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Oplan Bantay Laya

FAILING OPLANS: from Marcos to Duterte

in Editorial

Since 1981, when the Marcos dictatorship initiated Operational Plan (Oplan) Katatagan purportedly “to defend the state” (the besieged fascist regime) from the fast-growing New People’s Army (NPA), each succeeding administration has followed suit. This is understandable, since the planner-implementor of every Oplan has been the same military establishment habituated to martial-rule repressive action.The Oplans have had varying names. Yet all have been aimed at deterring the growth of or strategically defeating the NPA, to preserve the existing rotten ruling system.These were: Corazon C. Aquino’s Oplan Mamamayan and Oplan Lambat-Bitag I and II; Fidel Ramos’ Lambat-Bitag III and IV, and Oplans Makabayan and Balangay (which transitted into Joseph Estrada’s truncated presidency); Gloria Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya I and II; Benigno Aquino III’s Oplan Bayanihan; and Rodrigo Duterte’s Oplan Kapayapaan and Oplan Kapanatagan.While each succeeding administration adopted its predecessor’s operational concepts, it added new ones. But all such operational concepts were, invariably, copied from the counterinsurgency guide of the US Army. Although these may have worked for some time in America’s wars of aggression and intervention in different parts of the world, over the long run they have failed to achieve their prime objective: decisive military victory.Instead, these American wars—practically wars against the peoples of the countries they invaded, starting with the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century—have left behind countless deaths mostly of civilians, including children; pervasive human rights violations; displacements en masse of the population; and massive destruction of socio-economic resources requiring decades to recover.Similarly, albeit in smaller scale, these have been the dire impacts of the successive counterinsurgency Oplans on our people—since Marcos’ time to the present—in the undefined arenas of war across the archipelago, mostly in the countrysides and hinterlands.The current Oplan Kapanatagan started as Oplan Kapayapaan in January 2017. The latter was also dubbed as the AFP Development Support and Security Plan 2017-2022, which the Armed Forces off the Philippines (AFP) described as an advance from Aquino III’s Oplan Bayanihan. It adopted the latter’s “whole-of-nation” or “people-centered” approach. Oplan Bayanihan, the AFP bragged, resulted in getting 71 of the 76 (out of 86) provinces deemed to be “insurgency affected” declared as “insurgency free” and “peaceful and ready for further development.”The change to Kapanatagan stemmed from the AFP’s assessment that Oplan Kapayapaan was failing to achieve its targeted goal to defeat the NPA midway of Duterte’s six-year term of office.When first announced by AFP chief Gen. Benjamin Madrigal before the May 2019 midterm elections, it was billed as the AFP-PNP Joint Campaign Plan “Kapanatagan” 2018-2022. Madrigal described it as a “medium-term broad plan that shall guide the AFP and Philippine National Police (PNP) in providing guidelines and delineation of authority while performing their mandated tasks to promote peace, ensure security, and support the overall development initiatives of the government towards inclusive growth.” It is anchored, he added, on the national strategic guidance defined in the National Vision, National Security Policy, Philippine Development Plan, National Peace and Development Agenda, and the 2018 Department of National Defence (DND) Guidance and Policy Thrusts.“The respective strategic thrusts of the AFP and PNP were thus harmonized in this Joint Campaign Plan “Kapanatagan” 2018-2022,” Madrigal said. He called it “a dynamic process to establish greater inter-operability in our continuing operations to address security concerns within our respective areas of concern, including all other productive endeavors wherein we join hands in support of national government initiatives as envisioned by President Rodrigo R. Duterte.”Specifically, Madrigal cited two “salient features” of Campaign Plan Kapanatagan: 1) The PNP shall support the AFP in combat operations involving the suppression of insurgency and other serious threats to national security; and 2) The PNP shall take the lead role in law-enforcement operations against criminal syndicates and private armed groups, with the active support of the AFP.”It was in the Cordillera region where the AFP and PNP first “rolled out” Oplan Kapanatagan, after the May midterm elections. Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) chief Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat then said: “Because of the effort of the AFP and PNP in preventing violence and any actions of the local terrorist groups in the Cordillera region, we assure that the AFP and PNP will continue to work together through Joint Kapanatagan Cordillera.”He emphasized that the AFP-PNP would carry out “joint actions and plans to ensure a more collaborative effort to address the peace and security concerns, especially in those geographic isolated areas” (the guerrilla zones) in Cordillera. He expressed hope that the local government units and other “partner agencies” would collaborate to ensure implementation of Executive Order 70 and the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) it created, headed by Duterte.Gen. Salamat disclosed that at a “national convergence” meeting in Malacañang, all those working under NTF-ELCAC had put all efforts “to come up with a cluster of responses” on the different issues, including “issues that have been exploited by the local terrorist groups” so that the government can respond to them.And how has the government responded through NTF-ELCAC and Oplan Kapanatagan?Recently, the Cordillera People’s Democratic Front (CPDF-National Democratic Front of the Philippines) issued a primer on this two-in-one counterinsurgency plan, titled “Disturbance and Plunder by the State Against the People.” Among others, it points out the following:R(egional)TF-ELCAC Cordillera was formed in July 2019, followed by P(rovincial)TF-ELCAC Mt. Province in September. In the last three months of the year municipal-and barangay-level TFs are targeted to be formed.In September, Nolcom launched military operations in various parts of the Cordillera and Ilocos regions, side-by-side with these joint campaigns by the AFP and PNP: disinfomation, surveillance, psychological war (disseminating false information that the NPA had planted land mines in the mountain areas of Bauko, Tadian, and Sagada towns in Mt. Province); forcible entry into civilian homes purportedly to “collect” firearms kept for the NPA in the communities of Besao town; threat and pressure used on residents summoned to pulong masa to sign up on a memorandum of agreement with the AFP-PNP and a declaration of the CPP-NPA as “persona non grata”; holding seminars and symposia on Duterte’s “war on drugs”; and delivery of “services”, “relief and rehabilitation”, among others.The AFP-PNP also set up detachments within three communities of Besao and one in Sagada, in violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). (In the National Capital Region, through Implan/Oplan Kalasag, the NCR version of Oplan Katatagan, the AFP-PNP tandem has also set up detachments in some communities in Caloocan City. Uniformed armed teams engage in red-tagging, harassment, intimidation, while others offer “livelihood programs” to identified leaders and members of progressive organizations).CPDF also says the implementation of Oplan Katatagan and NTF-ELCAC in the region aims to facilitate the entry of energy and mining projects by foreign-local joint ventures that threaten the ecology, and violate the Cordillera people’s right to their ancestral lands. It named the following: Bimaka Renewable Energy Devt. Corp., Hydroelectric Dev’t Corp., Chico River Pump Irrigation Project by China’s CAMC Engineering, Aragorn Power Energy Corp., and Cordillera Exploration Co. Inc.-Nickel Asia of Japan.In sum, CPDF denounces the two-in-one campaign as designed to “pacify and press the people to obey the dictates of the reactionary state.” It calls on the Cordillera people to assert their rights, oppose the campaign through various means, and expose the true intent of the campaign: to crush the just struggle of the oppressed masses.It’s useful to note that, in 1981 the Marcos dictatorship already employed thru Oplan Katatagan the full force of the AFP, the police and paramilitary forces, its “development agencies”, and some civilian organizations. Duterte’s Oplan Kapanatagan and NTF-ELCAC—backed up by extended martial law in Mindanao and state of national emergency in other areas of the country—can be correctly described as an “Enhanced Oplan Katatagan.” Note further: the Oplan failed—in 1986 the people ousted Marcos.#FightTyranny
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Steeled by Decades of Struggle, the Negrenses Keep the Revolutionary Fire Ablaze

