaders, lawyers, journalists, church officials — most notably, Bishop Alberto Ramento of the Philippine Independent Church, the Aglipayan priest William Tadena, and Reverend Edison Lapuz of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines — and other activists has become so outrageous as to stir up major corporations like Wal-Mart and Gap into urging the government to protect workers against exploitative practices (Andrew Marshall, “A Philippine Shame,” Time Asia Magazine, November 27, 2006).

Apologies have been offered by bureaucrats expert in skullduggery.  While Arroyo’s generals and her Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security explain the killings as “collateral damage” in the war against terrorists, the European Union (as voiced by the foreign minister of Finland, among others) insisted that Arroyo use her executive power to stop the political killings.  The respected Filipino journalist, Amando Doronila, drew the lesson from the international horror at the carnage: “A government that cannot protect citizens from lawless killings, regardless of who are behind them, loses the legitimacy to continue to govern” (see his article, “After Trip, Arroyo Legitimacy Sinks in Quicksand,” Journal Inquirer, September 18, 2006).

Meanwhile, Prof. Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights violations now visiting the Philippines, articulated the principle of the current administration’s culpability: “In most situations, the isolated killing of individuals will constitute a simple crime and not give rise to any governmental responsibility.  But once a pattern becomes clear [and in the case of the Philippines, the pattern has been recognized by Amnesty International, governmental bodies, church groups, and so on] in which the response of the Government is clearly inadequate, its responsibility under international human rights law becomes applicable.  Through its inaction the Government confers a degree of impunity upon the killers” (IBON Foundation, A New Wave of State Terror in the Philippines, Quezon City, 2005, p. 42).  Legal scholar Prof. Raul Pangalangan reminds us of this same “principle of attribution of state responsibility” prescribed by the World Court at The Hague and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Inquirer, February 16, 2007).

Judgment at The Hague

It is in consonance with the UN Rapporteur’s understanding of nation-state responsibility (also elaborated in the Nuremberg Principles drawn up by the International Law Commission of the UN General Assembly in 1949) that the Permanent People’s Tribunal is preparing to conduct a second session on the Philippines to try the case of the Filipino people against the Arroyo regime and its foreign accomplices headed by the U.S. ruling class.  This will take place at The Hague, Netherlands, on March 21-25.  The first session of the Tribunal was held in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1980.  It considered the appeals of the NDFP and the Moro National Liberation Front (on behalf of the Filipino people and the Bangsa Moro people respectively) within the framework of the 1976 Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples and the international law on the rights of nations.

This time, however, the Tribunal will hear complaints of the Arroyo regime’s crimes initiated by an array of Filipino organizations, among them HUSTISYA (families of victims), SELDA, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Peace for Life, the Public Interest Law Center, the Ecumenical Bishops Forum, IBON, and the United Churches of Christ in the Philippines.  These are well-established institutions and popular formations committed to democracy, social justice, national independence, development, and peace.  Solidarity groups from all over the world will also attend the hearings.  Three charges against the Arroyo administration will be taken up by the Tribunal:

    1. Gross and systematic violations of civil and political rights: extra-judicial killings, massacres, abductions and enforced disappearances, torture, arson, bombings, mass intimidation, forced mass evacuation and other human rights violations against unarmed political activists, workers, peasants, women, youth, church people, journalists, lawyers, human-rights defenders, and peace advocates.


    1. Gross and systematic violations of economic, social, and cultural rights: economic plunder, including the imposition of the U.S. policy of “neoliberal globalization,” the violation of Philippine economic sovereignty by foreign business giants, the sell-out of the national patrimony, unscrupulous superprofit-taking by the US and other multinational firms, debt bondage to the imperialist banks, and bureaucratic corruption of the Arroyo regime.


  1. Gross and systematic violations of the right to national self-determination and liberation:  transgression of Philippine national sovereignty, including treason by the Arroyo regime, all-out war policy and use of state terrorism to keep the Arroyo puppet clique in power and to align with the US global war of terror and aggression, the culpability of the Arroyo regime and the US for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the encroachment on Philippine territory by US military interventionist forces, and surrender of jurisdiction to the US over criminal cases in the Philippines.

