In the Dec. 31 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, there’s a story about “Red Rose,” or Rose Ann Gumanoy, the daughter of Eddie Gumanoy, the peasant leader who was allegedly killed by the military in 2003. The story on the front page was enclosed in a red box, the Inquirer’s way of signaling to the reader that what he’s reading is good news (as opposed to bad news).
I can’t, for the life of me, understand how Rose Ann’s story can be considered a positive story. I don’t see how her decision to become a military agent – in the sense that she is out there being used by the military in its campaign of vilification and red-baiting against groups such as Karapatan – can be a good thing.
You see, Rose Ann, who said she joined the communist New People’s Army to avenge her father’s death, had been abducted by military agents, then turned against her mother and family, and is now saying that she intends to lead a normal life by going back to school, courtesy of the military’s goodwill.
A normal life? If you were a communist guerrilla, becoming a military agent hardly qualifies as “going back to a normal life.” For one, you open yourself to possible retaliation from the guerrillas, especially if they’ve proven that you actively engage in acts that they would consider counter-revolutionary, such as snitching on other rebels.
“A normal life” would be to disappear from public view, to live a quiet existence. In my years as a journalist, I had come across former guerrillas who successfully transitioned from being armed fighters into ordinary citizens. And they did it without being used by the military, without disparaging former comrades or groups such as Karapatan.
To be sure, Rose Ann’s case was unusual because she had been abducted by the military. I am certain she went through hell when she was taken into custody. I am certain she had been interrogated, probably even tortured, that she had been told that her life as a guerrilla was pointless. She probably was even brainwashed into thinking that what her father did as a peasant leader was wrong and that he probably was an NPA as well.
This is not, of course, surprising because this is not the first time that the army does this sort of thing. It is SOP for the military to turn every NPA guerrilla it captured into a potential snitch, and to use him or her for propaganda purposes. They did this more famously in the case of Jelyn Dayong, a guerrilla who was captured in Mindanao after a firefight and, after being subjected to God knows what, is now a soldier.
This brings me to Rose Ann’s tirade against Karapatan, a human-rights group that has, since the Marcos dictatorship, done for human rights what others only paid lip service to. The military’s familiar line, which Rose Ann apparently willingly fed the Inquirer, is that Karapatan is a front of the NPA. She even went to the extent of saying that Karapatan had deliberately prevented her from attending court hearings because the group only wanted her to recuperate so she could go back posthaste to the hills, as if the NPA’s command center is right here near Matalino Street, in Quezon City, where Karapatan holds office.
This is pure rubbish. For one, this is not the Karapatan that I, in my years of covering human rights, know. This is not the Karapatan that a majority of ex-guerrillas know. This is not the Karapatan that hundreds of victims of human-rights abuses know.
Rose Ann’s Karapatan, however, is the Karapatan according to the military. For decades now, the military has trained its guns on Karapatan, not just in terms of propaganda but also in terms of actually murdering its members and advocates. (Rose Ann’s father, Eddie, was killed along with Eden Marcellano, Karapatan’s secretary-general in Southern Tagalog.) Why?
Because a great number of the human-rights abuses in this country is committed by the military and the police. (Even the government’s Commission on Human Rights agrees on this.) Because hapless victims of human-rights abuses do not run to the police or government for succor – they go to Karapatan and other human-rights groups.
Does Karapatan have links with the communists? I’m sure it has. But that is only because most human-rights abuses occur in the countryside, where the NPA operates most actively. Moreover, many of the victims were either captured guerrillas or peasants or poor residents who have fallen victims to the massive militarization that occurs regularly in the provinces.
But guess who cries out first each time the military launches offensives that displace, maim and kill Filipinos? Guess who investigates the deaths of peasants and activists and, while you’re at it, guess who continues to deny that these atrocities actually happen? Guess who denounces these abuses? Guess who exposes itself to risks in order to defend people who otherwise would have been killed or abducted by state agents?
In the Philippines, there exists a policy of systematically hunting down, abducting, torturing, and killing dissidents and critics. And groups like Karapatan get in the way. So they, too, have to be eliminated.
To put it simply, it is in the interest of the military to discredit Karapatan.
In fairness to Rose Ann, I am sure she was pressured by the military to do what she’s doing against Karapatan. What she said about the group is something that can only be said if she was under duress. If the military really cared about her welfare – and not to score propaganda points against Karapatan – it should never have turned Rose Ann into a mouthpiece.
(I can almost see the comments coming now: Why am I railing against the military’s abuses? Aren’t the guerrillas guilty of abuses as well? Well, for one, Karapatan is not an underground organization, so the state cannot treat it like one. For another, as I have pointed out, most abuses are committed by state security forces. For yet another, the guerrillas are guerrillas for a reason: they operate outside the ambit of the state. If they violate human rights, they will have to answer for it in one way or another. But the state, the military, the police – they are not supposed to violate human rights. They are supposed to be the people’s protector. They are supposed to uphold human rights, not violate it. They cannot defend themselves from allegations of abuse by pointing their fingers at the guerrillas – that is not only infantile but suggests that they consider themselves no better than the enemies of the state, which would be tragic because the state should have the moral high ground in its campaign against its enemies. The state cannot proclaim its adherence to human rights by pointing out the violations of non-state actors like the NPA.)
Again, it boggles my mind that Rose Ann Gumanoy would consider it “a normal life” being a veritable agent of the military at the expense of a group whose advocacy and track record in defending human rights and civil liberties are well-known, whose commitment to defend those violated by those in power is matched only by the viciousness of the same people who murdered her father and countless others nationwide, who “Red Rose” now swears are her protectors.
The only possible explanation for this is that she had a gun to her head while talking to the Inquirer.