Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Whitewashing the truth

Plato said that “those who tell the stories also hold the power,” something that historical revisionists understand fully well. This is particularly true to those who would like to portray an illusion of a great presidency as in the case of Ferdinand Marcos and his almost twenty years of authoritarian rule. His immediate survivors who are now entrusted to keep the Marcos legacy alive like his wife Imelda and children Imee and Ferdinand Jr. are all in cahoots with historical revisionists who saw nothing despicably wrong with the iron-clad rule of Ferdinand Sr. from 1969 to 1986.

The same can be said for those who, on one hand, continue to glorify the outcome and moral impact of EDSA I on government and its leaders, and on the other, those who would like to demonize the military and the Church in installing Cory Aquino to an accidental position of president of the Republic after Marcos was driven out. Videos lampooning EDSA I and discrediting its achievements are circulating on YouTube and the Internet. But at the same time, the moderate media or so-called “yellow media” have become the anointed protectors of the legacy of EDSA I and they would not hesitate to inspire or instigate another public uproar should it be necessary to preserve that legacy or support a popular government even if it ignores the rule of law.

Both are clear examples of historical revisionism that attempt to erase the culpability of the martial law years under Marcos and the succeeding presidencies starting from Cory Aquino to her son Noynoy Aquino for government complicity in violating human rights and for instilling a culture of impunity.
Filipinos protest against military abuses of human rights, extrajudicial killings and
 disappearances. Photo by Magic Liwanag. Click link to view "Ending the culture of
impunity in the Philippines,"
Martial law spawned corrupt system

G. Eugene Martin, U.S. Institute of Peace Executive Director of the Philippine Facilitation Project, in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs in 2007, pointed to the legacy of the Ferdinand Marcos regime as one palpable cause for the extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances of civil society activists. According to Martin, martial law created a corrupt system where soldiers, police, judges and prosecutors became principals of offences like extralegal arrest, detention, incarceration, disappearances and salvaging, are all permitted or allowed.

This is very evident in the military’s reliance on Proclamation No. 2054 of President Marcos despite the lifting of martial law on January 27, 1981 and the succession of democratically elected presidents after EDSA I which were supposed to obliterate the repressive laws of the martial law period. It is the same objective under that Proclamation “to prevent or suppress lawless violence, insurrection, rebellion and subversion” that prompts the military to continue launching pre-emptive strikes against alleged communists and their sympathizers, and terroristic enemies of the state. All this violence against the people is therefore considered justified, as the Marcos regime used it as a rationale for its repressive measures, under the aegis of preserving the Constitution as the supreme law of the land at all times.

So when Cory Aquino assumed the presidency in 1986, her pardon of the top military brass and its officers for complicity in the commission of crimes and offences against the people during the Marcos era prevented any criminal prosecution and those responsible were never brought to justice. This coddling of the military and the police by succeeding presidents did not only provide immunity for violators but also made military and police abuses of human rights the norm, instead of protecting civil society.

Thus, to the military and the police who are entrusted to protect the rights of civil society, extrajudicial killings and disappearances are justified and necessary to protect the state and preserve peace and order. That human rights might by necessity although unintentionally be trampled upon. This is the official line and is therefore what is reported in the media, the story that is being taught to our present generation of young people in schools. It all started with the Marcos era and the spate of violence and killings continues to be condoned as legitimate under the present government of Noynoy Aquino.

Extra-judicial killings and disappearances

Thus, proponents of historical revisionism have succeeded in demonizing the civil society instead of protecting it. The 2007 report by Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights, on extrajudicial killings and disappearances is a case in point.

Alston in his report identified two root causes of these killings: (1) vilification, labelling or guilt by association, i.e., the characterization of most groups on the left of the political spectrum as front organizations for armed groups whose aim is to destroy democracy making them as legitimate targets for military/police action, and (2) the government’s counter-insurgency strategy which has facilitated the killings of activists and others who oppose the government.

Alston’s report could very well be the official and most accurate narrative, an objective historical account of the underlying causes of violence perpetrated against the people by the military, the police and other agents of the government. However, the Philippine government denies this. There are no crimes of extrajudicial killings and disappearances, and that is the official line of the government. The government, therefore, has rewritten the history of violence against the people by continuously and flatly denying that crimes were committed despite independent third party findings of facts.

In 2006, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo created the Melo Commission to investigate the killings of militant activists and some members of the press. While concluding that most of the killings were instigated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Melo Commission however found no proof to blame the government and the military. Instead, the Commission reiterated the dubious statements made by Task Force Usig of the Philippine National Police that the rise in the killings of activists and media personnel was due to the “purge” of the ranks of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). Here we can see a clear effort by the government to whitewash the crimes committed by its military and to pin the responsibility for the killings of innocent civil society activists to the communist insurgency.

The Melo Commission Report and the statements made by Task Force Usig, including their suspicious statistics on atrocities committed by the military and by alleged underground groups, form part of the official history of political violence in the Philippines. Third party and independent investigations such as the Alston Report and the testimonies of experts on extrajudicial killings and disappearances from international human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, are considered by the government as mere observations not grounded on facts.

The U.S. State Department Report has also highlighted the fact that Philippine security forces have been responsible for serious human rights abuses, a report that is glossed over by the government. Even an observation from a friendly country and former colonial master failed to muster any clout, thus reducing it to an insignificant footnote to the official historical narrative of the government.

Deception and denial

Historical revisionists thus effectively use their twin techniques of deception and denial. Deception, by falsifying information, lying and obscuring the truth in order to manipulate information or opinion. Denial, by claiming facts are untrue, blame shifting, censorship, distraction and media manipulation. These are all self-evident in the government’s historical record of political violence against the people as contained in the Melo Commission Report and in all proclamations of the previous and present governments with regard to Oplan Bantay Laya and Oplan Bayanihan, both counter-insurgency programs of the government.
Holocaust memorial in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Dubgael. Click link to view "What is a crime
 against humanity?"
During the Nuremberg trials of the war crimes committed by Nazi regime, the prosecutors were faced with the problem of how to respond to the Holocaust and other grave crimes. At that time, a traditional understanding of war crimes did not include crimes committed by a power on its own citizens. So, a new charter was drafted not only to cover traditional war crimes and crimes against peace, but also crimes against humanity.

The Tokyo trials that followed Nuremberg also tried the leaders of the Japanese empire with these crimes against humanity, together with crimes against peace and war crimes. With the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002, the Rome Statute has significantly broadened the definition of crimes against humanity from its original legal definition.

According to the Rome Statute, crimes against humanity are particularly odious offences that constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy or a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority.

One would therefore suspect that the Arroyo and Aquino governments are rewriting the history of political violence in the Philippines in order to avoid being brought before the ICC and be tried for crimes against humanity. Perhaps, the consolation to President Noynoy Aquino is that he still has the opportunity not to repeat the mistakes of his predecessors. However, if the signs are clear that Noynoy Aquino might have already chosen to continue painting a rosy picture of the history of violence against the people, thus denying and deceiving the truth, genuine history will not be so kind in remembering the grave political consequences of the illusions his government has attempted to nourish.

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