in Mainstream
by Iliya Makalipay

Tears were shed copiously. There was mourning all around as the number of dead bodies in Negros Island continued to rise. And there was justified rage—because these were not mere numbers or bodies.

They were peasants, local government executives, educators, human rights defenders, lawyers. There was even a one-year-old baby. All of them were victims of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Duterte Death Squads (DDS).

Stupid as it has shown up itself to be, the tyrannical regime wasted no time in accusing the New People’s Army (NPA) of killing those whom it had tagged as NPA members and sympathizers.

Peasant advocate groups have reported 87 killed from 2017 to mid-August 2019. Forty of the victims were mercilessly slain after Duterte’s Memorandum Circular 32 took effect on November 22, 2018: it ordered more troop deployments in Negros, in the Samar provinces, and in the Bicol region purportedly to “suppress lawless violence.” A month after, in consonance with Memo Circular 32, state security forces launched Oplan Sauron in Negros Island.

Currently, at least 11 regular and special battalions of the AFP and PNP operate in the island, supported by paramilitary groups such as the CAFGU (Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit) and the RPA-ABB (Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade). At the height of the killings in July-August 2019, the PNP deployed 300 more members of its Special Forces, further escalating the tension and the abuses.

To justify the massive deployment and brutal military campaign, Col. Benedict Arevalo admitted to media that what was initially passed off as tokhang (“drug war”) operations were actually counterinsurgency actions.

The AFP assumes that the central part of Negros, where most of the killings happened, is used by the NPA as “highway” to easily reach both sides of Negros Island—Occidental and Oriental.

