MANILA, Philippines — A third general of the Armed Forces has come forward to confirm that killings of political activists were discussed “openly” in a top-level military conference about two years ago.
Speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, the general said he was present when two other generals discussed the military’s course of action in the midst of the communist threat in key areas in Luzon.
One of the two generals, then with some 3,000 soldiers at his disposal, was assigned the topic “extrajudicial killings,” according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer informant.
He said the general who handled that topic tackled the idea of killing suspected communist insurgents and sympathizers even in places outside of his jurisdiction.
The revelations coincided with statements by Chief Justice Reynato Puno that the Supreme Court planned to call a multisectoral summit next month to discuss what role the judiciary could play in stemming the tide of political killings in the country.
Puno said the summit might redefine the concept of “command responsibility” to curb incidents of human rights abuses.
The Inquirer source, a commander, said among those present at the conference were at least 100 soldiers, including the support staff of individual brigades and battalions.
Never a policy
“It’s very abnormal,” the general said in an interview late Friday night, referring to the idea of military-initiated assassinations being openly discussed in a military conference “as if there’s nothing wrong about them.”
“Extrajudicial killing has never been a government policy even during the Marcos regime,” the commander said.
He said the meeting, which dragged on for about two hours, later prompted another incredulous general to phone then Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Generoso Senga and complain.
Senga, who retired in July last year, supposedly promised to talk to one of the two generals who presided over the meeting.
Senga also supposedly said no when asked if killings of political activists had become military policy.
The Inquirer again tried to contact Senga on Sunday for his comment but his phone just kept ringing. He later sent a text message to the Inquirer saying he was out of the country.
Details about this “extraordinary” military conference were first disclosed to the Inquirer by two other generals, who had vowed to help Senator-elect Antonio Trillanes IV investigate political killings under the Arroyo administration.
The two generals have promised to provide the former Navy officer with “ammunition” for privilege speeches and committee inquiries by the Senate.
Not a solution
The third general did not say if he, too, was willing to feed Trillanes information. But he was clearly, though quietly, against what appeared to be a pattern of political killings being carried out by a particular section of the Armed Forces.
In the interview, the third general maintained that killing suspected communists would not solve the decades-old insurgency problem.
He was particularly not amenable to the premise that legal organizations, like Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) or the party-list group Bayan Muna, were fronting for the communist movement and its armed component.
Fire with fire
While “fighting fire with fire” could initially work in certain combat situations, he argued that such an approach, when adopted as a policy, would drive the perceived enemies “back to the hills.”
The source, for instance, condemned the killing of several retired military officers in Albay province, apparently by communist death squads. He said these officers had nothing to do with the issue of political killings, but were murdered just the same.
“The safer premise is to acknowledge the possibility that some of these militant groups might have been infiltrated by (communist insurgents),” he said.
“This way, you will approach the problem individually. You won’t think that all Bayan members are communists and, as such, they all deserve to die.”
‘Terror with terror’
The general noted that left-wing personalities had been previously lured down from the hills and encouraged by the government to join the parliamentary dialogue.
“But what’s happening now? We’re gunning them down.”
He said the military approach of fighting “terror with terror” was occasionally used in certain parts of Mindanao, where the nature and complexion of the armed struggle was different.
But even then, he argued that the strategy led only to wider and even more serious divisions, primarily between the Muslim and Christian populations.
During the Luzon military conference, the source said military units were similarly divided on the issue of political killings.
On the one hand were those who bought the idea that “a good communist is a dead communist,” he said. On the other were those who sought to pursue the military hierarchy’s pacification campaign, meaning “winning the hearts and minds of civilians.”
Within the ranks, those who adopted the latter approach were occasionally jeered as “binabae” (effeminate), according to the source. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño