Shoot the Messenger and Save Face

Karapatan’s data and reports, including the Commission on Human Rights in its investigations, the Philippine Congress in its many congressional inquiries, the United Nations in its many committee hearings, among others. Its veracity lies mainly in its reliable documentation of facts and committed teams of documentors and paralegals who expose human rights violations that otherwise would have been committed in complete impunity by its perpetrators.

Unfortunately, the AFP’s moves to demonize Karapatan and associate it with the CPP/NPA/NDF utterly misses the point of human rights monitoring, that is, it should strictly adhere to a policy of accountability to the public for violations committed within its ranks. As UN Special Rapporteur Prof. Philip Alston has said, the AFP and its Commander‐in‐Chief Gloria Arroyo are in a state of denial regarding the issue of extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations when they insist that no such violations have occurred within her term. This systematic demonization of Karapatan and Pastor Modesto Villasanta is typical of the AFP and this administration’s spin doctors – shoot the messenger and save face at all cost; repeat the lie many times and it becomes truth.

Col. Jose Vizcarra and his lackeys within the 58th IB PA are perpetuating the lies when they insist that the military operations in the hinterlands of the municipalities of Lianga, San Agustin and Tago have not adversely affected the lumad communities. That in the act of living within civilian homes, schools and other public places with their high‐ power firearms, that in building a virtual garrison in the middle of civilians communities, that in bringing their war materials within these communities, they are not in violation of International Humanitarian Law.

We question these acts because they are in clear violation of the rights of civilians in the midst of an armed conflict. Past experience of these same communities have shown them what the AFP is capable of doing to civilians when they incur casualties in this war; it is the hapless civilians upon whom they bring their wrath. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has conducted many human rights fora among these communities and they know their rights.

The conduct of this war is an issue that only emphasizes the need to go back to the negotiating table through peace talks. Karapatan has, time and again, encouraged the resumption of formal peace negotiations between the GRP and the NDFP precisely so that issues regarding the conduct of this war, the rules of engagement and use of landmines and, more importantly, the roots of this armed conflict, can be addressed.

The lumad are capable of recognizing the dangers of the situation that was forced upon them when the AFP’s 58th IB PA commenced in its military operations last November 11. It was based on this recognition that they decided to evacuate. The issue here is not whether Karapatan or Pastor Modesto Villasanta “commanded” these communities to evacuate nor that it has enough clout to compel organizations like the ICRC, UNICEF, Save the Children, even the DSWD and DOH and other government agencies to assist the evacuees. The AFP is certainly building up the influence that both wield among these independent organizations.

The issue is the conduct of the AFP’s OBL2 and its counter‐insurgency war that does not recognize, respect and protect the rights of civilians.

The declaration of a Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO) has given these communities a timely reprieve from the active operations of the AFP from December 16 to January 6. They are set to go home tomorrow, December 20. As it is followed by a fervent vow by the commander‐in‐chief herself that