The labor rights institution, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) raised serious alarm over President Rodrigo Duterte’s appointment of military generals in his cabinet, stating that it is an ominous sign for the already deteriorating human rights situation in the country and shows an increased tendency for militarist solution to the country’s ills.
“Workers and all Filipinos are witness to the failure of militarist governance to address the country’s problems but they still feel the horror of such governance. We are alarmed that these appointments will further take back the hard-won gains of our struggle for labor and human rights and freedom,” said Daisy Arago, CTUHR Executive Director.
This week, Duterte appointed former AFP chief Roy Cimatu as Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary, in place of environment advocate Gina Lopez, who was rejected by the Commission on Appointments for her stand for the protection of the environment and natural resources.
In 2015, Global Witness reported that 33 environment and mining activists were murdered, making the Philippines the deadliest country for environment advocates in the world. In the first seven months of this administration, 12 environment advocates were extra-judicially killed by alleged state security forces. The appointment of a general who claims `to be a lover of the environment’ as a credential to be in that plum post sends shivers to many human rights defenders and those who have been longing for peace.
Ex-AFP Chief Roy Cimatu was one of the generals who led the Arroyo administration’s notorious Oplan Bantay Laya counter insurgency program which left more than a 1,000 victims of extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations. He was also implicated in the corruption controversy that hounded the AFP in 2011. He was tagged as one of the “pabaon generals” who allegedly received millions after their retirement. He was accused of receiving P80 million as send-off bonus.
CTUHR also expressed dismay and alarm over the appointment of AFP Chief Eduardo Año as Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary. The President was quoted as saying that he has problems with the Philippine National Police and he needs a military person in the post. This is the same reason why he appointed Gen. Ronald ‘Bato’ dela Rosa and yet corruption and police involvement in illegal activities were not solved as the problem is systemic. Gen. Año is implicated in the disappearance of Jonas Burgos, the activist who has been missing for 10 years now. He was the commander of 10th ID in 2015 when Paquibato massacre, which killed three people and displaced indigenous communities in Paquibato, Davao happened. The victims have not been served justice until today.
CTUHR also recalled the human rights violations of the other former generals in Duterte’s government. These generals played vital role in the bloody war of the state against the people.
Former AFP Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon is the National Security Adviser, Gen. Delfin Lorenzana is Secretary of the Department of National Defense, former AFP Chief of Staff Ricardo Visaya is the head of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) and Gen. Emmanuel Bautista as Undersecretary under the Office of the President. This means that six known generals with records of human rights violations are running the country.
Esperon served as AFP Chief of Staff for 2 years under the Arroyo administration and was also an implementor of OplanBantayLaya. He was also implicated in the 2004 electoral fraud, as his name was mentioned in the “Hello Garci” tapes.
Delfin Lorenzana is a known pro-US official and he is considered by peace advocates as a warmonger and peace spoiler in the Duterte administration as it pushes for the CPP-NDF-NPA’s capitulation and surrender and veers away from tackling the roots of the armed conflict.
Gen. Visaya, previously Duterte’s AFP Chief of Staff from July-December 2016 now heads the National Irrigation Administration. He is known as the protégé of the notorious Gen. JovitoPalparan. He was commander of the 69th Infantry Battalion of Philippine Army that was involved in the massacre of striking farmworkers in Hacienda Luisita in 2004. He was also behind terrorizing the unionized workplaces and organized communities in Central Luzon, and other human rights violations against workers, union leaders and urban poor in Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2 counter insurgency operations.
Ex-AFP Chief Emmanuel Bautista served was at the helm of Benigno Aquino III administration’s Oplan Bayanihan which resulted to political killings, enforced disappearances and forced evacuation of communities.
The group recognized the President’s many positive measures such as acquiescing to Kadamay’s demand for housing, his desire to hold oligarchs to account for tax evasions and his commitment to pursue the peace talks with the National Democratic Front, among others. “But surrounding him with generals is like going to 360 degree turn. What are these human rights violators doing in the Cabinet of a supposed progressive President? The administration has already lots of explaining to do with its human rights records from its War on Drugs and continuing spate of political killings. Fielding generals in the administration only exacerbates dismay and growing distrust,” Daisy Arago said.