The politics of repression in the Philippines

By Prof. Jose Maria Sison
NDFP Chief Political Consultant

The Hague,The Netherlands
31 October 2009

I thank the International Committee Against Disappearances, IBON Europe and the Filipino Refugees in the Netherlands for inviting me to give a brief background on the politics of repression in the Philippines.

It is an honor and privilege for me to speak on the same occasion with Edith Burgos and Jayel Burgos, whose beloved Jonas Burgos has been a victim of forced disappearance by the military forces of the Arroyo regime.

I have always admired the late Jose Burgos and his entire family for their high sense of patriotism and devotion to democracy. I am happy to provide the general historical, socio-economic and political background to Edith's presentation of the current human rights situation in the Philippines and Jayel's of the Free Jonas Movement.

History of Repression and Exploitation in the Philippines

The Filipino people have long suffered a history of repression and exploitation. They went through more than three centuries of colonial rule by Spain, from the 16th to the 19th century. After they won national independence in 1898, the US unleashed an imperialist war of aggression to conquer the Philippines. It imposed a new colonial rule and laid out a semifeudal economy. In 1946 it established a puppet state to rule the current semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system.

Those who have wielded political power in several stages of Philippines history have repressed the Filipino people not merely for the pleasure of intimidating, imprisoning, torturing and killing people but for such coldblooded reasons as the accumulation of private wealth through exploitation and all the social and cultural gratifications that wealth brings.

Spanish colonialism reached the Philippines initially in search of gold and spices. It was on a long term pursuit of sheer plunder upon the impulse of European mercantile capitalism. In addition to the dispossession and proletarianization of the peasants of Europe, colonialism was a major method of the primitive accumulation of capital. The Spanish colonizers employed divide and rule tactics and repressed the Filipino people in order to maintain a colonial and feudal system.

The most brutal forms of suppression were applied on the people who opposed the system or any its aspects. Even when blood was not being shed, exploitation was a daily and more widespread form of violence to people who were required to render forced labor, pay feudal rent and give religious tribute. Ultimately, the Filipino people developed a national consciousness and a revolutionary unity of purpose, fought for national independence and won the first bourgeois democratic revolution of the old type in the whole of Asia.

Unfortunately, the US intervened and launched a war of aggression against the Filipino people. It killed 1.5 million Filipinos from 1899 to 1913 in order to impose a colonial and semifeudal system on the Philippines. The new colonial system of US monopoly capitalism involved a method of exploitation in which direct and indirect investments were made by US banks and corporations on a limited number of modern enterprises in order to facilitate the export of raw materials and the extraction of superprofits.

In the entire period of direct colonial rule, the US adopted and implemented repressive policies against the growing working class, against the peasant masses who demanded land reform and against the entire Filipino people who clamored for genuine, immediate and full independence. The US imperialists and their local reactionary allies became more repressive as the Communist Party, the revolutionary party of the working classes, emerged in 1930 and challenged the ruling system.

Another imperialist power, that of Japan, took over the Philippines from 1942 to 1945 and exacted a toll of one million deaths on the Filipinos in barbarous acts of repression. At the same time, the conditions of World War II and the Japanese occupation gave rise to the armed revolutionary movement of the people led by the merger party of the Communist and Socialist parties in certain regions.

In reconquering the Philippines from Japan, the US wrought heavy destruction on Filipino lives and property. Soon after landing troops on Philippine soil in late 1944, it sought to destroy the revolutionary forces of the people that had run ahead in liberating Central Luzon. At any rate, the revolutionary forces and people held on to their arms and demanded national liberation and democracy for the Philippines.

Repression Under the Semicolonial and Semifeudal System

The US granted a bogus kind of independence to the Philippines and established a puppet state in 1946. Since then, the Philippines has been a semicolonial and semifeudal country. The US conceded to the politicians and bureaucrats of the big compradors and landlords the responsibility for national administration. But it retained its dominant economic and military power as well as political and cultural sway through unequal treaties, agreements and arrangements.

The US has continued to rule the Philippines but this time indirectly through the local reactionary classes. Factions of the political representatives of these classes have taken turns in administering the puppet republic at first through the duopoly of the Liberal and Nacionalista parties from 1945 to 1972, then through the monopoly of political power by the fascist party, Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, from 1972 to 1986 and currently through the multiplicity of reactionary parties and coalitions.

Whichever of these parties has taken the reins of national administration, it has been subservient to the interests of US monopoly capitalism and the local exploiting classes. It goes to any length to repress the patriotic and progressive forces and mass movement of the people for national liberation and democracy. It collaborates closely with the US in undertaking repression.

The US has the biggest interest and the most decisive say in the policy-making and planning of repression in the Philippines. It provides indoctrination, strategic direction, officer training and military equipment to the apparatuses of repression. The military and police forces are beholden to the US. Up to 1992, they were controlled by the US military forces in huge US military bases that existed in the Philippines.

Even after their military bases were dismantled in 1992, the US military forces have continued to control the forces of repression in the Philippines. They have done so from their military bases in Japan, South Korea, Guam and Australia. They cover the Philippines with satellites, air patrols and naval patrols. They control the Philippine radar and sonar system. They have military stations in Philippine military camps as well as advisors, trainors, assets and units embedded in Philippine military and police offices and units.

The US used the regimes of Roxas, Quirino and Magsaysay to attack and destroy the revolutionary forces of the Filipino people within the period of 1946 to 1957. The backbone of the armed revolutionary movement was strategically broken in the years of 1950 to 1952, with more than 10,000 mass activists and cadres tortured and murdered by the military. As this movement subsided, the US and the local reactionaries became even more repressive and enacted the Anti-Subversion Law in 1957 in order to destroy any remnant, extension or successor of the old merger party of the Communist and Socialist parties.

However, the chronic crisis of the Philippine ruling system continued to worsen during the regimes of Garcia, Macapagal and Marcos within the period of 1957 to the end of the 1960s. The proletarian revolutionaries revived the anti-imperialist and anti-feudal mass movement among the workers, peasants and the youth. The puppet regimes tried to suppress the mass movement. Instead, this grew in strength and led to the founding of the new Communist Party of the Philippines in 1968 and the New People's Army in 1969.

Under the instigation of the US, the Marcos regime decided to declare martial law and impose a fascist dictatorship on the Philippines in 1972 in the vain hope of destroying the CPP and NPA. In fourteen years from 1972 to 1986, the military and police arbitrarily arrested and detained hundreds of thousands of people, tortured more than a hundred thousand, murdered tens of thousands of people and displaced more than 5 million people.

In the human rights case against Marcos in the US court system, nearly 10,000 cases of disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings were documented and proven. But justice and indemnification for the victims of human rights violations have been elusive in the Philippines. Not a single military or police officer has been punished for any of the human rights violations.

The US and the local reactionaries have maintained the system of impunity for the perpetrators of repression, from the level of Marcos to the master sergeant in the army. They decided in 1986 to drop Marcos and stop the blatant autocracy only because he had failed to suppress the revolutionary movement and also because he put the entire system at risk by having his political rival Aquino assassinated in 1983.

Further, they made sure that the post-Marcos regimes would continue the repression of the Filipino people even without martial law in order to maintain the system of exploitation by the multinational banks and firms and the local big compradors and landlords. The apparatuses of repression and their officers remained intact and continued to engage in human rights violations against the people, the legal democratic forces and the revolutionary forces.

The widow of Aquino became the president and put up a liberal democratic facade to her reactionary regime. After consolidating her ruling position and pretending to seek a peace agreement with the revolutionary movement, she unsheathed the sword of war and repression under Oplan Lambat Bitag and under the US-dictated doctrine of low intensity conflict against the revolutionary forces and the people. The subsequent regimes of Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo would have their respective national operational plans and also seek to suppress the revolutionary movement despite short periods of lip service to the need for peace negotiations.

What we are confronted with today in the Philippines under the Arroyo regime is state terrorism under Oplan Bantay Laya inspired by the US global war of terror and backed up by increased US military supplies and by the permanent deployment of US interventionist troops under the Visiting Forces Agreement. The US and the local reactionaries in the Philippines make the pretense of combating terrorism but they are in fact the ones perpetrating terrorism through the gross and systematic violation of human rights.

Oplan Bantay Laya has involved 1,093 documented cases of extrajudicial killings, 209 of forced disappearances, hundreds of those detained on trumped up charges, more than a thousand victims of torture, and hundreds of thousands of victims of forced evacuation. The reactionary military forces are escalating their gross and systematic violation of human rights as they follow the impossible order of the Arroyo regime to destroy or reduce the armed revolutionary movement to inconsequentiality before June 2010.

The Arroyo regime has become notorious throughout the world for the abduction, torture and extrajudicial killing of unarmed social activists, including workers, peasants, women, youth, priests and pastors, human rights advocates and journalists. The violators of human rights set up their victims by making false charges of terrorism, rebellion and murder and putting them on the list of the enemies of the state or the order of battle. Then the abductions, torture and extrajudicial killings follow.

Still further the psywar machinery of the reactionary armed forces spreads lies that the victims have committed offenses against the revolutionary movement and have therefore been victimized by their own comrades. The level of criminal cunning and malice of the perpetrators of human rights violations under the Arroyo regime surpasses that under the Marcos fascist dictatorship.

Further Repression in Prospect and Need for International Solidarity

The current crisis of the world capitalist system is the worst since the Great Depression, It will continue to worsen in the years to come because the imperialist powers are not solving it but are aggravating it by using public money to bail out the big banks and corporations and raise profits on their balance sheets and not to revive the economy and increase employment. The imperialist powers and their puppets are promoting chauvinism, racism and fascism and are increasingly using state repression and unleashing wars of aggression in order to overcome the resistance of peoples and national liberation movements.

The crisis of the Philippine ruling system will continue to worsen due to its internal weaknesses and the global economic crisis. For decades, the US-directed policy of neoliberal globalization has further aggravated and deepened the underdeveloped pre-industrial and agrarian character of the Philippine economy. The demand for Philippine raw-material and semi-manufactured exports has gone down. Debt service is increasing and yet new credit is decreasing.

Social discontent is widespread and intense among the toiling masses of workers and peasants and the middle social stratra due to the rising mass unemployment, the sinking real incomes, the soaring prices of basic commodities and services, the growing tax burden, the lack or inadequacy of social services and other socio-economic problems. The rulers in the Philippines do not solve these problems but increasingly unleash violence to suppress the people's protests and demands for respect for their rights and improvement of their social conditions.

The US and the local reactionaries are shifting the burden of crisis to the working people. As they exploit the people more, they repress the people more as they seek to preempt or stop resistance. The broad masses of the Filipino people are capable of fighting for their rights and interests. But they also need the solidarity and support of the people of the world to fight the imperialist powers most effectively.

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