The last section of the third charge specifically alludes to the Subic Rape case (mentioned earlier) in which the convicted rapist, the American Daniel Smith, was forcibly and surreptitiously removed from the Makati City Jail and transferred to the US Embassy.  Never in the entire history of US-Philippines relations has any American military personnel been tried in a Philippine court for any offense such as rape, murder, and so on.  As proved many times in the past, even before any arrest could be made by local authorities, the US would take charge of the personnel accused of the crime and sneak him out of the country.

The whole country was held in suspense during the seven-months long trial of four American marines charged with the rape of the 22-year-old Filipina.  When the judge pronounced the verdict last December, cries of jubilation rang out.  But the celebration was quickly aborted.  What is scandalous in this conjuncture of events may reveal a persistent logic of political asymmetry: while the Filipino judge affirmed the jurisdiction of Filipino courts over cases involving crimes committed in the national territory, Arroyo’s Secretary of Justice Raul Gonzales betrayed his trust by siding with the US Ambassador’s claim of jurisdiction and defending this betrayal by appealing to the VFA.  In short, the Filipino official played the classic role of dutiful subaltern to the neocolonial master, the global hegemonic superpower.  Such behavior distinguishes Arroyo’s servility to the Bush administration and its militarist agenda, including the unconscionable policies of liberalization, deregulation, and privatization imposed on impoverished debtor countries like the Philippines.

So we have arrived at this moment of judgment at The Hague.  Not only Arroyo is on trial, but also the US government, more precisely the Bush administration and the corporate elite.  Noting the institutionalized inequality of agreements like the VFA, Edre Olalia and Rachel Pastores, local members of the International Association of People’s Lawyers (IALP), denounced the “arrogance of US military forces all over the world for vicious crimes like rape, but ultimately their impunity for international crimes against humanity. . .   The US does this not only by refusing to be bound or by ignoring international humanitarian law and useful mechanisms like the International Criminal Court, but also foisting self-serving bilateral agreements or twisting them to suit its purposes of worldwide political, economic and military supremacy” (from a flyer of the IALP dated January 7, 2007).

Terms of Engagement

Whether such denunciations will amount to anything, whether the judgment of the People’s Tribunal will translate into a feasible program for action, remains to be seen.  But the following short interview with the world-renowned head of the NDFP, Luis Jalandoni, might be useful in enlightening us on the historic significance of the impending trial of the Arroyo regime before the People’s Tribunal.

Since the formation of the NDFP in 1972 as an umbrella group of nationalist, progressive organizations (including the CPP and the NPA), Jalandoni has been distinguished for his ecumenical latitude of mind, fidelity to principles, and courageous perseverance.  He has sagaciously guided the NDFP through its ordeals in the dark days of the Marcos regime, representing the NDFP in peace talks with successive Philippine administrations until the signing by both parties of the cornerstone of the negotiations, the CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law) on March 16, 1998.  It is the first of four agreements in the substantive agenda of the formal talks between the Philippine government and the NDFP.  Given the withdrawal of the Arroyo regime from the talks, discussion of the other items in the agenda (socioeconomic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, end of hostilities, and disposition of forces) has been postponed.

In my opinion, Jalandoni remains one of the most highly esteemed responsible leaders of the revolutionary movement of the poor, exploited, and oppressed masses of Filipinos in the Philippines and around the world.  His carefully formulated answers to the key questions posed below may afford useful guideposts for understanding the complex vicissitudes of the socialist revolution spearheaded by the NDFP, especially in this time of acute crisis but also of hitherto unseized opportunities opening up in the course of the Filipino people’s centuries-old struggle for genuine independence, social justice, and human dignity.

The following interview by E. San Juan (ESJ) with Luis G. Jalandoni (LGJ), Chairperson of the NDFP Negotiating Panel and member of the NDFP National Executive Committee, was conducted through the Internet on February 15, 2007:

ESJ:  The upcoming People’s Tribunal session on the Arroyo regime is a historic event comparable to the Tribunal on the Marcos regime in 1980.  Briefly, what do you think is the difference between them?  What is unique about this March session?

