When news broke out of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s brazen takeover of the speakership in the House of Representatives, many parents and relatives of desaparecidos – persons disappeared by state actors – most of whom were in people’s protests for the State of the Nation Address (SONA) that day, cried in grief and howled in protest.
Such parents include the mothers of Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, two UP students who have been missing since June 2006. Investigations have shown that the two were seized by military elements in their rented house in Hagonoy, Bulacan, where the two were staying as they did advocacy work for farmers in the area.
It was subsequently revealed that their disappearance was orchestrated by no less now retired Army Major General Jovito “The Butcher” Palparan. They were reported to have been kept and tortured in a secret dungeon at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.
Empeño and Cadapan are among the 206 victims of enforced disappearances recorded by human rights groups under Arroyo’s nine-year regime. Records also reveal a total of 1,206 victims of extrajudicial killings, over 2,000 cases of illegal arrests, and over 800,000 victims of forced evacuation.
Following the trail of blood left behind by the Arroyo regime, it is no wonder that Duterte finds in Arroyo a kindred spirit, a fellow monster having brutal disregard for human rights. Just two years under Duterte, he has in fact surpassed Arroyo’s heinous record.
Most of the Arroyo regime’s victims were peasants, with a total of 603 farmers killed under her nine-year regime. Many of them fell victim to the brutal attacks under her counterinsurgency Operation Plan Bantay-Laya 1 and 2, which involved red-tagging legal progressive organizations and including the names of activist leaders in an “order of battle” under the AFP’s “Know Your Enemy” campaign.
One of the most heinous crimes committed against the peasant sector was the Hacienda Luisita massacre. In 2004, following the issuance of an “assumption of jurisdiction” order by then Labor Sec. Patricia Santo Tomas, military forces under the Northern Luzon command were mobilized to break up the strike of the millworkers and farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac. On November 16, soldiers opened fire at the strikers killing at least seven and leaving 121 injured .
Palparan is one of the foremost blood-thirsty tbe Arroyo regime, with Arroyo herself acknowledging his so-called achievements in her 2006 SONA. He left a trail of blood wherever he was assigned – including Mindoro, Eastern Visayas, and Central Luzon.
Aside from the abduction of Empeño and Cadapan, Palparan also orchestrated the killing of human rights defender Eden Marcellana and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy in Mindoro, UCCP Pastor Edison Lapuz and Atty. Fedelito Dacut in Leyte, and Supreme Bishop Alberto Ramento of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, all under Arroyo’s reign.
Another incident of enforced disappearance involves farmer-activist Jonas Burgos, son of late veteran journalist Jose Burgos Jr. He was abducted by military agents in a restaurant at Ever Gotesco Mall in Quezon City on April 28, 2007 using a military impounded vehicle. Burgos has been missing since then. Current Department of Interior and Local Government Officer-in-Charge Eduardo Año, who was then head of the Army’s intelligence division, is implicated in the disappearance of Burgos.
Arroyo was also patently anti-worker. Between 2001 and 2010, labor groups recorded a total of 199 workers’ strikes, most of them confronted with the excessive use of state force.
One of the most brutal strikes recorded in the history of the labor movement involves Nestlé Philippines, in the 2002-2005 strike launched by workers at the Cabuyao factory. In January 2002, a force of over a thousand police was deployed and attacked striking workers at their picket line at the factory gate. Amid worker defiance, the Arroyo regime applied a greater military force to brutaly suppress the strike. At least 23 were killed, including union leader Diosdado “Ka Fort” Fortuna, who was assassinated on his way home from a picket line on September 22, 2005. Ka Fort suffered the same fate of former union president Meliton Roxas, who was also assassinated in the picket line in 1989, during a strike held in the same company involving the same issue.
As Arroyo intensified her corrupt, repressive, and criminal activities, the people’s dissent also mounted. Thousands of people regularly flooded the streets to protest. This came at a time when the Arroyo regime was very much isolated and despised by the nation, especially as scandal after scandal piled up against the regime.
In 2005, Arroyo introduced the “calibrated preemptive response” (CPR) policy, which replaced the “maximum tolerance” usually implemented by police forces when handling rallies and demonstrations. The CPR was enforced following a series of large demonstrations against Arroyo, who at that time was at the height of the “Hello Garci” scandal. The CPR enabled state forces not only to violently disperse rallyists, but also conduct arrests.
In 2006, Arroyo formed the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) to mount legal attacks, including filing of trumped-up charges, to silence her critics. Created under Executive Order 493, the IALAG is composed of the Office of the National Security Adviser, Department of Justice, Department of National Defense, Department of Interior and Local Government, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), National Bureau of Investigation and other units. The IALAG was headed by national security adviser Norberto Gonzales.
Among the legal offensives mounted by the IALAG was the filing of rebellion charges against the so-called “Batasan 6” partylist representatives which included the late labor leader Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran; the murder charges against 72 Southerm Tagalog activists in relation to an ambush incident in Mindoro Oriental in 2006; the charges of arson, destruction of property and conspiracy to commit rebellion against 27 Southern Tagalog activists – including Atty. Remigio Saladero, founding member of National Union of People’s Lawyers – in connection with the burning down of a Globe cell site in Lemery, Batangas; and the murder charges against then Bayan Muna Reps. Satur Ocampo and Teodoro Casiño, Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano and Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza, which the Duterte regime has curiously revived just a few days after Arroyo became House speaker.
In 2007, Arroyo also signed into law the Human Security Act (HSA), which contained vague provisions on terrorism that are prone to abuse. Under the HSA, anyone opposing the state can be accused of being a “terrorist” or committing “acts of terrorism.” The fangs of this law – repressive as they already are – are now being sharpened further by the Duterte regime, which seeks to immediately amend the law and widen its repressive powers.
Arroyo’s almost-decade long reign of terror has imposed upon the country what many call the “climate of impunity,” a situation that normalizes the use of force, violence, and bloodshed. This has invariably resulted in other heinous crimes perpetrated by other government officials under Arroyo’s regime. Probably the most heinous case is the Maguindanao massacre in November 2009, wherein henchmen of the Ampatuan political dynasty in Maguindanao killed 58 victims – including at least 34 journalists – who were on their way to filing a certificate of candidacy for Esmael Mangudadatu, who planned to run against Andal Ampatuan Jr. for the mayoralty position in the town of Datu Unsay. This incident, ironically, prompted Arroyo to put the whole of Maguindanao under the state of martial law on December 2009, supposedly to prevent “lawless violence.”
(Continued in Part 3: Confluence of interests)