The human rights group Karapatan says that Aquino is scuttling the peace talks because he is only interested in a military solution for the ongoing armed conflict against the New People’s Army:
“With eight months left to Oplan Bayanihan’s self-imposed deadline to supposedly render the CPP-NPA-NDF insignificant, the Aquino government is again turning the table against the NDFP negotiating panel, in a bid for a graceful exit from the peace talks and to justify intensified attacks, not only against the CPP-NPA-NDF, but more so against the ordinary tao whom the government considers as supporters of the revolutionary movement.”
The statement from Marie Hilao-Enriquez, chairperson of Karapatan, was a reaction to GPH peace panel chair, Alex Padilla “who threw a tantrum before the media and unilaterally declared the collapse of the peace talks between the GPH and the NDFP. “ Hilao-Enriquez is an independent observer to the peace negotiation between the GPH and the NDFP.
Padilla’s statement, Hilao-Enriquez said, “reflects the Aquino government’s position on the peace negotiation with the NDFP.
The GPH’s sincerity to resolve the causes of the armed conflict is questionable from the very beginning.” Now that the self-imposed deadline of rendering the CPP-NPA-NDFP insignificant in 2013, the Aquino government’s accusation that the NDFP is not intent on the peace negotiations provides it with a very convenient excuse to scuttle the talks and resort to war, Hilao-Enriquez added.
Karapatan cited the promotion of “berdugos” and implementers of Gloria Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya among the military such as Col. Aurelio Baladad, Gen. Jorge Segovia, Brig. Gen. Eduardo Año; the appointment of Oplan Bayanihan’s author, Gen. Emmanuel Bautista as AFP Chief of Staff; and recently, the appointment of Gen. Palparan’s right hand man, Brig. Gen. Ricardo Visaya in the 4th ID as “a sign that the GPH means war not peace.”
Hilao-Enriquez also cited the GPH’s refusal to release the detained NDFP consultants despite the GPH’s commitment “to release most, if not all” NDFP consultants. The GPH’s commitment was contained in a joint statement with the NDFP in the February 2011 talks. “The consultants should not be in jail, in the first place, because they are covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) that was signed as early as 1995.” The NDF consultants are slapped with criminal charges.
She added, “In the years that I have been involved in the peace negotiation as an observer, I haven’t seen any proposal from the GPH that would facilitate the resolution of the root causes of the armed conflict. All the GPH want is for the CPP-NPA-NDF to lay down its arms and surrender. It’s essentially ending the peace talks. If that happens, nothing would be resolved; oppression and exploitation of the majority of the poor Filipinos will remain.”
“The GPH’s so-called “new approach” to peace is nothing new. It means war. What it cannot get on the negotiating table, it will pursue in the battlefield. The GPH merely wants to renege on its previously signed agreements with the NDFP and wipe out all forms of opposition to its pro-US, anti-people and anti-national policies,” said Hilao-Enriquez.
Karapatan called on the Filipino people to stand firm and resist the blows of terror from the Aquino government “given the GPH’s stance on the peace negotiation with the NDFP and the approaching deadline of Oplan Bayanihan.”
The national democratic alliance, BAYAN, has called president Aquino to task for his anti-worker policies:
It is his third Labor Day as Philippine President yet the meaning of the holiday is still lost on Benigno Aquino III, according to the umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan. At a meeting with some labor groups yesterday, Aquino pitched that instead of holding protests, workers should instead celebrate and credit the positive things government has done.
“Aquino still doesn’t get it. Labor Day is held just once a year. It is a time when workers air their demands and grievances, many of which have been ignored by this and all previous regimes. It’s called Labor Day, Mr. President, not ‘cheer the government day’. You want workers to give your government a pat on the back, when in fact it should be your government trying to address the demands of the workers,” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
“With his speech yesterday, Aquino merely showed that his real concern is the image of the government and not the plight of the workers. He rejects any meaningful wage hike and job security because according to his math, these will destroy the economy. He opposes tax exemptions for workers because this will reduce government revenues and affect our credit ratings. Now he wants an increase in social security contributions so that workers will carry the SSS debt burden,” Reyes said.
Bayan said that workers have every reason to take to the streets and fight for their demands. It cited poverty and the erosion of the standard of living, trade union repression, demolition of urban poor communities and the privatization of government services as among the pressing issues faced by workers today.
“Aquino shows that he doesn’t care about the workers. His approach is no different from the previous regime of GMA. He offers non-wage benefits and job fairs as if these are enough to meet the rising cost of living. It’s a big irony since there’s this talk of the Philippines being a rising tiger yet all it can give the workers is a pittance,” Reyes said.
“Today’s protests and marches will certainly dispute Aquino’s claims of inclusive growth. The protests will dispel claims of a growing economy,” he added.
The group also called on politicians to take the side of the workers especially on important legislative measures such as an across the board wage increase. “Just how many of these candidates have taken the side of the workers, in words and in deeds? The political landscape is so dominated by representatives of big business interests it has become increasingly hard to expect meaningful legislation benefiting the workers,” Reyes said.
