Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bayan representative stood by during Red tortures—survivor

by Christine Herrera

A SURVIVOR claims a militant lawmaker is one of the brains behind the killing of more than 2,000 cadres by the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, in the 1980s.........

MST, 20 January 2009

A rejoinder and Reply from: Robert Francis Garcia

Secretary General, Peace Advocates for Truth, Healing and Justice (PATH) / 21 January 2009

I express my appreciation to the Manila Standard Today for its effort to bring to the fore the issue of the bloody communist purges of the CPP-NPA, which has suffered from neglect for two decades now, despite the fact that thousands have suffered and died from it. (left Photo: Robert Francis 'Bobby' Garcia)

I however issue this rejoinder, in response to your news item, Bayan representative stood by during Red tortures—survivor (Herrera, Christine. MST, 20 January 2009), as most of the statements and allegations were attributed to me. I wish to correct: (1) some misimpressions the article may have unwittingly created; (2) factual inaccuracies and information gaps; and (3) the lack of the big picture.

1. The article comes out as if I’m on a vindictive assault against the top brass of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) by implicating many of their current leaders in the killings. I think the article needs to distinguish between fact and opinion.

At the time I was tortured by the CPP-NPA in Southern Tagalog along with other comrades, I was only a middle-level cadre who was not privy to the policies, decisions, and composition of the leadership. Thus when I was asked by Herrera who were responsible for the mayhem, I said I believe it was the Central Committee. I saw the leaders in the detention camp, and thus mentioned those I recognized: such as (Rep) Satur Ocampo, Bobbie Malay, Armando Teng, Alan Jazmines, et al. I was however not in a position to say that “Ocampo was one of the brains behind” the killing. My firsthand account only goes as far as confirming that he was indeed at the camp, along with his wife Bobbie, and they reviewed my case. Other sources need to be consulted.

As regards the query on whether Jose Ma. Sison was in the know while the purge was underway, I replied that he might have been, as the assumed Party leader, but again, I do not know this as a fact.

The experience of being denied due process has made me a stickler for it – including ensuring legitimacy in investigation, accuracy, and the primacy of the rule of law – with consideration to sensitivities and repercussions. Thus, I believe that establishing these individuals’ culpability for the torture and killings requires a formal probe, which has yet to happen.

It is important to add that the information cited in the article came about in a spirit of kwentuhan at talastasan (banter and brainstorm). It was not as if I suddenly came out with guns ablaze and started pinpointing the “culprits” publicly, because for such a sensitive issue, I believe an official forum is warranted.

The article also mentions Rep. Ocampo as a possible senatorial candidate, which may make it appear that this issue being brought up now is informed by political (electoral) considerations. Our group, the Peace Advocates for Truth, Healing and Justice, takes a broad human rights perspective on the issue. We have consistently maintained our independence from any partisan influence and have been doing everything to “depoliticize” our actions.

2. The article names CPP leaders who are still active (also called “Reaffirmists” or RAs) but fails to identify those who left the Party and formed other left groups (also called “Rejectionists” or RJs). It is widely recognized that accountability for the purges rests on the entire Party leadership at the time of the purges, whatever the leaders’ current affiliations now are.

Other factual corrections:

§ “All (victims) were brought to the Cordilleras for torture and execution.” This refers only to the detainees in the Metro Manila purge in 1988-89, called Olympia. Also, not all the Metro Manila purge victims were brought to the Cordillera; some were already killed in Metro Manila. On the whole, based on PATH’s research, the purges happened in practically all regions in the Philippines where the CPP-NPA operated – from Nothern Luzon to Southern Mindanao.

§ Medardo “George” Buncayo (also known as “Kenny”) was not a member of the Central Committee. He however, headed the Task Force for the Oplan Missing Link in Southern Tagalog. A criminal case was filed against him for murder and serious physical injuries in the Laguna Provincial Prosecution Office. (The case was dismissed by Provincial Prosecutor George Dee, stating: “…these complainants voluntarily and willingly submitted themselves to the discipline of the Party…(It) cannot be seriously argued that they were detained against their will...” A motion for reconsideration was filed thereafter, and currently awaiting judicial action.

§ “All the arrests, torture and killings were blamed by the CPP leadership on the military. Families of the victims were made to believe that their loved ones were heroes as they died for the revolution during military encounters and ambuscades,” (Garcia). Just an addendum here: most of the victims’ families were not informed of anything at all – many still believe that their loved ones are still alive and fighting.

§ “The lies they have perpetrated remain to this day. The CPP leadership remains arrogant.” (Garcia). These incendiary words are not exactly the language I would use if I were to convince the CPP to face up to their crime. I still pin my hopes on the justice system (however slowly it grinds) coupled with dialogue and other creative pursuits.

3. We at PATH assert that the issue of the communist purges remains relevant because justice is still denied. The purge issue is valid in and of itself, but we nevertheless situate our advocacy within the broader human rights context where various sectors are involved. We are cognizant of the present human rights crisis of the country. I myself have worked with institutions, including the United Nations, that address the current issue of extrajudicial killings, for which security forces and armed opposition groups are both held to account.

We are hoping for, and working hard to help in, the peaceful resolution of the armed conflict between government and the CPP-NPA. We believe, however, that achieving peace also requires exacting accountability and putting closure to violations that were committed in the past.

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