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War of terror in the Philippines

May 11, 2007 | Page 3

BRIAN McAFEE, who writes frequently on the Philippines, looks at the political agenda behind the recent killings of journalists and activists.

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IN THE Philippines, George W. Bush's war on terror has become a war of terror.

Elias Mabundas and Auling Bugahod, both left-wing activists, were gunned down April 25 by the Philippines military as they were driving down a freeway. A week earlier, Carmelo Palacios became the 51st journalist to be killed since President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power in 2001.

Two days prior to the Palacios killing, Willie Jerus, a member of the National Peasant Movement (KMP) and a local organizer, was gunned down in front of his wife by an unidentified gunman. Two weeks before, two other KMP activists, Arthur Orpilla and Dionisio Baltad, were found shot, stabbed and left in garbage bags.

A total of 83 leftists have been killed since Arroyo became president. An additional 210 are reported missing.

Most on the left place responsibility for the killings and disappearances on the military and the Arroyo government--as well as the Bush administration, because of Washington's close ties to Arroyo and the Philippines military.

The relationship was disrupted only when a U.S. Marine was tried and convicted of raping a Philippines national. The U.S. government, upset that its rapist was put in a Philippines jail, suspended joint exercises until he was transferred to the U.S. Embassy. Raul Gonzalez, Arroyo's justice secretary, was pivotal in making sure the U.S. was accommodated in this case.

Rebuked by the UN and the Permanent Peoples Tribunal over human rights abuses and the ongoing killings, Arroyo--and, by implication, the U.S.--have begun to be held to account. Those murdered have been from every region of the Philippine archipelago and represent a cross-section of society. They include priests, journalists, farmers, human rights workers, union leaders and those in health care, among others.

The list of deaths has been compiled by Karapatan, the Philippines' most prominent human rights organization. Among those killed, about 10 percent have been women. Children are victims, too. On March 31, 9-year-old Grecil Gelacio was gunned down by members of the 101st Infantry Brigade of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The U.S. military has a longstanding training program with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippines National Police. U.S. military assistance to the Philippines went from $14.6 million in 2001 to $86.5 million in 2005. The U.S.-Philippines military ties include small unit and sniper training.

This war of terror is also a war on the poor, as the targets are generally people concerned with the issue of poverty. The beneficiaries of the killings would seem to be those who don't want change--the rich, foreign capital and corporate interests.

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