LGJ:  I think there are several differences.  First, the legal people’s organizations and alliances are far more developed and stronger now.  They are the complainants in this Second Session of the PPT on the Philippines.  In 1980, it was the NDF.  Second, the Marcos dictatorship then was not yet internationally isolated.  Now, the brazen brutality of the Arroyo regime has drawn international condemnation of its human rights record.  Such prestigious international organizations as Amnesty International, the World Council of Churches, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the European Union, the United Nations through Special Rapporteurs, and even the Foreign Chambers of Commerce in the Philippines have come out with varying degrees of condemnation and criticism.  Third, the Tribunal in 1980 was held in Antwerp, Belgium, while this coming Session of the PPT will be in The Hague, the seat of international law, the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice, and the venue of numerous international conventions on human rights and international law.

What is unique about this March session?  A powerful array of witnesses, experts, and prosecutors from the Philippines will play a major role.  This surpasses the first session in 1980.  The prosecutors, led by UN Judge ad litem Romeo T. Capulong, have filed a compelling indictment of the Arroyo regime, the US, the IMF, the WB, the WTO, and transnational corporations and banks doing business in the Philippines.

ESJ:   What do you expect this Tribunal to accomplish in terms of influencing the Arroyo government?  Of influencing the international response toward the national-democratic struggle in the Philippines?

LGJ:   The Tribunal will put the Arroyo government under the most intense international pressure.  The regime could go into further deceptive measures like the futile Melo Commission and try to get US and EU help.  But the Bush regime is itself isolated and less capable of providing assistance, much less than the time of Marcos.  Meanwhile, the EU asks for more transparency before giving assistance.  For example, the EU has demanded a copy of the Melo Commission report, but the Arroyo government refuses to make the report public.

Under strong international pressure and to avoid deeper isolation in the country, Mrs. Arroyo might yet seek a resumption of peace negotiations with the NDFP, though this appears most unlikely at the moment.  She is expected to face greater resistance from the people in the current year.  Former President Joseph Estrada, facing the danger of overthrow in December 2000, tried to resume peace talks he had terminated and was about to send an emissary to Utrecht, before he was overtaken by events.  It was too late.  The following month, on January 20, 2001, he was overthrown by People Power II, with the AFP and PNP commands withdrawing support from him.

The Tribunal next March may help project more strongly on a wider scale the recognition by significant forces in the international community the justness of the national democratic struggle in the Philippines.  The just cause of the legal democratic organizations and alliances will be powerfully projected, with the inspiring courage of the victims and relatives of victims of human rights violations.  Furthermore, the just cause for national and social liberation espoused by the underground revolutionary movement can get better known, recognized and supported internationally.

ESJ:   Given the increasing pressure on Arroyo from European governments in the light of unprecedented human-rights violations, do you see the possibility of the resumption of peace talks in Norway soon?

LGJ:   The pressure from European governments has indeed been increasing, but up to now the effect on Arroyo seems to be increased cosmetic and deceptive moves and, on the ground, more draconian measures like more killings and disappearances and the Anti-Terrorism Bill.  She still harbors the illusion of defeating the revolutionary movement within a few years.  So, there appears to be no prospect for the resumption of peace talks in Norway soon.

ESJ:   The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992 is certainly invoked, and evoked, by the choice of The Hague as the place for the March Tribunal.  You, as chief negotiator for the NDFP, are to be credited with the major achievement of the peace negotiations, the CARHRIHL.  What is your assessment of the impact of the CARHRIHL on, first, the European community, and, second, the international public?

LGJ:   Indeed, the Tribunal in The Hague evokes the Hague Joint Declaration of 1992 and the CARHRIHL which was signed in The Hague in 1998.  Both are landmark agreements.  The first enshrines the principles of national sovereignty, social justice, and democracy as the guiding principles of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.  It also stipulates the principle of non-capitulation and the four substantive agenda to address the roots of the armed conflict.

CARHRIHL is an agreement of the highest standard, bringing in the international human rights and international humanitarian law conventions as part of the evolving framework of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.  The most important international conventions such as the Geneva Conventions and Protocols are adhered to by both Parties and the concrete experience and conditions are set forth in the agreement.  The Hague Joint Declaration and the CARHRIHL shall forever remain as very high standards for future peace negotiations and essential guideposts for striving for a just and lasting peace in the Philippines and elsewhere in the world.

