By Franklin Roosevelt Dimaguiba and John Lloyd Hoffman in Tacloban City
and Gerry Albert Corpuz and Trinity Biglang Awa in Manila.
MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE) The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) joined the family and friends of abducted peasant activist Jonas Burgos in asking the Armed Forces of the Philippines to surface the missing activist, after the Philippine high court ordered the military to free Burgos in a decision issued last week.
The AFP promised to cooperate with the investigation on the Burgos abduction case, but still maintained that the abducted activist is not in their custody despite damning evidence leading to military elements’ principal role in the enforced disappearance of the Bulacan-based peasant activist.
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) had condemned the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for refusing to release peasant activists Burgos, Karen Empeño, Sherlyn Cadapan and Manuel Merino despite the Supreme Court’s issuance of a habeas corpus order directing the military to produce them in court.
The families and colleagues of these missing activists had filed criminal cases against their abductors and are optimistic the Supreme Court ruling would beef up their case against former President Arroyo, Palparan and other military officials implicated in the abduction of Burgos and other activists.
“The AFP’s refusal to heed the decisions of the Supreme Court shows its continuing contempt for human rights,” said the CPP. “It has given the Supreme Court a virtual slap-in-the-face through a simple denial of custody of Burgos, et.al, despite overwhelming evidence showing the direct responsibility of AFP officials and personnel in the abductions”, according to a statement issued by CPP, a copy of which was sent to all voices.com.
In successive decisions this month, the Supreme Court ordered the AFP to release the missing activists after finding credible the evidence presented by the families of Burgos, Empeño, Cadapan and Merino which point to AFP units under the 56th Infantry Battalion as responsible for the abduction and enforced disappearance of the peasant activists.
Burgos was abducted by several armed personnel in 2007 while having lunch in a mall in Quezon City. He was forced into a waiting vehicle whose plate number was later determined to belong to a vehicle in the custody of the 56th IB. A witness was able to identify Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr. as “the principal abductor”. Baliaga, an Army First Lieutenant at the time of the abduction, belongs to the 56th IB.
Empeño, Cadapan and Merino were abducted in Hagonoy, Bulacan by elements of 24th Infantry Battalion in February 2006. According to Raymond Manalo, who was also abducted by the military but later escaped, he met the three activists incarcerated in a dungeon inside Camp Tecson in San Miguel, Bulacan. He was able to confer with the three who related their ordeals of torture and rape in the hands of the AFP. Manalo said that while in custody, he was confronted by Gen. Jovito Palparan, who issued veiled threats against him.
The CPP said that the military’s “refusal to rectify its fascist crimes under the Arroyo regime show the hypocrisy of its so-called advocacy and respect for human rights.”
“The AFP is as fascist as ever before in spite of the human rights rhetoric of the Aquino regime and its military officials,” added the CPP.
“The Aquino regime has failed to punish even a single element of the AFP responsible for the extrajudicial killing of more than a thousand activist during the Arroyo regime,” said the CPP. “Under its Oplan Bayanihan, hundreds of thousands of civilians especially in the countryside continue to suffer from intense military operations being conducted by the AFP under the signboard of ‘peace and development’.”
In a related concern, the communist led National Democratic Front of the Philippines – Eastern Visayas today said the 8th Infantry Division is exploiting the bishops of the Catholic Church in Samar like chess pieces in Oplan Bayanihan’s game of war. “It is reprehensible for 8th ID chief Gen. Mario Chan to exploit the bishops of the Catholic Church, a moral institution, in order to push an immoral, unjust and all-out war through Oplan Bayanihan,” said Fr. Santiago Salas, NDFP-EV spokesperson.
“The armed forces chief, Gen. Eduardo Oban, in fact recently openly gloated with Gen. Chan at the 8th ID’s manipulation of the Church, local government and other sectors, into conjuring the illusion of public support for Oplan Bayanihan. This shows that the Catholic Church and other sectors should be critical and cautious of the military’s lust to launch all-out war and junk along the way the Aquino government’s peace negotiations with the NDFP,” according to a separate statement issued to all voices. com.
The NDF-EV spokesperson argued all the indications show the Aquino government is gearing for all-out war against the people with the support of the US. “Gen. Oban bragged in the region that the military is getting 32 billion pesos for the so-called “modernization” of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“But while the Aquino government is fattening the military, it is starving agrarian reform, education, health, government salaries and other basic social reforms and services. The Aquino government is also putting money in the pockets of the military while turning a blind eye to the unresolved corruption scandals in the institution,” he said.
“Gen. Chan is lying when he claims the AFP is not receiving US support. In fact, the AFP received US$15 million in US military aid last 2010, such as 50,000 Kevlar helmets and 1,355 armor vests. This is apart from the non-military support of US$434 million from the US Millenium Challenge Corporation, which is still closely tied to “counterinsurgency” purposes because the military has a major psychological warfare role in the US MCC projects and will benefit from roads for troop maneuvers.
The US is now also promising even more military aid and increasing US troop presence in egging on the Aquino government into provocative actions against China, rather than the Philippines pursuing an independent and peaceful foreign policy over the Spratly Islands dispute. All these show the long-running US political, economic and military interests in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.”
The NDFP-EV spokesperson urged the Catholic Church and other sectors to support the peace negotiations between the Aquino government and the NDFP, rather than be deceived by the 8th ID’s malicious misrepresentation of Oplan Bayanihan as a “peace and development” program.
“The Catholic Church and others should be wary and discerning because the military’s promotion of Oplan Bayanihan is “all talk, no justice.” Nothing but lip service to human rights while violations continue and previous ones remain unresolved. Nothing but lip service to helping the poor, because shiny new roads are not enough to address the social injustices suffered by the landless and jobless.
“The Catholic bishops of Samar should beware of wolves in sheep’s skin who are herding them into Oplan Bayanihan’s “road to war.” The NDFP-EV instead urges the Catholic Church and other sectors to support the continuation of the peace talks between the Aquino government and the NDFP. Support the struggle for justice of the victims of human rights violations against the military’s lip service to human rights. Support the discussion of genuine solutions such as socio-economic reforms against the placebo of the military’s showcase road projects and other psywar. Support the struggle for a just and lasting peace, expose and oppose the goal for all-out war of Oplan Bayanihan.”