“The rebels are trying to create a base somewhere in the boundaries because it’s very important for them to connect and control both islands. It’s like grabbing Negros by the neck,” a news report quoted Arevalo, commanding officer of the 303rd Infantry Brigade-Philippine Army.

In July 30, the Provincial Task Force to end local communist armed conflict was formed in Negros Oriental following Malacanang’s issuance of Executive Order 70, which created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), headed by President Duterte himself. The move is part of the “whole-of-nation approach” the regime is using to create public perception that its counterinsurgency operations involve the participation of the entire government, civil society, and the civilian population.

Still and all, the victims of these police and military operations in Negros were unarmed civilians.

PERENNIAL MILITARY TARGET

This is not the first time state forces deployed hundreds of troops in the island— intended to decimate the NPA and “wipe out” its revolutionary base there. In fact, every president—from Marcos to Duterte—has invariably aimed, by the end of his/her term, to defeat the New People’s Army and destroy its revolutionary mass base.

During the Marcos dictatorship, Negros was depicted as a “social volcano” waiting to explode. Almost 40 years later, it has remained so because there was never any palpable change in the economic system and the deplorable lives of the poor people. As feudal and semifeudal relations in the haciendas remain and exploitation is stepped up, so is the validity of sustained armed struggle upheld.

In the last few months of the dictatorship, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) pointed out Marcos’s inability to address the sugar crisis and its consequent labor unrest and the military’s failure to contain the rebellion that has swept the island because of extreme poverty. The CIA report, dated May 1985, had been declassified and sanitized and was approved for release in 2011.

The report said: “We judge that later this year (1985), Negros may become, after Mindanao, the second politically important island in the archipelago where Communist control rivals that of the government.”

It added: “Despite the trouble looming on Negros, President Marcos shows no inclination to improve the counterinsurgency effort by bolstering the military or dismantling the sugar-marketing empire of his political ally, Roberto Benedicto. … Government efforts that are taken to ease the plight of the sugar workers are largely cosmetic.”

The “fall of Negros”, the report concluded, “would provide an important psychological defeat for the government and further depress morale in the armed forces. It would also confirm to the Communist Party that its long-term strategy is on the mark.”

Now under the sixth post-Marcos president, feudal relations, the centuries-old hacienda system, landlessness, and agrarian unrest are still prevalent. Adding to these social and economic ills are large-scale mining companies that prey on the island’s mineral resources and degrade its environment.

More than half of the country’s sugar mill and plantation workers are in Negros, earning an average daily income of Php 50-67, a far cry from the mandated minimum wage of Php 300. The glaring reality is farmers go hungry every day, both before and after the much-dreaded tiempo muerto, the idle period between sugarcane harvests.

There is widespread landlessness despite the so-called agrarian reform programs implemented by past administrations. Negros has still at least 600,000 hectares of lands that have escaped distribution under the largely-failed Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) started by the Cory Aquino government in 1988.

Continued exploitation and oppression and non-implementation of genuine agrarian reform and rural development have been surefire stimuli for resistance—both armed and unarmed. It is for this reason that all attempts by the successive governments to defeat the revolutionary forces have ended in failure.

The Philippine government may have somehow identified the causes of the protracted armed conflict, but it has persistently pursued the wrong solution—the militarist solution of trying to eradicate the symptom—instead of seeking to resolve the root causes.

SERIES OF FAILED ‘COUNTERINSURGENCY’ OPLANS

Interviews with several villagers in Negros Oriental revealed two military operational plans (Oplans) etched deeply in their collective memory: Oplan Thunderbolt under the Cory Aquino regime and Oplan Bantay Laya of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Decades from now, they would remember too the brutality of the military operations under the Duterte regime’s Oplan Kapayapaan/Kapanatagan.

Despite or because of martial law, Marcos failed. And what the Marcos dictatorship failed to attain, the succeeding “restoration-of-democracy” government of Cory Aquino tried to finish—by using the very same corrupt and abusive state security forces that Marcos had fully harnessed and coddled.

As Cory Aquino wielded her “sword of war” through Oplan Lambat-Bitag I and II, Negros became a “pilot area”. A fact-finding report in 1988, titled “Mountain Tempest”, quoted the government as claiming that “the deployment of more troops and the use of more sophisticated weapons…can wipe out insurgency by 1992.” Essentially, Cory Aquino’s counterinsurgency program was derived from America’s “low-intensity-conflict” strategy which, at the time, was also being implemented in Latin America, with incalculable consequences in terms of countless killings and massive-scale human rights violations.

Rev. Romeo Empestan, in his book “From the Struggles of the People and the Church of the Poor in Negros in the 70s to 90s,” recalled that there were four simultaneous localized Oplans implemented during this period: Thunderbolt, Kahilwayan (freedom), Habagat (south winds), and Amihan (north winds). Oplan Thunderbolt would become the most notorious of the four.

