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Philippines Update—Murders and Impeachment Motions

July 11, 2006

On July 4, as the country celebrated Philippine-American Friendship Day, some 100 women, mostly members of the urban poor women’s association SAMAKANA, trooped to the Batasan (Congress) in Quezon City to add their signatures to a fifth impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.  The complaint would be formally filed on July 24, as the embattled president delivers the State of the Nation Address at the opening of Congress. The four other impeachment complaints were filed by a range of groups—from opposition politicians to members of religious groups.  Two issues triggered their anger towards the Philippines’ second woman president:  persistent reports that she won the 2004 presidential elections by fraud and a general consensus that the military, under her administration, had embarked on a murderous campaign against the opposition, particularly left-leaning personalities, as well as activists and community leaders. The rate of assassinations during her administration has climbed to three per week, according to human-rights monitors.  The 42nd journalist was killed in June, at just about the same week that the 73rd woman activist was murdered.  A women’s delegation from the U.S.-based National Lawyers Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights noted that more than half of the women assassinated belonged to the Gabriela Women’s Party or organizations federated under the GABRIELA National Alliance of Women.  Thus, the women were not “collateral damage” victims, as some claimed, but rather women organizers targeted for assassination. Marcel Vigo was killed along with her husband in Kidapawan, Cotabato.  The two were community-based journalists and development workers, active in the Catholic Church.  They died in the same numbing pattern as many of the nearly 700 organizers, activists, and community leaders who have been killed.  Two men wearing knitted bonnets and riding tandem on a motorcycle drove up, drew guns, and simply pumped them full of bullets.  All over the Philippines—north to south, in island after island—murders were ascribed to two men riding tandem on a motorcycle who sprayed vehicles and bodies with bullets. In a move designed to exhaust opposition resources of opposition, the government also filed a slew of rebellion charges against officers of mass organizations.  The Department of Justice remained unfazed by a recent Supreme Court decision halting the prosecution of Congresswoman Liza Maza of the Gabriela Women’s Party and four of her congressional colleagues.  DOJ prosecutors sought to reinstate the charge by merging it with the only extant case of rebellion, one filed against Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Congressman Crispin Beltran. Judges who sought to rule on the legality of merging the cases were forced to recuse themselves, one under threat of administration prosecution by the Justice Secretary. In the midst of nearly daily demonstrations against the government of Macapagal-Arroyo, the government congratulated itself that the current $228 million in U.S. aid and assistance was the highest in 15 years.  From 2001, the start of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, to 2005, U.S. aid had increased at an annual rate of 39 percent, now totaling $1.2 billion.  The military also announced that the U.S. was giving the Philippines 26 Huey helicopters to help in its counter-insurgency drive.  Through its International Military Education and Training program, 176 Filipino military men had already finished U.S. training at a cost of $3 million annually. Such a transfer of murderous skills seems to have begun to bear fruit.  A commercial firm has recruited some 300 Filipinos for private security work in Iraq.  Coming on top of everything else, this activity has inspired some Filipinos to wonder whether the spate of assassinations was a kind of practicum for assassins slated for the Middle East.