Philippines: Fr Shay Cullen asks - who trains the assassins?'

Now that the Philippine elections are over, the dead are buried and the families mourn their loss, we hope and pray that there may be a lessening of political violence. Hundreds of political organizers of the left of centre parties have been abducted, tortured and murdered by the death squads in the past few years and more recently during the election period.

That violence was traced by investigators from the United Nations and the European Union and International human rights groups to the bloody doorstep of some Philippine military commanders who have vehemently denied being anyway involved. Be that as it may, the apparent inability of the president and her generals to rein the death squads has done untold damage to the image of the Philippine Armed Forces and the presidency abroad. It is as if a unit of the Philippine Armed forces is under the influence and command of another more powerful authority than that of a female commander-in-chief. This happens when a culture of impunity and non-accountability is allowed to flourish by higher political leaders for their own benefit. It's a monster that eats its parents. This leads to coups, dictatorship and tyranny.

Those of us who live with Filipinos know them as friendly, non - aggressive, kind, helpful and peaceful people. In Filipino society, the majority avoids conflict and strives to live in harmony and care for each other. In Bontoc, a resort town in Mountain Province about 300 kilometres north of Manila, two contenders for a seat on the town council had equal votes, with good humour they agreed to toss a coin to decide it and shook hands. With that, all political contests could be settled so peacefully. Yet with hundreds of murders of left wing student leaders, pastors and political organizers recorded and unsolved, we cannot but wonder at the source of this brutality, torture and assassination.

It is not in the Filipino character or culture to be aggressive, sinister and cruel. The killers learned it somewhere else and not from their parents. Who trained and convinced and now control some officers and unnamed special operation forces that kidnapping, torture, and assassination are the most effective methods to quash unwanted political dissent and opposition to government?

Call it terrorism and you can justify it. We can only surmise that there is outside influence. These methods were practiced by the military forces of the former dictators of Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Guatemala, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and elsewhere who trained with the US forces and the CIA. It's a sad piece of dark history. Democratically elected Governments with strong social pro-people policies, not over-friendly to the United States, now rule these countries.

If we look at the large number of Philippine military officers trained and educated by the United States at army and navy colleges such as West Point and the Naval College at Annapolis, it gives us much to think about. When we then consider the thousands of lower rank Philippine officers and commando teams trained by the United States in their aggressive methods of anti-terrorism who still have a debt of gratitude to their US trainers and instructors it makes us shiver. Some would be eager to please and follow the advise of their American military mentors and masters.

These are now likely to be ranking generals, special operations commanders and CIA officers only a friendly phone call away for a pliant and awe struck Philippine counter-terrorist officer to do their bidding, one who doesn't see this as treason. Perhaps this is the source of that special training for the perpetrators of what some commentators call "state terrorism". Hence we have a campaign of assassination against lawful political dissidents and non-violent opponents. It is as if the ruling elite and their foreign political supporters are afraid that the progressive left will eventually gain political power as they have in South and Central America through democratic elections. Real democracy can be a curse for would-be dictators and their foreign backers.

The stunning political progress in Northern Ireland is clear evidence that guns can fall silent if all sides allow true uncorrupted democracy to change society for the better and not the sham elections that we so often see. But best of all the United States is coming to its political and moral senses and will soon find its democratic true self as the protector of the weak and champion of human dignity, freedom and political rights everywhere.

Fr Shay Cullen is a Columban priest working in the Philippines. For more informaetion see:

Share this story