Friday, December 10, 2004

Travesty of Human Rights

Streetwise
by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

Today is human rights day. Two nights ago, Marcelino “Ka Marcing” Beltran, president of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Tarlac, a survivor of the Hacienda Luisita massacre last November 16, was gunned down outside his house in barangay San Sotero, Sta. Ignacia, Tarlac.

Today is his birthday; the peasant leader would have turned 52.

Just three days earlier, Ka Marcing gave a team of lawyers his eyewitness account of that infamous day when striking farm and sugar mill workers, their families and supporters, were mowed down at the picket line by automatic gunfire, resulting in the confirmed deaths of seven and the wounding of more than a hundreds others. He was articulate, fearless, agitated, his words tumbling from his mouth as he narrated how he miraculously escaped the hail of bullets even as he helped carry the dying and the wounded to safety, away from the bloodthirsty police, military and private security forces who relentlessly pursued the fleeing strikers and rallyists with their guns, truncheons and boots.

Ka Marcing had no enemies save those he wittingly or unwittingly created by his unswerving leadership of the militant peasant organization in Tarlac as well as the larger alliance of peasants and farm workers called Alyansa ng Mag-uuma sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL).

Given this background and the circumstances of his death, it is reasonable to assume that his killing is intimately related to the latest labor disputes and festering land problem at Hacienda Luisita.

To date all that the Arroyo government has done about the massacre is to wash its hands of any responsibility. The undisputed fact however is that it was DOLE Secretary Pat Sto. Tomas’ assumption of jurisdiction over the labor disputes in a so-called “strategic industry” such as the Cojuangco-owned sugar plantation and mill, her return to work order and her deputization of both the police and the military to break up the picket line provided both the legal cover and the overwhelming firepower that triggered the massacre.

The latest statement of Mrs. Arroyo on the matter is revealing in its emptiness: “The labor department is doing its best to obtain a fair and peaceful settlement of the Hacienda Luisita dispute. Labor problems must be solved at the negotiating table. All parties must act responsibly so that tragedies can be averted.”

Completely oblivious is she, the President, to whom all Cabinet secretaries are directly accountable, and the Commander-in-Chief, the sole authority with the power to call out the troops in case of an outbreak of so-called “lawless violence,” to the facts of the matter. That management had engaged in unfair labor practices by illegally dismissing nine of the officials of the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) and replacing the union president with a man they had handpicked. That management then refused to negotiate with the legitimate leadership of the farm workers union and was deadlocked on the demands of both the farm and azucarera workers. That the PNP had earlier attempted three violent dispersals using truncheons, water cannons and tear gas but were turned back by the sheer number and assertiveness of the strikers and their supporters.

Witnesses’ testimonies and video footages of the Hacienda Luisita carnage point to premeditation and intent to kill on the part of the government security forces, private security guards and a number of eskirol. But all these are apparently mean nothing to Mrs. Arroyo and her cordon sanitaire who knows what it is that she wants to hear.

It appears that Mrs. Arroyo wants only to hear excuses and to find scapegoats for her government’s disastrous policies and overall criminal complicity with the greedy, heartless and ruinous ruling elite in this country and their rapacious foreign partners.

She is especially fond of using the New People’s Army (NPA) and other revolutionary forces as whipping boy for everything that is wrong with her government and the ruling system. In her speech on the occasion of human rights week she couldn’t resist taking a snipe at the so-called human rights abuses of “insurgents and terrorists” rather than taking a critical look at her government’s own human rights record. She takes the lead and provides the cue to her Cabinet who think nothing of pointing to the communist rebels as the masterminds and provocateurs whether it be cases of labor and peasant unrest, violent dispersals of protest mass actions, indiscriminate bombings and other alleged terrorist acts up to and including opposition to new, onerous taxes and unconscionable debt servicing in the face of unprecedented financial crisis, protest over massive use of government funds for Mrs. Arroyo’s reelection bid and assorted “destabilization plots” such as the ones hyped by her own generals to cover up rampant corruption in the AFP.

The President’s latest charge that the NPA are “illegal loggers” and, ergo, are mainly responsible for forest denudation and the wasteland that has become of several provinces in Luzon in the aftermath of the typhoons that hit the country is ludicrous except to the most rabid anti-communists like her who will believe anything evil of the revolutionary movement. The President’s propensity to blame the NPA for anything and everything that bedevils her regime ironically shows up the inutility of her brand of governance: it takes a major catastrophe for her clueless DENR Secretary to finally raid a handful of sawmills with illegally cut logs; for her to set up a new anti-illegal logging task force with an initial P100 million budget to determine who have been scalping the already bald mountains; and for Malacañang to declare a suspension in all logging activities minus the ones exempted by the DENR secretary.

The bad habit of passing the blame to an entity, the NPA, that the government cannot run after except through vilification and psywar campaigns and failed counter-insurgency programs, results objectively in a situation where the real culprits get away with their high crimes. Those who are really culpable can only include the Arroyo government, one that has not exhibited the moral courage to admit its failures nor the political will to institute the barest of genuine reforms. Worse, it is a government that looks the other way when the perpetration by state forces of gross human rights violations is fast becoming a hallmark of its insecure rule.

As President and Commander-in-Chief, Mrs. Arroyo’s hands are bloodied by the murders of the Hacienda Luisita protesters, the assassination of Ka Marcing Beltran and all other leaders of the exploited and oppressed masses, and the unabated killings of human rights workers.

Similarly, she must also be held accountable for the devastation and massacre of entire communities by her government’s criminal negligence in allowing destructive commercial logging to go on unabated until the mind boggling man-made catastrophe that followed the fury of nature’s typhoons.###

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