I think the impact of the CARHRIHL on the European community and the international public is still relatively quite limited, because it is not yet very widely known.  However, the Norwegian government is for the implementation of the CARHRIHL and supports the work of the Joint Monitoring Committee created under this agreement.  Amnesty International has a high respect for this agreement and takes it into account in advocating respect for human rights in the Philippines and the resumption of peace negotiations.  A Spanish NGO which promotes HR and IHL has translated the CARHRIHL and other GRP-NDFP peace documents into Spanish, desiring that national liberation movements in Latin America study it, make use of it and go into dialogue with the NDFP.

The NDFP-Joint Secretariat in Manila has published the GRP-NDFP peace agreements, with the financial assistance of the Norwegian government.  These are widely disseminated to European and other governments, political parties and alliances, and NGOs.  With the current increased interest of the EU and European governments in the human rights situation in the Philippines, the interest in the CARHRIHL will also increase.

The credit for the CARHRIHL must go to both Parties that forged it.  The NDFP delegation played a crucial and key role in creatively and painstakingly working out alternative formulations, standing firmly on principle yet exercising flexibility on policy.  The whole delegation and all the organizations in the Philippines which provided needed strength and backing deserve the credit.  Such towering persons like UN Judge ad litem and our Senior Legal Adviser Romeo T. Capulong and Prof. Jose Maria Sison, the NDFP Chief Political Consultant, played essential and key roles as did the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law chaired by Panel Member Fidel V. Agcaoili.

ESJ:   As far as I know, the Arroyo regime has shelved the CARHRIHL and declared “total war” on the CPP and the NPA. Quite symptomatically, it has not sought to categorize the “NDFP” as a terrorist group. Is this a tactical move to allow possible negotiations with the CPP/NPA?

LGJ:   Indeed, the Arroyo regime has shelved the CARHRIHL and declared “total war” against the CPP and NPA.  It has targeted active progressive organizations and alliances as “Communist fronts” and carried out the most brutal extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, bombardments, and shelling which have displaced more than a million people, under Oplan Bantay Laya from 2001-2006 and now under Oplan Bantay Laya II starting 2007.

It sought to categorize also the NDFP as “terrorist”.  Mrs. Arroyo sent then Foreign Secretary Blas Ople in September 2002 to persuade European governments to put the CPP, NPA, and also the NDFP in the “terrorist” list.  The EU however refused to put the CPP on the list.  One report said that the Spanish government raised an objection to the CPP being put on the list, because the Arroyo government was negotiating with the CPP and the NDFP.  Later in October 2005, after the GRP had refused to negotiate with the NDFP, the EU did put the CPP on the list.  So, the Norwegian, Spanish and other governments which may wish the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations to resume may have that interest in mind in not putting the NDFP on the list.

But the Arroyo regime’s thrust seems to be to put the NDFP, CPP and NPA on the “terrorist” list to pressure the revolutionary movement to capitulate and to justify the escalation of extra-judicial killings of leaders and members of alleged “Communist fronts” and intensified attacks on the suspected support base of the CPP and NPA in the countryside.

ESJ:   What is your analysis of the effect of the Tribunal on the coming May elections?  (The Arroyo security advisers are scheming to suppress the party-list groups, chiefly BAYAN MUNA.)  Do you see the Arroyo regime declaring martial law openly and allowing more intervention by US forces (including Australian units)?

LGJ:   The Tribunal may help cause the coming in of international observers to the May elections.  There will be greater international attention and scrutiny on the elections.

It appears that there may be no more time for the Arroyo regime to secure the disqualification of BAYAN MUNA and other progressive party lists.  But even now there are reports of the regime’s military openly threatening people not to vote for BAYAN MUNA and other progressive party lists.  The regime is also instructing the military to promote anti-communist partylists such as ANAD (Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy) and AKBAYAN.  Four progressive partylists — Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, the Gabriela Party list, and the Kabataan party list — have filed complaints in court against the military in Negros, central Philippines, for direct harassment and threats connected with the forthcoming elections.

It seems unlikely that Arroyo will declare martial law.  The US has indicated it is against such a move.  And she would have to overcome certain provisions in the current constitution, and her Cha-Cha scheme has bogged down in the face of broad Church opposition.  It is more likely that she goes on with the current de facto martial law, repressing the progressive partylists and the bourgeois opposition, and cheat in the elections to avoid impeachment in Congress.  She is still trying to push through an anti-terror bill which she can use to bludgeon the opposition.