“Even now, huge campaign spending will tie the fortunes of the candidates and big business. How is it possible that those spending big are not beholden to their campaign donors from big business?” he added.
The national democratic labor center (one of the largest alliance of unions in the Philippines) has released a statement on the tragic building collapse killing over 300 workers in Bangladesh:
We condemn big capitalists who continue to penny-pinch when it comes to workers’ health and safety in order to further boost their profits. We also condemn the Bangladeshi government for neglecting its workers’ and people’s health and safety by promoting unsafe working conditions that have already caused more than 700 deaths in factory fires since 2006. Big capitalists and the Bangladeshi government are the main culprits behind this so-called “accident” that cost hundreds of lives.
We stand in solidarity with the workers and people of Bangladesh, especially the millions of garment workers who are now waging protests against unsafe working conditions, cheap labor and government neglect of labor rights.
Violations of workers’ occupational health and safety are also rampant here in the Philippines. The number of Filipino workers being victimized by these violations are ever-increasing especially in the construction and service sectors of the economy. In fact, until now, justice has not been served over the deaths of workers in ETON Towers, Keppel and Hanjin shipyards, and in NOVO Mall.
We call on the Filipino and Bangladeshi workers and people to take the streets and join protests on May 1, Labor Day. We must fight for safer working conditions, living wages, regular employment and respect for workers’ rights.
The national democratic youth partylist, Kabataan, has decried the dangerous practice of “red-tagging” by the Armed Forces of the Philippines:
Kabataan Partylist condemned the intensified red-tagging and smear campaign being conducted by military operatives, most notably in the provinces, a few weeks before the upcoming elections.
Organizers in several regional chapters including Baguio City obtained printed materials tagging the youth partylist as a front of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army. These materials were distributed by “men in plain clothes with notable similar military haircuts” and signed by a so-called “P4P Movement,” a group closely associated with intelligence officers of the military, according to Cielo Marie Bayson, Kabataan Partylist Baguio City Coordinator.
The said group was also reported to be distributing similar flyers that vilify Makabayan senatorial candidate Teddy Casiño.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the continued vilification of progressive partylists and candidates, particularly Kabataan, by suspected elements of the military. This shows that despite touted reforms in the military, the mercenary culture remains in their ranks,” said Kabataan Partylist President Terry Ridon.
“Red-tagging progressive partylists is an old trick of military lapdogs to discredit genuine representatives of the marginalized and underrepresented like Kabataan. Clearly, backward elements in the Armed Forces of the Philippines have yet to understand that being progressive does not equate to being a rebel; that legal democratic organizations are far different from armed rebel groups,” Ridon added.
The youth leader noted that in past elections, such smear campaign was also conducted by the AFP, resulting to several human rights violations against members and volunteers. “The military not only distributes black propaganda, but literally conducts a terror campaign in the countryside to force our countrymen not to vote for partylists that genuinely represent them,” Ridon added.
“Even if the Aquino administration masquerades as a pro-peace and humanitarian government, it is continuously using dirty tactics such as red-tagging to vilify staunch critics of the government and strong opponents of the administration ticket like Teddy Casiño,” Ridon said.
“Despite the military’s intensified smear campaign against Kabataan, we firmly believe that the public knows better. Our track record of service for the youth and the Filipino people disproves any false claims floated by military henchmen,” Ridon ended.
On the night of April 20th in Capitulangan, Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental a firefight broke out between the armed escorts of Mayor Guingona and the Philippine National Police (PNP) with soldiers of the New People’s Army who were manning a check-point.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer initially reported on April 21st:
Police and military troops are pursuing a group of communist New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas who wounded Gingoog City Mayor Ruth de Lara Guingona, wife of former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr., and killed two of her bodyguards in an attack in Misamis Oriental province late Saturday.
Mayor Guingona, 78, a member of President Aquino’s Liberal Party (LP), suffered bullet wounds in the arms and feet. She was also wounded by shrapnel from a grenade blast during the attack in the hinterland village of Alatagan in Barangay (village) Upper Kapitulangan.
Guingona, mother of Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, was returning with a six-member escort from a town fiesta in Alatagan when they were “ambushed” by the rebels, Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo, spokesman for the Philippine National Police, told reporters in Manila.
Cerbo said the rebels fled after a 10-minute fire fight with police. But the mayor was safely retrieved only at dawn Sunday, hours after the attack, because the site was a remote area.
The clash happened when soldiers at the NPA checkpoint were waving the escort of Mayor Guingona down and their checkpoint was rammed by the lead car which lead the PNP and armed escorts to initiate and open fire against the NPA.
Immediately following the incident NPA Jiito Tito Command apologized for the incident:
The New People’s Army-North Central Mindanao Regional Command expresses its sincere apology to the Guingonas, the Velasco family and the people of Gingoog City for the unfortunate incident last night, April 20, around 10:20 PM in Capitulangan, Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental. It is confirmed that a firefight took place between the armed escorts of Mayor Ruthie Guingona and an NPA unit where two driver-bodyguards were killed while Mayor Guingona herself and two other civilians were wounded.
