THE TOOLS OF DEATH SQUAD DEMOCRACY
by Roland G. Simbulan
(Book Review of OPLAN BANTAY LAYA: THE U.S.-ARROYO CAMPAIGN OF TERROR AND COUNTERINSURGENCY IN THE PHILIPPINES,Balay Internasyunal, U.P. Diliman, July 29, 2010)
Ibon Foundation has published a book that explores the deadly tools of our death squad democracy. The ingredients and elements of a classic Third World country are there : A selfish, pro-Western oligarchy that has almost complete control and influence over state power and institutions. Weak and compromised government institutions that cannot render real justice to the weak, and where we see institutionalized impunity to human rights, corruption and abuse of power. Lack of basic social services or even decent social security net. An economic and political system that basically preserves the power and dominance of the local elite and their foreign corporate counterparts in tapping the natural and human resources of a rich country with a predominantly poor majority.
This book examines how this situation is preserved despite people's resistance and struggles for a better life. It examines the emergence of the U.S.-inspired Oplan Bantay Laya (1 & 2) during the Arroyo administration. This counter-insurgency program was used to combat people's opposition not only to the detested Arroyo administration, but also to combat revolutionary nationalism challenging U.S. interests in the country.
The book tries to provide answers to key questions like:
This book tries to fill in these gaps.
The four major parts of the book: Oplan Bantay Laya, U.S. Counter-Insurgency Strategy, Impacts and Implications, and Unfinished Agenda, all weave together a tightly-knit reference on what is in fact a country case study of another failed counter-insurgency strategy and its impact on the Philippines.
If you have watched Christopher Nolan's latest film, "Inception", you will find that "almost every dream is like a nightmare and you wake up just when you are killed or fatally shot in your dream." Oplan Bantay Laya is not the only nightmare. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Norberto Gonzales, Jovito Palparan, et al are also part of the nightmare that devastated our nation for the past nine years, causing untold bloodletting and damage to the life, liberty and safety of our people.
The canvas on which the various authors in this book paint their chapters is splattered with the trail of blood and sickening horror of the extra-judicial and disappeared victims of Oplan Bantay Laya, the latest failed but nevertheless, deadly counterinsurgency campaign to inflict our people.
A major contribution of this book is that it firmly establishes the U.S. role in OBL, that is, as part of the U.S. strategy of suppressing revolutionary nationalism and insurgency. It investigates the tentacles of imperial America in directing, advising the political assassination of progressive mass leaders and their sympathizers whose only crime is to work for meaningful social reforms in our society.
Though there is a lot of government rhetoric and even a written blueprint for counterinsurgency to focus on socioeconomic measures to address poverty that is at the root of the armed insurgency and conflict, on the ground, the battlefield approach is still the dominant approach. The Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and the paramilitaries are still the main agencies for counterinsurgency pursuing military objectives. The killings of unarmed social movement leaders, members and sympathizers can only exacerbate the conflict and further feed the flames of armed insurgency.
After Sept. 11, 2001, with the U.S. already thinly spread out in its direct military invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, Oplan Bantay Laya emerges as the alternative strategy to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives in the Philippines. The local insurgency and the Muslim secessionist struggle - long in existence since the late 60s - are transformed into a " war on terror". The Pentagon bankrolls a Philippine Defense Reform Program where it directs the entire counterinsurgency program and structure of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which now includes Bantay Laya.
Multi-dimensional but essentially political/ psychological in nature, Oplan Bantay Laya or OBL disguised U.S. intervention and covert operations in targeted areas in the country by introducing USAID- funded piece-meal community services, disaster relief and infrastructure, while selectively assassinating local activists and leaders. The tools in this counterinsurgency kit - now also used widely in Iraq and Afghanistan -- include a combination of community/social programs, but it also includes their "special ops " which is to strip out mid-level leaders and coordinators of militant mass movements whom they believe are part of the "political infrastructure" of the armed insurgency.
The public is also targeted by psychological operations to achieve support and demonize targeted sectors. However, the role of Fr. Romeo "Archie" Intengan's indoctrination of soldiers to eliminate all communists, and the Norberto Gonzales - Palparan tandem in the creation of "privatized" anti-communist death squads with the tolerance and support of the AFP/PNP, need to be further explored.
But counterinsurgency campaigns of terror that target unarmed people's advocates can only further radicalize--not terrorize -- the people as is the intention, especially those in the rural areas. The command structure of the military, police and security forces are themselves guilty of these dastardly activities, when they tolerate and encourage these crimes, and where no one is arrested or prosecuted. Police and meticulous detective work, as well as the preservation of vital evidence is necessary for the prosecution of those responsible.
I would have wanted to see included in this book an analyis of the U.S. Special Forces Counter-insurgency Manual which is one of the classified Pentagon documents leaked to WikiLeaks.com It has the title, FOREIGN INTERNAL DEFENSE TACTICS, TECHNIQUES AND PROCEDURES FOR SPECIAL FORCES (1994, 2004 ). What is very revealing is that the manual refers to itself as about, " what the U.S. learned about using death squads and propping up corrupt governments in Latin America and how to apply it in other places." The template and model that the manual uses is El Salvador where killings and torturing were done by the U.S.-backed army and right wing death squads affiliated with it, until the paramilitaries themselves got out of hand that they raped even American missionary nuns who were stopped at a checkpoint, causing massive outrage in the United States. According to a 2001 report of Amnesty International, many U.S. -backed right wing governments through their military and paramilitary death squads " committed extra-judical executions, other unlawful killings, disappearances and torture", and obviously with the advise and direction of U.S. military advisers.
A whole gamut of agreements keep the AFP (and even the PNP) under the thumb of the United States: the Mutual Defense Treaty, the Military Assistance Agreement, the Visiting Forces Agreement, the Mutual Logistics and Support Agreement, the Security Engagement Board Agreement. The book takes and hard look at the tentacles of Imperial America and the mechanisms of U.S. influence and control from the JUSMAG and the USAID projects concentrated in areas of unrest most contested by insurgency and the Muslim rebellion. Today, an entire contingent of 600 U.S. Special Operations Forces composed of elite SEALS and Ranger Teams provide direction, advise, training, intelligence and even surgical combat operations to many of the AFP's front-line battalions all over the country.
The selection of so-called "quality targets" who are identified for political assassination, abduction, and disappearances can only rely heavily on battlefield intelligence and order of battle lists. This has been upgraded with CIA up-country advisers and U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) technicians who assist to improve the record-keeping ability of the Philippine armed and intelligence services through the provision of special computers.This monitors, records and classifies the rivers of digitized intelligence information that flow throughout the country.
This book outlines the nature of OBL and its different forms, and identifies the local and foreign "agencies" that actually implement it in both lethal and "non-lethal" forms. It studies the emergence and evolution of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine and argues that it is also very much operative in the Philippines. In so doing, it argues that counterinsurgency programs such as the OBL are not intentionally formulated and applied for the Philippines alone, but other places as well. The dirty wars in Latin America launched by military dictators whose armies were trained and armed by the Pentagon and CIA to suppress progressive movements, and the Operation Phoenix in Vietnam which liquidated as many as 40,000 unarmed suspects in the political infrastructure of the South Vietnam National Liberation Front, to the US training of the Indonesian Kopassus (Army Special Forces Command) which abducted and killed many Indonesian farmers, workers and intellectuals during the Suharto military dictatorship -- all testify that other places besides the Philippines had been testing grounds for this counterinsurgency doctrine -- perhaps with other names.
Counterinsurgency doctrine simultaneously evolved in different locations as a product of similar factors as the various U.S. administrations groped for ways of combating revolutionary nationalism (both Islamic, Marxist and secular), in the Third World. During the Arroyo administration, OBL and U.S. counterinsurgency strategy gained cohesion over time with the recognition and acceptance that its seemingly unrelated components constitute a political / psychological strategy for achieving U.S. objectives. But what about the role of other U.S. allies like Australia and Israel, among others, whose intelligence operatives and special forces are also now actively involved in honing and assisting in local counterinsurgency operations?
OBL was eventually elevated to the status of a de facto national security strategy by the Arroyo administration, which in attempting to justify its illegal stay in power, gave this strategy an overt profile with ideological cohesion and rationale provided by such rabid clerico-fascists like Fr. Archie Intengan and his disciple Norberto Gonzales. In this sense, the Arroyo administration was itself an expression of OBL. For this Arroyo will be remembered as as extrajudicial killer as expressed by OBL-- distinctly stamping our own brand of death squad democracy.
The Alston recommendations found in the U.N. Special Report on Extrajudicial Killings are specific enough. But scrapping the OBL could just produce another counterinsurgency strategy clone with another name as they have done before.
I have always believed that the state can either be a very repressive apparatus that can cause so much misery and suffering to the people, or, if redirected, it can be placed in the hands of an enlightened people to serve its ends and national interests, and to achieve a higher quality of life.
There is the need to resist repression. But, how do we make our government and armed forces work for us instead of being our oppressors and enemies? Transparency and accountability in government are necessary to monitor and check abuses, as well as to make civilian and military agencies accountable for actions that they do. There is a need for more and effective Congressional oversight and reform measures on the following:
The victims of Oplan Bantay Laya await justice, and we all expect that justice be rendered from the new administration that has promised to bring the perpetrators to the bar of justice.
Maybe it would be a kind of redemption if we could unify as a nation against the real enemies of national sovereignty who have divided us through their divide and rule tactics, in order to dominate us. Better still, it would be a kind redemption if justice was rendered to all the victims and the extra-judicial masterminds were punished.
The prospects for peace are always there as they have always been there. If the rest of the developing world is any guide, economic development that benefits the majority of the people is the best road map to lasting peace.
Overall, the book is a major contribution to the literature on the impact of the U.S.- directed counter-insurgency policy, and how and why the old recycled strategies have failed. I hope that the counter-insurgents in the new administration will not fail to read this book.