A Philippine Shame

gma565830.pngManila is doing too little to stop the unchecked killings of the country’s activists

By Andrew Marshall – Ruby Sison is waiting for someone to kill her. I met Sison a few months ago at a cemetery in Kidapawan, a town on the lawless Philippine island of Mindanao. We were paying our respects to the activists and journalists George and Maricel Vigo, who were shot dead in June in broad daylight by motorbike-riding assassins while returning home to their five children. The killers were still at large, and local reporters were braving multiple death threats by keeping the Vigo murders in the news. A friend and left-wing activist, Sison had heard that a hit man had already received a down payment to kill her. “The rest will be paid when I’m dead,” she told me.

Sison, I’m relieved to say, is still alive. But the slaughter of reporters, leftists, lawyers, labor leaders, priests, students and human-rights workers in the Philippines continues with a fury that recalls the darkest days of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. Nearly 800 such people have been killed since President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took power in 2001, reports the local human-rights group Karapatan, while Amnesty International recorded 51 cases of what it calls “political killings” in the first six months of this year, compared with 66 in all of 2005. When it comes to journalists—46 have been killed on Arroyo’s watch—the murder rate is second only to Iraq’s. Last week seven major U.S. companies with operations in the Philippines, including Wal-Mart and Gap, were moved to write a letter urging Arroyo to protect workers, especially union members, at their local subcontractors.

Most victims are left-wing activists, whom senior government and military officials have publicly labeled “enemies of the state” for their alleged links to the outlawed New People’s Army (N.P.A.), a communist rebel group that has fought the government in Manila for nearly four decades. This practice of “red-labeling,” says Amnesty, sends a tacit signal to the Philippine military and other security forces—which many Filipinos believe are behind the killings—that murdering political opponents is O.K.

Military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon has angrily denied any military involvement in the killings. He blames them on “internal purges” in the N.P.A., which indeed murdered hundreds of its own people in the 1980s. Yet there is much to incriminate Esperon’s men. Last week it emerged that a suspected member of one hit squad, which killed campaigning Methodist pastor Isaias Santa Rosa in August, carried army identification and orders for a “secret mission” from army intelligence. (The papers were discovered on the hit man after he himself was killed, apparently by friendly fire.) Before his murder by two unidentified men last year, left-wing activist Edison Lapuz told friends he was under military surveillance. And journalist George Vigo, before his death, heard from an intelligence source that his name was on an “OB” or “order of battle.” OBs are widely believed by activists to be code for hit lists; the military denies such orders exist.


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