|What the European Union should do on killings|
|Written by Carlos H. Conde|
|Saturday, 30 June 2007 03:00|
I’m pretty sure the EU’s head of delegation to the Philippines, Alistair MacDonald, was not only referring to how the image of the Philippines in the international community is being battered because of all these extrajudicial killings. I’m sure he said more than that; in fact, this image thing is probably not even the crux of his statement on Friday, when he presented to the press the EU’s recommendations on how to end the atrocities.
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But since media reports have zeroed in on this and since EU officials, in fact, mentioned it, let me add my two cents’ worth, especially because much of the official reaction we get has always been about how the killings are damaging our image around the world. This mindset is offensive on many counts. Let me cite two.
One, it trivializes the suffering of the victims and their families. Their lives have been turned upside down by the brutality — and all we care about is how people in other countries perceive us?
Second, it shapes official response to the killings. Indeed, it gives the Arroyo administration a way to evade responsibility.
And the official response has always been that all of this — the killings, the atrocities, the international attention — are the product of propaganda by the left and the government’s critics, as articulated by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.
Instead of actually addressing the problems (the state’s encouragement of extrajudicial killings, the failure to prosecute, etc.), the Arroyo administration has decided on a tit-for-tat propaganda response to counter this alleged propaganda offensive by the left.
To say that the military is in denial, as UN rapporteur Philip Alston famously said early this year, misses the point, at best, and, at worst, suggests that what is happening — the death, torture and disappearance of hundreds – is not policy, that this is merely an oversight, a failure of the military to police its ranks.
The government and the military know exactly what is going on. Eduardo Ermita, a former general who honed some would consider his fascistic skills under the dictator Marcos, knows what’s going on. Norberto Gonzales, who has been obsessing and wet-dreaming about how to vanquish the Left, knows what’s going on.
Moreover, to say that this “dirty war” is ideological in nature is also beside the point. This is not just about vanquishing Communism the Jovito Palparan way. This is about silencing criticism and suppressing dissent. This is about one president’s obsession to remain in power. The military is just there to do the, well, dirty work.
The point is that, human rights has been a part of the military’s teachings for years now. The armed forces know about international human rights law and international humanitarian law. They know the rules of engagement. They know that it is illegal to harm an unarmed dissident. They know it is against the law to massacre people on the mere suspicion that they are communists or communist sympathizers. They know that communism is not illegal and that a communist has as much right to exist in our society as a rightist.
But they chose to ignore all these because, one, they can get away with it and, two, it is policy to do so.
To appreciate fully the gravity of this issue, we should be mindful about who benefits from these atrocities, not just about the perpetrators.
In other words, the EU should focus its attention more on the people in power — like Arroyo, Ermita, Gonzales — who control the soldiers who are merely doing what they are told. The EU can start with its millions of aid to the Philippines: tie it to this administration’s performance in stopping the killings. Instead of giving more money to the Philippines to supposedly teach soldiers human rights (money that will probably end up being squandered anyway), it should hold back and only give more aid on the condition that the killers are prosecuted and punished.
I’m convinced this is the only way the EU can show that it means what it says, that it continues to adhere to the ideals of human rights that it is known for. davaotoday.com
[The author sits in the board of the Zumel Center. He writes for the International Herald Tribune and edits, among others, davaotoday.com, an online publication.]