We offer condolences and express our deepest sympathy for the bereaved families of Bartolome Velasco and Nestor Velasco, who were both killed in the incident.
Contrary to reports that the incident was an ambush, it started when Mayor Guingona’s armed escorts fired upon an NPA checkpoint in Capitulangan. The group was on its way home when it passed by the NPA checkpoint near the bridge in Capitulangan. The lead vehicle of Mayor Guingona’s convoy rammed against the bamboo roadblock mounted by the Red fighters while her escorts opened fire at the NPAs flagging down the convoy. The Red fighters immediately returned fire in self defense.
The said NPA unit was carrying out orders from the Regional Command to implement the revolutionary policies regarding the conduct of elections, to flag down candidates and campaigners who carry firearms and armed escorts during their campaign sorties in guerilla zones when doing their campaign rounds without proper coordination with the concerned revolutionary territorial committees and commands.
Since April 15, NPAunits in the different fronts of NCMR have launched coordinated checkpoints to implement this policy. Three of these checkpoints were put up in Gingoog City. Among those held at a checkpoint in Brgy. Samaywere four of Mayor Guingona’s campaigners. Aside from explaining our policy to her campaigners, responsible cadres in the area also personally contacted Mayor Guingona through phone, reminding her to avoid bringing armed escorts during campaign sorties.
We recognize Vice Pres. Guingona’s significant contribution to the Filipino people’s anti-dictatorship struggle and his steadfast nationalist standpoint on various issues. We look upon Senator TG Guingona’s pro-people standpoint. Thus, we are deeply saddened by this unfortunate incident. We take responsibility for this.
For the civilian casualties, we will exhaust all efforts to contact their families to extend our indemnification and lend needed medical assistance to the wounded.
Despite this incident, the NPA will continue to put up checkpoints in the implementation of revolutionary policies and to ensure the peaceful conduct of election campaign in guerilla zones. We wish to reiterate our warning to all candidates who are campaigning in guerilla zones to avoid carrying firearms or armed escorts to avoid the occurrence of similar incident in the future.
The progressive multi-sectoral national democratic alliance, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), also came out with a statement:
Bayan is deeply saddened by the shooting incident involving a New People’s Army unit in Misamis Oriental and the convoy of Gingoog Mayor Ruth Guingona. We offer our solidarity with the Guingona family during this difficult time.
It is right that the NPA assumed responsibility for the action, apologized for the deaths and injuries of civilians, and offered indemnification to their families. Complaints by the aggrieved parties can be brought directly to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines through the GPH-NDFP Joint Monitoring Committee on the Comprehensive Agreement for Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. Mechanisms are in place to ensure that there would be a proper investigation and that there would be accountability for the NPA actions.
It is not surprising too that the Armed Forces of the Philippines says that the NPA checkpoint was done because of the alleged refusal of Mayor Guingona to pay campaign fees to the NPA. This is meant to make the incident appear as a case of plain extortion, detached from the bigger picture which is the ongoing civil war and the stalled peace negotiations between the GPH and NDFP. The AFP should top using the incident to draw attention away from the many unresolved human rights violations linked to the military, such as the abduction of Jonas Burgos, Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan and the murder of labor leader Rolando Olalia and his driver Leonor Alay-ay.
Latest press release from the San Francisco Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (SF CHRP) on the latest harassment of aid and humanitrian workers and human rights investigators by the 67th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP):
Close to 70 members of the National Humanitarian and Fact Finding Mission (NHFFM) were left stranded on the night of April 20th in Baganga, Davao Oriental after two-days of military harassment by the 67th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The NHFFM, which includes human rights organizers, nuns, union leaders, and church workers, was in the region to provide humanitarian assistance due to the ravages of typhoon Pablo and to also investigate human rights violations by the AFP and the killing of Christina Jose, a local leader of Barug Katawhan.
Despite evidence provided by the organizers, church workers, nuns, union leaders, and journalists on the ground the spokesperson for the 67th IB, Lt. Col. Krishnamurti Mortela, denied that there was any harassment of the humanitarian and human rights workers and that they were dismayed over the fact that they were holding an independent investigation of Jose’s murder instead of cooperating with the military and local authorities.
“The intransigence and bravado of Mortela is out of this world,” exclaimed Estanislao. “He either has completely lost his mind or is spinning a web of lies that is enveloping himself. In no way has the military helped in the investigation for the NHFFM especially when they themselves are the main culprits in these violations and when they are the main suspects in the assassination of Christina Jose. They have done everything in their power to keep this humanitarian and fact-finding mission from happening.”
“Also, to suggest that the NHFFM cooperate with the perpetrators of human rights violations is ludicrous,” continued Estanislao. “Of course they would have a separate independent investigation into the spate of killings and human rights violations that have been going on recently since that will be the best way in finding the truth. Any investigation by the police or military would become a complete whitewash.”