In the meantime, she has allowed increasing US military intervention.  Agreements to allow Australian and other forces to also come in have been announced and are being processed, using the excuse of cooperation in the “war on terror” of Bush.

ESJ:   What is your estimate of the possibility of the European Community becoming independent of the Bush administration in the near future and retracting its view of the CPP/NPA as “terrorist” groups?

LGJ:   There are growing rifts between the EU and the US. Germany and France were against the US invasion of Iraq without UN mandate. The most recent indication is the European Parliament’s approval of a report condemning CIA rendition flights using European airspace and airports. The report likewise strongly criticized 13 member states for collaborating with the CIA or “turning a blind eye” to the CIA rendition flights. Other conflicts between the EU and the US came up in the WTO regarding trade and subsidies.

But in the main, the EU still cooperates with the US, as is clear in the US-NATO collaboration in Afghanistan. There appears to be continuing cooperation in the “terrorist” listing of national liberation movements. Although the EU is under pressure to demonstrate more transparency and respect the rights to presumption of innocence, due process, and defense in the process of listing and de-listing, it does not seem likely that the EU in the near future would retract its view of the CPP/NPA as “terrorist” groups.

ESJ:   Please give us your current appraisal of the gains and setbacks of the national democratic movement in the Philippines since the end of the Cold War, and from the perspective of 9/11 and the U.S.-led “global war on terrorism.”

LGJ:   The biggest setbacks of the national democratic movement were due to the major errors of military adventurism, urban insurrectionism, and the anti-infiltration hysteria in the mid-1980s until 1991 which caused the loss of 60% of the mass base.  The rectification movement, a mainly educational movement from 1992 onwards, to identify, repudiate, and rectify the errors, was a major success.  It has resulted in the consolidation and expansion of the revolutionary movement.  This has meant the strengthening of the mass base, the reorientation of the New People’s Army, the vigorous building of mass organizations and organs of political power, and the carrying out of programs of land reform, health, education and culture in wide areas of the countryside.

When 9/11 occurred and US President Bush declared his “war on terror” and the Arroyo regime followed with Oplan Bantay Laya, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the NPA, and the NDFP had struck deep roots and was carrying out the winning line of intensive and extensive guerrilla warfare on the basis of an ever deepening and widening mass base.

At this time, the revolutionary movement has more than 120 guerrilla fronts in more than 9,000 (out of about 42,000) barrios, covering more than 800 (out of about 1600) municipalities in 70 out of the 79 provinces in the Philippines.  In these guerrilla fronts, programs of land reform, livelihood improvement, health, education, and culture are carried out by revolutionary mass organizations of peasants, workers, women, and youth led by local organs of political power.

ESJ:   Finally, what is your assessment of the Moro struggle and the possibilities of closer NDF linkage with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and sections of the Moro National Liberation Front that have refused the Misuari compromise with the neocolonial state?  Do you envision a future political united front despite ideological differences?

LGJ:   We have always regarded the Moro people’s struggle as a just struggle for national self-determination.  There are great possibilities for closer NDFP linkage and cooperation with the MILF.  There has been friendly cooperation between the MILF and the NDFP for quite a number of years now.  This cooperation can certainly be further strengthened, in such fields as defense of human rights, organizing of the masses, mobilizations, and other forms of cooperation of mutual benefit. The possibilities of linkage and cooperation with sections of the MNLF are increasing as the Moro masses influenced by the MNLF resent US military intervention in their communities and protest against the Arroyo regime’s subservience to the US.

There is already an alliance between the NDFP and the MILF.  Such alliance is also possible with sections of the MNLF.  Hence, there is already the beginning of a political united front despite ideological differences.  After all, in the NDFP, the basis of unity is political. Also, the basis of the alliance between the NDFP and other progressive or revolutionary forces is or shall be likewise political.

E. San Juan, Jr. was recently Fulbright Professor of American Studies at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, and visiting professor of literature and cultural studies at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, Republic of China.  He directs the Philippines Cultural Studies Center in Connecticut and helps with the Philippine Forum in New York City.  His most recent books are Racism and Cultural Studies (Duke University Press) and Working Through the Contradictions (Bucknell University Press).  He is currently a research fellow at the Bellagio Italy Study Center of the Rockefeller Foundation.

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