Oplan Thunderbolt resulted in more than 30,000 (some reports cited as high as 100,000) evacuees in seven relocation sites. Most of the evacuees were from the now-familiar town of Sta. Catalina and Guihulngan City, in Negros Oriental, where the spate of killings under Duterte is happening. The late outspoken and courageous Bishop of Bacolod City, Antonio Fortich, said the mass dislocation of civilians at the time was “the biggest evacuation in one place in the country since World War II.”

Aside from the regular companies of the Philippine Constabulary (PC), units of the Scout Rangers, Airborne, were used in the counterinsurgency campaigns, along with vigilante groups such as Pulahan (red), Ituman (black), Putian (white), Way Sapatos (literally, no shoes) and the notorious Alsa Masa (Rise up, masses) that arose in Davao City. Private armies of landlords, hiding under the cloak of Philippine Constabulary Forward Command (PCFC) were also employed in military operations.

Upland farmers in Sta. Catalina town recalled seeing tora-tora planes used in bombing their communities, forest areas, and rivers suspected as NPA encampments. Fr. Empestan also mentioned bombings using helicopter gunships, F5 jet fighters, and howitzers. The communities were eventually declared “no man’s land”, a common practice in those days where anyone on sight was shot at by soldiers. At least seven incidents of massacre were recorded. There were burning of houses and parish churches, arrests, ‘salvaging’ (a term used to refer to what is now known as extrajudicial killings), and disappearances.

In a September 1, 2018 statement, Juanito Magbanua, spokesperson of the Apolinario Gatmaitan Command of the NPA Regional Command, described the current military operations in Negros since early 2018 as reminiscent of Oplan Thunderbolt in the late 80’s—the evacuations, bombings, and the destruction of Negros’ virgin forests.

Cory Aquino’s term ended in 1992 with the revolutionary movement surviving the military assaults. Thus, her successor Fidel Ramos—also the engineer behind her two Oplans—only had to continue the same counterinsurgency program Oplan Lambat Bitag III and IV. Oplan Flush Out was its localized version in Negros. It was during Ramos’ term, however, when the government first recognized the need to combine a “non-militarist” solution to the armed conflict—the pursuance of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, which produced positive results.

A decade later, in 2008, a Negros version of Gloria Arroyo’s nationwide Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) I and II, the Oplan Cut Wedge, attempted yet again to “cut/stop the ability of the NPA to hop from one island to another.” The objective was the same; the mode of military operation was similar.

At least four infantry battalions of the Philippine Army were deployed in Negros, plus a battalion of the Special Elite forces of the Scout Ranger, two division-level reconnaissance companies, plus two companies supervising more than 2,000 CAFGU paramilitary recruits. The fanatic groups such as Pulahan, Ituman, etc. were replaced by two platoons of RPA-ABB (Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Buncayao Brigade). A breakaway group from the NPA in the 1990s, the RPA-ABB (Tabara-Paduano group) has morphed into a paramilitary group, recently “demobilized” but has vowed to fully cooperate with the Duterte regime. At the start, it posed itself as a revolutionary group.

Simultaneous deployment of military units in a community, akin to Oplan Sauron, was already employed during OBL’s implementation.

In Barangay Guihulngan for example, almost two battalions of Philippine Army were deployed. In another village, some 130 troops were stationed for six months, with a division-level reconnaissance unit on standby in a nearby town.

People were interrogated, threatened and charged with trumped-up cases, the latter as part of the “legal offensive” of the Arroyo regime against its perceived enemies. There was massive recruitment of people to join the Barangay Defense System (BDS). Parallel formations were created in an attempt to draw in those who were members of progressive organizations.

Arroyo’s OBL was patterned after the U.S. 2009 Counterinsurgency Guide that has formally included the “whole-of-nation, whole-of-people” strategy purportedly to complement combat operations. The “whole-of-nation” approach would become the thread in the subsequent Oplans up to the Duterte regime’s Oplan Kapayapaan (Peace)/ Kapanatagan (peace/tranquility).

A similar counterinsurgency operation was in place when B.S. Aquino III assumed the presidency in 2010. As it was still patterned after the US Guide, massive troop deployment was again employed in the island. The revolutionary forces counted up to 30 combat companies in Negros.

But while Aquino continued OBL, the regime highlighted the “shift” to “whole-of-nation” approach to conjure an image of a nation united to battle “insurgency”, even calling it Oplan Bayanihan (a collective endeavor Filipinos are known for) and complemented it with a task force composed of so-called civil society stakeholders.

Nada. What was fervently targeted has never been achieved by any of these Oplans. Obviously, every Oplan has only brought more killings and numerous human rights violations.

