Blood on Gloria Arroyo’s Hands

It’s something we dread thinking about, simply because the circumstances and details are so unsettling. We know it’s happening, but we try to push it from our consciousness. Until it occurs to someone we know. Or until such incidents reach a critical mass, and jump to the forefront of our collective awareness , despite all our efforts to turn away. I believe we have reached such a tipping point.

I’m talking about the long-standing and continuing pattern of extrajudicial executions, kidnappings, and assassinations of the Arroyo regime’s political enemies, real or imagined. I’m as guilty of avoidance and denial as the next guy, even when these occur fairly close to home. Jonas Burgos is a cousin of a sister-in-law. Karen Empeno is a cousin of a fraternity brother.

These enforced disappearances, perpetuated by shadowy groups of the Arroyo government’s most rabid guardians, have reached Marcosian proportions. Every week brings some news of the brutal killing or snatching of persons whose only crime was to oppose Arroyo’s corrupt activities and policies.

At least we knew what we were getting into with Marcos. He declared martial law and made no bones (!) about his intent to unleash a reign of terror. Shit happens during martial law. But we are supposed to be living in a restored democracy, where the so-called rule of law prevails and where the Bill of Rights are supposedly guaranteed. This is what makes President Arroyo’s undeclared “dirty war” so treacherous and frightening.

This past week brought news of the finding of evidence which could prove military involvement in the kidnapping, possible torture or worse, of political activists Karen Empeno and Manuel Merino, both missing for two years and abducted with U.P. student Sherlyn Cadapan. A fellow captive, farmer Raymond Manalo, escaped to tell the tale. He led a team of U.P. anthropologists, members of the human-rights group Karapatan and personnel from the Commission on Human Rights and the Senate Committee on Justice to a remote village in Limay, Bataan where he claims they were held and tortured by Army intelligence agents. Human remains and other evidence backing up Manalo’s charges were found.

And in the same Inquirer issue reporting on the grisly discovery in Bataan, Conrad de Quiros writes of the kidnapping of James Balao, in broad daylight on a main road in La Trinidad, the capital of Benguet province. A founding member of the Cordillera People’s Alliance, Mr. Balao has been at the forefront of fighting for the rights of the indigenous folk of the Cordillera region for decades. He has been missing for a month.

This is the flip side of the Arroyo practice of casually setting free her monied and connected friends or allies, however heinous their crimes.

It is not difficult to share De Quiros’ outrage:

UP Baguio names operatives of the Intelligence Security Unit (ISU) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as the perpetrators. Since his abduction, I’ve had several friends call, email, and text me vouching for the complete integrity and high-mindedness of this man. Like Jonas Burgos, he is an epic loss to society, or since “society” is an abstraction, he is an epic loss to all of us who dream of a better world to leave to our children.

It’s time we said “Enough!” Enough of the killings, enough of the abductions, enough of the disappearances, enough of the harassment, enough of the surveillance, enough of the sowing of fear, enough of the terrorism, enough of the culture of mayhem, enough of the reign of impunity!

It’s a cynical war waged by cynical persons to keep their cynical selves in power. It has no other purpose than that. It exists to hide the real threat to this country, which is dictatorship, and to unleash the forces needed to prop it up, which are fear and violence. It’s a cynical war that’s claiming a cynical toll on the innocent.

But more than the innocent, it’s taking its toll on the country’s best and brightest. Jonas Burgos is one of them. James Balao is another. They are people who have been given abundant abilities and endowments. Burgos has the illustrious name of his father to carry and Balao the glorious traditions of his tribe to do so. They could have become “successful” professionals, with enough trophies and testimonials to proclaim the fact. Instead, they chose to serve the people–how powerfully that phrase continues to resonate among those who have internalized it!–conscripting their talents and energies for the benefit of their communities. With only the laughter in the eyes of the children and the gratitude in the faces of their parents to proclaim their successes.
The people aren’t fooled. They know where this trail of blood leads to.

We must heed De Quiros’ call, and recall the poignant warning made by Pastor Martin Neimoller, in a poem which remains valid and resonates all these many decades:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I was not a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

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