The real threat
ROLAND G. SIMBULAN
STATE terror in Asia has long been used to fight terror. War has long been pursued as a strategy against terror in Asia, and the war against ‘terrorism’ has always been made an excuse to promote militarist and authoritarian dictatorships supporting western expansionist, strategic and economic objectives.
In the Philippines today after 11 September 2001, there are indications that in the name of a ‘war on terror’, we are again lapsing into authoritarianism and becoming a police state. The government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is riding on the coat tails of the United States, which in its declaration of war against international terrorism, has launched repressive acts at home and abroad against its perceived enemies. The consequences are grim and chilling for countries like the Philippines.
The government of the United States is rounding up and detaining thousands of immigrants, identified through racial profiling, without due process and detaining them for secret trials. The USA Patriot Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Promoting Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism), is waging war without limits of time and space and has introduced new police state restrictions threatening the very right of Americans to dissent. The 350 page USA Patriot Act was signed into law on 26 October 2001, perhaps the fastest piece of American legislation ever to be passed into law!
On 13 November 2001, President Bush issued a ‘Military Order, Detention, Treatment and Trial of Certain non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism’ authorizing the indefinite detention and trial of non-US citizens, ‘whose identities shall be determined by the President from time to time in writing, before secret military tribunals where the principles of law and the rules of evidence generally recognized in the trial of criminal cases in US district courts do not apply.’1 As early as 1996, the United States had already enacted the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), though the perpetrator of the Oklahoma bombing, the ostensible proximate reason for the legislations, was a homegrown member of a local racist militia.
The hollow promise of safety and security has stifled the right to question and articulate. The very freedoms and liberties that democratic governments claim to be fighting for are today being eroded. Pre-criminals and pre-terrorists in the United States and overseas can now be arrested and imprisoned by President Bush’s borderless armed forces (a development foreseen perhaps by the Spielberg film ‘Minority Report’ where persons who have yet to commit a crime are promptly rounded up) on mere suspicion that they are about to commit acts of terrorism.
The Philippines is one of the many countries around the world suffering from similar policies that are the consequence of the September 11 events. The New York Times observed that the Philippines recently hosted ‘the largest single deployment of US military might outside Afghanistan.’2 It is being made to violate its own Constitution to make way for Philippine-US ‘Balikatan’ military exercises which are in fact field operations in combat zones.
Now, Filipinos are being deceived with an unconstitutional military-to-military ‘accounting agreement’ (or arrangement) like the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) that will allow the setting up of US military facilities and infrastructure to house US military supplies, logistical depots and refuelling installations, armaments and other weapons of mass destruction. These logistics and supplies will be meant for US military operations in the Philippines as also to use the Philippines as a staging area against countries like Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and other enemies of the United States in the predominantly Muslim countries of Southeast Asia like Indonesia and Malaysia.3
The ‘war on terrorism’ has intensified the deception of our people in secret ‘accounting’ agreements like the MLSA in consonance with so-called joint military exercises. The Mutual Logistics and Support Agreement (MLSA) which is currently being rushed for formal signing, is the Pentagon’s logical follow-up to the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement or VFA. The MLSA is not just about logistics and other military hardware that the US wants to stockpile in the Philippines for use by American forces. It is equally about the setting up of facilities, structures and infrastructure to ‘house’ US war material needed for frontline operations in Asia and the Middle East.
For the Philippine government, this is a necessary document to allow the US to re-establish foreign military facilities, even though these are banned under the Philippine Constitution. The VFA had already given the go-signal for the entry of ‘foreign military troops’ under the guise of joint military exercises. All these point to the reversal of the Philippines’ decision to dismantle all US military bases on its territory in 1991, and the full restoration of US military presence in the Philippines, but this time using the entire country as one big military base!
Although Balikatan military exercises have been resumed after the ratification of the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement, a shift in the orientation and implementation of Balikatan exercises has occurred after 11 September 2001. Balikatan, with US Special Operations Forces deploying 660 men, conducted their military exercises in the Basilan and Zamboanga war zones last February-July 2002, this time with live targets in actual military operations using as pretext the Abu Sayyaf, a kidnap-for-ransom band with no current established links with the Al Qaeda or Osama Bin Laden.
Also, during the course of these operations, Muslims and so-called Arab looking persons are being picked up and interrogated in warrantless arrests, or even threatened with Davao City Mayor Duterte’s ‘final solution’ of extra-legal killings of suspected terrorists and criminals. Duterte was recently appointed by Arroyo as Presidential Adviser on Peace and Order. Soon, critical thought, resistance to injustice and speaking out against the machinery of war and repression could well be defined as ‘terrorism’ or ‘association with terrorism’, as is already happening in many parts of the United States, especially against Arab, Muslim and South Asian immigrants.
Does the era of wiretapping and e-mail tapping for purposes of political control mean that we are developing into a full-fledged ‘strong state’, or ‘strong Republic’? And for whom? For the US corporate elite (e.g., oil and gas industry and weapons manufacturers) and their Filipino counterparts in power at times of economic, social and political crisis?
There are strong indications that the Philippines is now becoming a laboratory for a new type of militarization being directed and advised by a borderless US military. Recent events in Southern Luzon, especially in the island of Mindoro, could show that an Operation Phoenix-type of operation may be taking place. Within a span of one year, mostly after 11 September 2001, 20 local coordinators of the progressive political party of the Philippine left, the Bayan Muna, including its provincial coordinator, were assassinated. The US-trained and armed Philippine military has intensified its counterinsurgency campaign against New People’s Army guerrillas and against the political infrastructure of the National Democratic Front (NDF) which operates in 60 of the country’s 79 provinces.
This is reminiscent of the most secret and deadly US covert operation in Vietnam where the US launched a massive assassination campaign against what it believed was the ‘political infrastructure’ of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam as well as local leaders and local officials known to sympathize with the Vietnamese resistance. Between 25,000 and 30,000 civilians in South Vietnam, mostly non-combatants, were later acknowledged by the CIA to have been liquidated in the US-directed Operation Phoenix which had the objective to ‘disrupt and destroy enemy assets.’
More and more, the Bush administration will increase its support of military technology to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), laying the groundwork for the expansion of US-Philippine military cooperation. This is all designed to prepare more US-created Philippine army counterinsurgency units directed by US SEALS and Ranger advisers and trainers to operate all over the country against homegrown ‘terrorists’. We can expect more US special forces to be directly involved in counter-insurgency missions, including monitoring and intelligence missions, most of them secret.
The MLSA will allow the US to set up radar facilities on Philippine soil to detect ‘terrorist’ and ‘insurgent’ activity, both armed and unarmed. Some of these sites may be located on Philippine army installations, but will be manned by US military personnel and US ‘civilian technicians’ as they are allowed under the Visiting Forces Agreement.4
Our country is facing a serious dilemma. In the US preparations to strike at Iraq, the pro-US stance of the Philippine government has placed it in a serious quandary. It has good diplomatic ties with Iraq as well as with the two other nations demonized by Bush’s reference to the ‘axis of evil’ – Iran and North Korea. If the Philippines allows the active use of its territory by US military forces against Iraq for instance, can we ask the country in question not to enter into this war against us or target the Filipino contract workers on its soil? Further, US planes striking or bombing civilian targets in Iraq may also cause casualties among Filipino contract workers, major contributors to the near US$ 7 billion annual remittances by overseas Filipinos. Locally, the Philippine government is faced with the prospect of a complete scuttling of the ongoing peace talks with the National Democratic Front after the US included this organization, as well as the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, in its list of ‘Foreign Terrorist Organizations’ (FTOs).
We must expect that as political and civil dissent increases in the light of our economic crisis, given the continuing neglect of rural areas by the state, a non-existent rule of law, and a lack of economic infrastructure and opportunity, the army and police will undertake a more active role in dealing with civil unrest which will be treated as ‘terrorist inspired’ or ‘terrorist infiltrated’. The military will be more concerned with defending the state from within than from outside. We will witness changes in our laws and legislation in the form of anti- terrorism acts and resurrected or rehashed anti-subversion laws will serve as the legal basis for the ‘strong republic’ or ‘strong state’ based on legalized repression.
Already, a total of eight proposed anti-terrorist bills have been filed in the Philippine Congress: two bills in the Senate (Senators Lacson and Barbers) and six in the House of Representatives (Congresswoman Imee Marcos, et al). The proposed bills are either using the USA Patriot Act as their model or Singapore’s Internal Security Act (ISA), and as such, are highly objectionable because of their serious implications for fundamental civil and political rights. These proposed anti-terrorist bills in the Philippines are still at the congressional committee level, but we can already predict the kind of repressive provisions they will contain, considering that they emulate the most repressive aspects of recent legislation in the United States and the long-notorious Internal Security Act (ISA) of Singapore.
Since US assistance will be over-whelmingly military in nature, it will only extend a failed strategy against insurgency and rebellion. US military trainers believe that their offer, in the form of war fighting skills and sophisticated technology, to their Philippine counterparts can defeat the less sophisticated guerrilla army of the poor in the countryside. More than any military solution – whether foreign or local – we must find solutions to mass poverty and social injustice through a healthy and pluralistic political process and an empowered citizenry, rather than rely on military force and authoritarianism. We cannot have resurrected Hitlers or Marcoses crying wolf and eating the flock themselves.
In all likelihood state barbarism will be answered by the people’s concerted and united action. The victory of people’s revolutions and uprisings shows that when the state becomes tyrannical, even the most vicious repression using the most advanced technology cannot safeguard it. Soon, all the propaganda about the threat of terrorism will fade out as people realize that the wolf who cries wolf is their true enemy, and what will be left will be an authoritarian instrument, the military and police forces, whose basic function is really to protect the existing social order for the well-entrenched economic and political elite.
Ironically free market globalization will soon see the rise of what the Russian philosopher Nikolai Bukharin predicted for capitalism: ‘Thus arises the final type of contemporary robber state, an iron organization which envelopes the living body of society in its grasping paws. It is a new Leviathan before which the fantasy of Thomas Hobbes seems child’s play.’
The threat of a police state is now with us.
1. Laura W. Murphy, Director of ACLU Washington National Office, cited in ‘USA Patriot Act Boosts Government Powers while Cutting Back on Traditional Checks and Balances’, AN ACLU Legislative Analysis.
2. Eric Scmitt, ‘US-Philippine Command May Signal War’s Nex Phase’, The New York Times, 16 January 2002.
3. Roland G. Simbulan, ‘US Policy in Asia and the State of Philippine-US Security Relations.’ Paper presented before the Inaugural Assembly of the Asian Peace Alliance, University of the Philippines, Quezon City, 29 August-1 September 2002.
4. Department of Foreign Affairs (Philippines), Visiting Forces Agreement (1999), GPO, 2001.