Still, the current government insists on the same strategy that has failed over five decades under a dictatorship and five successive presidents.

THE MASSES PROPEL THE REVOLUTION

The Philippine government chose to remain blind and deaf through time, ignoring the fact that the strength of the revolutionary forces in Negros, and elsewhere in the country, comes from the exploited and oppressed poor, especially the peasants and workers. It is their best interest that the national democratic revolution— the key democratic content of which is agrarian revolution— uppermost fights for.

It is thus not surprising that the “poor but struggling masses of Negros” propels the revolution.

The masses played a vital role in the recovery and rebuilding of the CPP and the NPA in Negros in the 1990s. “(They) did not allow us to give up and encouraged us to rebuild,” recalled Frank Fernandez, detained peace consultant of the National Democratic Front (NDFP). In an article published by Kodao productions on July 8, 2019, Fernandez recalled, “There was almost no NPA left in Negros in 1994.”

The reason was not because the government’s counterinsurgency’program suceeded but because of the internal weaknesses of the CPP-NPA leadership in the area at the time. Fernandez explained that the movement diverted from the correct line and strategy in the conduct of the people’s war.

(That period of disorientation resulted in the breakaway of former members and led to the formation of the RPA-ABB. In 2000 said group engaged in pseudo-peace talks and signed a peace agreement with the Estrada government in exchange for a hefty amount of money. It continued to deteriorate into a paramilitary group, having been involved in numerous cases of extrajudicial killings, victimizing farmers. It has recently signed another ‘peace agreement’ with the Duterte regime and got another Php 500 million purportedly for social services programs.)

Reaffirming the correct ideological, political and organizational line, the CPP-NPA in Negros has since then fully recovered, with the unstinting support of the masses.

As Frank Fernandez said, “It’s time to repay the masses”.

PEASANT WAR, PEASANT ARMY

Repaying the masses comes in three main forms—implementing agrarian revolution, establishing local organs of political power, and pushing forward the armed struggle.

Juanito Magbanua, the Apolinario Gatmaitan Command spokesperson, cited the successful 17 armed actions of the NPA in Negros in the first eight months of 2018 as proofs of the “NPA’s increasing capability in launching armed struggle that is integrated with agrarian revolution and base building.”

As early as 2016, the Pambansang Kalipunan ng mga Magsasaka (PKM or the National Federation of Peasants) revealed that the revolutionary movement in Negros and Central Visayas have confiscated some 2,000 hectares of land, which benefitted at least a thousand farmers. The confiscation and distribution of lands, mostly idle and abandoned, are part of the agrarian revolution being implemented by the NPA with the PKM.

Comprehensive military-politico training of red commanders and fighters were launched to improve their “fighting skill, political capability, combat discipline, and revolutionary militance,” according to Magbanua. Majority of the trainees were peasants while 15 percent came from the petty-bourgeoisie.

Recognizing the importance of Negros island in the overall development of people’s war, Magbanua said the armed revolutionary movement in Negros must “overcome its weaknesses and rectify its errors in order to help frustrate the US-Duterte regime’s Oplan Kapayapaan and contribute in the national development of the strategic defensive of the people’s war towards a new and higher stage.”

The last time the island command conducted a training was in 2008 when the AFP implemented Oplan Bantay Laya 2 and shortly after, Oplan Bayanihan.

“The people’s army in the island had to make do with politico-military crash courses in the face of sustained search-and-destroy operations of the enemy until 2013, while prioritizing rebuilding work of the revolutionary mass base thereafter,” Magbanua explained.

At the same time, he added, punitive actions against abusive state forces and criminal elements have been meted out.

In the last six months of 2018, the NPA punished 14 landgrabbers, criminal elements, and intelligence assets of the 303rd Brigade responsible for human rights abuses against peasants, including the killing of activists in the legal organizations. These punitive actions have reduced the AFP/PNP’s capability to “inflict further harm upon the people’s lives, rights, and livelihood within and outside the guerrilla areas in the island,” Magbanua said.

Meantime, Dionesio Magbuelas, spokesperson of the NPA Central Negros-Mt. Cansermon Command, reported that Red fighter burned down some 120 million-peso worth of heavy equipment owned by a mining company. The action, he said, was a punishment meted on the firm for the destruction it had caused on the environment and sources of the people’s livelihood in Ayungon, Negros Oriental.

At the height of the attacks against the masses in Negros, the CPP-NPA central leadership issued a call for the NPA to defend the people of Negros. Magbanua claimed the punitive actions were “long overdue” because killings of unarmed civilians continued to escalate.

The CPP has denounced the spate of killings and numerous human rights abuses against civilians as acts of cowardice. State security forces, it noted, turned their guns against unarmed civilians in retaliation and to cover up for their failure to eliminate the revolutionary forces in the region.

Tempered in fighting one armed counter-revolutionary campaign after another—from the Marcos-era martial rule, through Operation Thunderbolt, and the more recent Oplan Bayanihan that deployed at least 30 combat companies in the island—the NPA in Negros has vowed unwaveringly to defend the masses against the intensifying militarization and fascist attacks of the Duterte regime. ###

#PeasantMonth
#ServeThePeople
#JoinTheNPA

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JOVITO S. PALPARAN Jr., “THE BUTCHER”: Contemptuous of Right to Life and Justice

in Countercurrent
by Angel Balen

He is gaunt and awkward in physical bearing, lisping in speech, unimpressive for a military officer.

Yet, on his 56th birthday on September 14, 2006, Jovito Palparan Jr. ended 34 years of service in the Philippine Army with the rank of Major General and a hoard of military medals (ranging from bronze to gold).

His shining moment came in July 2006, during President Gloria Arroyo’s state-of-the-nation address before the joint session of Congress: she called on him to stand up in the gallery and gushingly hailed him as her favorite general.

But in the hearts and minds of the informed public, Palparan has been a truly detestable public figure.

When Gloria Arroyo lavishly praised him, the human rights community—national and international—was outraged. Long before that inglorious day, human rights defenders had been roundly condemning him. They excoriated him for his brutal counterinsurgency methods: killing, abducting and torturing mass leaders and activists—noncombatants all—from 2001 to 2006.

A presidential investigating commission on the killings, created in 2006, noted in its report that “there was a rise in the extrajudicial killings of activists and militants between 2001 and 2006, as compared to a similar period prior thereto.” The killings followed a pattern, wherein “victims were generally unarmed, alone, or in small groups and were gunned down by two or more masked or hooded assailants oftentimes riding motorcycles.”

The commission’s head emphasized: “It is undisputed that the killings subject of the investigation of our Commission did not occur during military engagement or firefights. These were assassinations or ambush-type killings, professional hits carrying one out quickly and in the silence escaping with impunity.”

The killings were verified to have risen fast in the three regions of the country to which Palparan had been assigned (Southern Tagalog, Eastern Visayas, and Central Luzon).

The gory operations he started in the Southern Tagalog region, particularly in Mindoro, were topped by the brutal abduction and murder of human rights defender Eden Marcellana and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy in April 2003. Investigations by the House of Representatives human rights committee resulted in the identification by witnesses of Palparan’s long-trusted executioner, MSgt. Donald Caigas, as the one who led the perpetrators.

It was in Southern Tagalog that Palparan earned the derisive monicker, “The Butcher.” And he seemed to have derived supreme pride for being called that, as the star performer in human rights violations under the Arroyo regime’s two-phased counterinsurgency program, Oplans Bantay Laya I and II.

Anti-communist viciousness

“Kagyat na panagutin sa iba’t ibang larangan ang mga may pananagutan sa taong-bayan at lansagin ang mga salik na nagbubunsod ng kawalang katarungan.”
Liga ng mga Manananggol para sa Bayan (LUMABAN)

But inevitably the time of reckoning for Palparan’s crimes had to come. And it came on September 17, 2018—12 years after he retired from military service.

On that date, the Malolos Regional Trial Court Branch 15, presided over by Judge Alexander Tamayo, convicted Palparan for just one of the numerous crimes attributed to him: kidnapping with serious illegal detention (with torture) and disappearance in June 2006 of former University of the Philippines students, Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño. He was sentenced (along with two other Philippine Army officers) to a prison term of 20 to 40 years.

Palparan’s behavior, before and after the reading of the verdict, starkly provided a peak into what sort of a person he is.

Apparently, he is basically a coward. But he covers up such weakness with arrogance and belligerence.

Take, for instance, how he was brought in and out of the courtroom on that day he was convicted, as he was in every hearing of the case over four years. From the Philippine Army headquarter’s detention area (where he presumably enjoyed a sense of security), he would put on a military helmet, surrounded by a phalanx of soldiers bodily shielding him upon arrival at the courthouse.

Inside the court, while waiting for the judge to come out, he feigned self-confidence as he told a news reporter who queried him, “After this, we walk as free men. We are not guilty.”

After the court verdict was read, however, Palparan instantly transformed himself into a boor. He yelled at the judge, “Duwag ka, judge! Duwag ka, tarantado! (You’re a coward, judge! You’re a coward, jerk!).“And when the judge warned he might be cited for contempt, he shot back, “It doesn’t matter anymore. We’re going to prison anyway.”

It took quite a time before “The Butcher” was finally charged in court and put on trial.

In 2007, under strong public pressure, President Arroyo formed a commission to investigate the more than 100 cases of extrajudicial killings that occurred under her watch. Retired Supreme Court Justice Jose A.R. Melo headed the body (thus, it was called the Melo Commission). In its 89-page report, the commission pointedly recommended Palparan’s prosecution. But nothing happened.

Meantime, the mothers of Sherlyn and Karen painstakingly sought recourse through petitions of habeas corpus filed with the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. Their efforts paid off. Aided by human rights lawyers, the mothers—Erlinda T. Cadapan and Concepcion E. Empeño—filed a complaint against Palparan and his military cohorts in May 2011.

When the preliminary hearings on the case began, Palparan tried to slip out of the country but he was stopped at the airport. After he was indicted in December 2011 he went into hiding to evade arrest. Only after he was arrested in August 2014 did the trial proceed, with many interruptions at the instance of Palparan’s lawyers.

The Butcher is now confined at the National Penitentiary (Bilibid Prison) in Muntinlupa City, among other maximum-security convicted criminal inmates. His lawyers have filed an appeal for reconsideration of the court’s verdict.

The basis of the appeal is quintessentially Palparan’s vicious anti-communist line. It asks the court to review its “erroneous appreciation of the written statement and testimonies of the [key] witness, Raymond Manalo, who is under the protection and support of the Communist Party of the Philippines.”

It was during his deployment as Army unit commander against the New People’s Army (NPA), after an eight-year assignment in Sulu to fight against the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), that Palparan consistently built up and demonstrated his utter ideological, anti-communist viciousness.

As he was promoted to higher ranks, Palparan turned more arrogant, self-righteous, bigoted, and fascistic.

His viciousness was manifested in a stream of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and massacres mostly victimizing noncombatant activists and civilians—as affirmed in the report of the Melo Commission. Its investigation focused on 136 incidences of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) previously verified as true by the Philippine National Police’s Task Force Usig, another probe body created by Arroyo.

At the National Consultative Summit on Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances, initiated by then Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno in July 2007, Justice Melo made a brief oral presentation of the commission’s report. He quoted some of Palparan’s statements to the media that more than tended to acknowledge or confirm his role in the spate of EJKs.
Among those statements are the following:

“I want communism totally erased—to wage the ongoing counterinsurgency by neutralizing not just the armed rebels but also a wealth of front organizations that include leftist political parties, human rights and women’s organizations, even lawyers, and members of the clergy.”

“My order to my soldiers is that if they are certain that there are armed rebels in the house or yard, ‘Shoot them!’ It will just be too bad if plain civilians are killed in the process. We are sorry if you are killed in the crossfire.”

“Would there be some collateral damage [once the soldiers shoot]… But it will be short and tolerable. They [referring to critics of his methods] blow it up as massive violations of human rights, but to me it would just be necessary incidents. Sori na lang kung may mapatay na sibilyan (it’s just too bad if civilians are killed). The death of civilians and local officials were small sacrifices brought about by the military anti-insurgency [campaign operations].”

On the extrajudicial killings in the areas he was assigned as field commander, Palparan was more voluble and cocky. Here are some of his statements that Melo cited:

“They [EJKs] cannot be completely stopped. I would say they are necessary incidents in a conflict because they [the targeted victims] are violent. It’s not necessary that the military alone should be blamed. We are armed, of course, and are trained to confront and control violence. But other people whose lives are affected in these areas are participating [in the armed conflict].”

“The killings are being attributed to me. But I did not kill them. I just inspired the triggerman.”

“I am responsible, relatively perhaps… But in the course of our campaign, I could have encouraged people to do that—so maaaring may responsibility ako doon (so maybe I am responsible). I don’t want that aspect, but how could I prevent it? We are engaged in this conflict. All of my actuations have been designed to defeat the enemy. And in doing so, others might have been encouraged by my actions.

“Whoever it is, who could have been encouraged by my actions and actuations in the course of my campaign [against] whoever they are. That is why I say relatively. If these are soldiers, maybe then I could have been remiss in that aspect. But we are doing our best to keep our soldiers within our mandate.”

As regards the progressive party-list organizations that had won seats in the House of Representatives, whose members had become EJK victims since 2001, Melo quoted Palparan as having said the following:

“A lot of the members are actually involved in atrocities and crimes… Even though they are in government as party-list representatives, no matter what appearance they take, they still are enemies of the state.

“The party-list members of Congress are doing peace to further the revolution of the communist movement. I wish they are not here.”

“We can draw our own conclusions from these statements,” Melo told the participants in the Supreme Court-initiated consultative summit.

He pointed out that all of the victims of the 136 EJK incidents were activists, were “generally unarmed, alone, or in small groups and were gunned down by two or more masked or hooded assailants oftentimes riding motorcycles.” The assailants, he added, “surprise the victims in public places or their homes and make quick getaways.”

