On March 23rd, Sabina Ariola, the leader of "Citizens for Excellence, Progress, Peace towards the Country's Great Future," was gunned down. She is the 992nd civilian to be killed in the ongoing spree of extra-judicial killings that have been occurring since 2001, when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo assumed the presidency. Another particularly despicable killing that occurred in March was that of Rebelyn Pitao, a 20 year old teacher in Davao, southern Philippines. She was tortured, raped, strangled and stabbed according to Alan Davis of the Philippine Human Rights Recording Project.
The apparent reason was "guilt" by association as her father is Leoncio Pitao, a leader in the local New Peoples Army contingent in Mindanao. All of these murders demand justice, but the Rebelyn Pitao case screams it. At the same time, Kaeapatan, the Philippines leading human rights organization, reports that politically motivated killings are up during the first three months of this year. Two in January, seven in February and seven more in March have occurred.
Aside from the 992 extra-judicial killings, there are 193 people who have disappeared under the Arroyo administration. In observing and following news out of the Philippines, one cannot help but be reminded of Pinochet's Chile due to the overall situation.
Among the targets for the slaughter, journalists and media people have been a constant target, along with clergy people, labor leaders, advocates for the poor, those challenging foreign ownership and control of Philippine mines, farmers and fishermen. Under the Arroyo administration (since 2001), a number of children have also been killed, as well as 64 journalists or media people, both men and women.
This noted, the Committee to Protect Journalists, A New York based advocate organization, ranks the Philippines 6th amongst the 14 most dangerous countries for journalists. (The rankings are 1-Iraq, 2-Sierra Leone, 3-Somalia, 4-Sri Lanka, 5-Columbia ,6-Philippines, 7-Afghanistan, 8-Nepal, 9-Russia ,10-Pakistan, 11-Mexico ,12-Bangladesh, 13-Brazil and 14-India.)
Meanwhile, the U.S. has controlled Philippine politics, its military and most of its resources since Theodore Roosevelt's presidency. At the same time, many of the individuals targeted for assassination, disappearance or harassment have been victimized solely for openly speaking out against colonialism and exploitation.
Moreover, the U.S. has indirect influence and a significant amount of control over Filipino affairs through its funding, arming and training of the Philippine military and its national police. Indeed, the U.S. has been training the Philippine military (AFP) for decades through its International Military Education and Training program or IMET and its Joint Combined Exchange Training program or JCET.
These programs have been used with some success in the "war on terror." Yet as I wrote in a report a couple of years ago , the U.S. war on terror in the Philippines has become a war of terror against the Philippine people. On account, I encourage Americans, Filipinos and all others of good will to voice their opinions and concerns about this grave matter. Similarly, I recommend that they demand a cessation of all military aid, training and funding by the U.S. government until Philippine and U.S. government representatives, along with independent human rights observers, can verify that Philippine civilians, all of them, are safe, free to pursue their dreams and have justice without the sorts of outrageous assaults that they, currently, confront.
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1. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
2. President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW