Wednesday, January 24, 2007

ANALYSIS: 'Hand of Steel' of State Terrorism

By Amando Doronila
Inquirer
Last updated 02:36am (Manila time) 01/24/2007
Published on page A11 of the January 24, 2007 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

(Concluded from Monday)

A DAY AFTER police commandos stormed the Iloilo Provincial Capitol to evict Gov. Niel Tupas Sr., President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo commended the Marines for the slaying of Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Solaiman. She also told the convention of the League of Cities of the Philippines at the Manila Hotel that her administration was determined "to finish the job" of crushing Abu Sayyaf terrorism with a "hand of steel."

On Wednesday, the day of the raid, the government unsheathed the "hand of steel" at the Iloilo Capitol not against terrorists but against a hapless group of Tupas' supporters assembled in the capitol.

The assault sent out two menacing messages that shocked the nation: first, the "hand of steel" policy was not reserved exclusively for the Abu Sayyaf and extended to the regime's political opponents; second, it demonstrated in full that state terrorism has become an instrumentof the regime to crush not only the Abu Sayyaf and the long-running communist insurgency but also any form of legal opposition.

To appreciate the full extent of the application of the doctrine of state terrorism in Iloilo, it should be emphasized that the 200-strong, overwhelmingly armed police task force assaulted not a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf but the capitol to serve a dismissal order from the Office of the Ombudsman on Tupas and other provincial officials.

The raiders, using sophisticated automatic weapons, imagined they were mounting an assault on a band of terrorists holding hostages. But there was no such thing in the capitol to justify the excessive show of force. The assault was reminiscent of the Kempetai atrocities as they launched their nocturnal raids on civilian homes during the Japanese occupation.

The Iloilo assault has left a nightmarish scenario of state terrorism coming into full play during the past two years, driven by the administration' s campaign to eradicate the communist insurgency by the end of the President's term and characterized by the immensely huge toll of extrajudicial killings of suspected leftists and journalists. (The International Federation of Journalists recently reported thatthe Philippines became the second deadliest country for journalists, next to Iraq, in 2006. Thirteen Filipino journalists died during the year, bringing to 49 the number murdered by unknown assailants since Ms Arroyo took office in 2001.)

The TV footage of the Iloilo raid vividly portrays the atrocity of state-sponsored violence and foreshadows the atmosphere of violence in the forthcoming midterm elections where rivalry for congressional seats and local offices is expected to be overheated.

A replay of the footage in town plazas across the country should arouse alarm over the administration' s state terrorism doctrine and the dangers facing Philippine democracy if this is not stopped by an electoral defeat for the government in the May election. That footage is a powerful counter-weapon that does not cost much compared to the pork barrel the government is prepared to splurge.

The footage shows a 65-member strike force of the 6th Regional MobileGroup from Negros Occidental leading a 200-strong police force in the storming of the capitol. The troops smashed locks at the main gate and a glass door to gain entry into the building. The troops, in anti-riot gear, were armed with automatic rifles and machine guns and had their fingers on the trigger. They dispersed a few hundred supporters ofTupas gathered at the capitol entrance. Niel Jr., Tupas' son and amember of the provincial board, suffered bruises after the police pushed and kicked him.

Local journalists said policemen pointed M-16 rifles at them. The police crashed in after Tupas refused to obey orders from theDepartment of Interior and Local Government implementing the decision of the Ombudsman dismissing him on charges of graft and corruption.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno ordered the police assault after Tupas ignored Puno's ultimatum to step down in 48 hours to make way for Vice Gov. Roberto Armada. A timely temporary restraining order from the Court of Appeals in Cebu stopped the raid and the arrest of Tupas.

The danger from the administration' s doctrine of state terrorism is far from over. The reaction of the Arroyo administration to the raid aggravated the episode and revealed the dangerous mentality behind the doctrine. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez criticized Chair Purificacion Quisumbing of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) forsaying she was shocked to see heavily armed policemen breaking into the capitol. Gonzalez derided the CHR chair for condemning the raid even though she was "not on the scene and has no basis for making such statements."

Gonzalez said Puno ordered the troops to storm the capitol after receiving information that released prisoners, armed men and NewPeople's Army rebels were inside the capitol. But Senior Supt. Pedro Merced, 6th Regional Mobile Group commander, belied Gonzalez's claims, saying that "when we entered we were surprised that there were no armed men."

Puno infuriated many when he defended the police, saying, "They should not be condemned. They should even be commended." He declared the assault a success "in general," and added, "I did not see any deployment of unnecessary forces. There were no serious injuries. No shots were fired."

Maybe Puno switched off the TV when the raid was under way. But words like these produce a widespread public backlash.

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