Also, “it is of note that the military in general called the victims as enemies of the state who deserved to be neutralized, according to the testimony given to us,” Melo added.

(Significantly, the Malolos RTC Branch 15 decision convicting Palparan also states: “Clearly, General Palparan was one [with others] in the desire to stamp out the enemies of the state, like Karen and Sherlyn, who they believed deserved to be erased from the face of the earth at any cost.”)

The investigation also established that “the PNP had not made much headway in solving the killings,” Melo said. Only 37 cases had been forwarded to the proper prosecutor’s office.

Also speaking for the House of Representatives at the National Consultative Summit in July 2007, then Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. commended the Melo Commission Report as “complete, comprehensive and fair… and forthright in its conclusions and recommendations.”

He noted that the Melo Report says, “the signs are abundant and cannot be ignored that General Palparan had actively encouraged the men under him, in at least three areas he was assigned as field commander, to ‘neutralize’ activists tagged as ‘enemies of the state.’ ” This is a category [“enemies of the state”] that “does not exist in law, conventions of warfare or articles of war,” said Locsin, who is a lawyer-journalist.

On this point, the Melo Report concluded: “By declaring persons enemies of the state, and in effect, adjudging them guilty of crimes, these persons have arrogated unto themselves the powers of the courts and of the Executive branch of government.”

“To be sure,” Locsin pointed out, (Palparan) denied ordering any killings but granted that he may have inspired the triggerman. Congress [through its Commission on Appointments] reacted swiftly confirming his promotion in time for his long-awaited retirement,” he added wryly.

“The Melo Commission pointedly recommends General Palparan’s prosecution on command responsibility: either for not stopping his men from carrying out the killings or for encouraging a climate conducive to the commission of these crimes by security agents,” the congressman noted, and he agreed with it.

And for good measure, Locsin shared that, through his questioning during a House of Representatives public hearing on the EJKs, “Palparan would not categorically deny that under his command there are special teams operating at night, wearing bonnets, or masks, with the apparent mission of extrajudicial elimination of so-called enemies of the state.”

By these accounts of Palparan’s offhand statements or replies to questions, both from the media or congressional investigations, he is totally capable of incriminating himself, whether unwittingly or wittingly—and braggingly at that! On the The Butcher’s “would-not-categorically-deny” stance, Locsin mischievously remarked, “Apparently, he feared the prospect of being charged with perjury rather than murder.”

In Duterte’s rein as the commander in chief of the AFP, Palparan would have been his perfect collaborator, joining the other Gloria Arroyo generals Hermogenes Esperon of the National Security Council and Eduardo Año of the Interior and Local Government.

Duterte is president and commander-in-chief and Palparan a mere pawn in the chain of command but, both feel they are gods in their own right, gods spawned by a debased system of class divisions.

Both Duterte and Palparan have intense abhorrence of communists and desperately dream of crushing the national democratic revolution. Both would dismiss the call for peace as a way to further the revolution. Palparan would readily smell blood (and be nourished by it) from Duterte’s order to neutralize not only armed rebels, but also activists, supporters, and “would-be rebels”. Both would arrogantly ramble of claiming full responsibility which inspire and spur killings and violence unmindful of innocent victims they dismiss as collateral damage.

Duterte may have outshone Palparan with his boorish, misogynistic remarks and acts against women as well as with his blasphemous tirades of God. But like Palparan, Duterte will suffer the same ignominious fate when the people’s wrath and justice catch up with him.

NDFP Peace Consultants as Desaparecidos

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The reactionary governments, through their state security forces, resort to abduction and enforced disappearance to silence those who openly oppose and criticize their oppressive and repressive policies and pose a threat to their rule.

Among the thousands of victims of enforced disappearance in the Philippines under various regimes were the National Democratic Front peace consultants who were abducted when the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime stalled the peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). This was also part of then Arroyo regime’s implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2.

The abduction and disappearance of the NDFP peace consultants violated the GRP-NDFP Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).

Victims’ relatives filed writ of habeas corpus with the courts and lodged complaints with the Commission on Human Rights but nothing came out of these. Witnesses were afraid or threatened. Nobody was held accountable. Perpetrators were even rewarded with promotions. The culture of impunity persisted.
The GRP has yet to face responsibility for these cases of abduction and enforced disappearances and other human rights violations.

Enforced disappearance is not only ferocious, but also most excruciating for the victims’ relatives. Through the years, they have hoped and waited for their loved ones to surface, although deep inside they knew they were hoping against hope. The loss of their loved ones was difficult to accept. But as their hopes never dim, so does their fortitude to stand up for what their loved ones had fought for. ###

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