New Zealand Should Have Nothing To Do With Philippine Military
The Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa (PSNA) has recently learned that the head of the New Zealand Army. Major General Jerry Mateparae, made an official visit to the Philippine military forces stationed in the southernmost part of the country, which the US and Philippine governments have designated as “’the second front’ in the War On Terror”. The far south of the Philippines has been the scene of a brutal civil war between the Philippine military and Muslim separatists since the 1970s.
Major General Mateparae’s visit to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Southern Command HQ in Zamboanga City, southern Mindanao, was reported in the local newspaper, Zamboanga Today on September 17 (“New Zealand military officials watch RP [Republic of the Philippines] anti-terror campaign”). The caption for an accompanying photo says: “Canberra (sic) and Manila are allies in the fight international terrorism”. Are we? Who gave the NZ military and/or Government any mandate to get involved in the extremely murky and bloodsoaked politics of the southern Philippines?
The Philippine military has an appalling record of systematic human rights abuses, not only against the Muslim population in the south, but throughout the entire archipelago (a second civil war has raged throughout the whole country since the 1960s, between the military and Communist guerrillas). The military operates in a culture of impunity i.e. nobody is ever held accountable for the innumerable murders, abductions, disappearances, torture, terrorisation of entire communities, etc, etc.
Things have got so bad that, in August, the Philippines’ embattled and courageous human rights movement invited foreigners to join an International Solidarity Mission to five of the worst human rights hotspots. Four New Zealanders took part and one of them, Tim Howard (from Whangarei) spent several weeks travelling from one end of the country to the other, including down south to the Muslim frontlines of the “War On Terror” and saw graphic evidence that what is being waged is actually a War of Terror, by the Philippine military and Government against its own people. He saw the grisly reality of what Mateparae’s visit was implicitly endorsing.
On October 5, Tim took the trouble to ring Major General Mateparae and interview him directly about the latter’s visit to southern Mindanao. Mateparae described his visit as a “fact finding one” and one in the context of the NZ Defence Force being a” role model” for how a professional military should operate in a liberal democracy. This is pie in the sky stuff – the Philippines is very far from being a liberal democracy, or nay other sort of democracy; and its military is professional only in respect of being monumentally corrupt and murderously oppressive of its civilian population, Muslim, Christian, and everyone else.
The Zamboanga Today report says that Mateparae was there to monitor the progress of the Philippine military in its campaign against the Abu Sayyaf Group in Mindanao. This requires some explanation for New Zealanders, who might think that this is a good thing in that it may actually achieve something against the Islamic terrorists believed to have carried out atrocities like the recent Bali bombings. Abu Sayyaf are just a tiny band of criminals, the latest manifestation in a long history of pirates and bandits in that part of the world. They specialise in spectacular kidnappings for huge ransoms, along with a penchant for beheadings. In that respect they are terrorists, but they are not remotely political, and have been disowned by the genuine Muslim separatists operating in Mindanao.
Even more ironic, Abu Sayyaf owes its very existence to the US and the Philippine military. Exactly as with Osama bin Laden and his merry men, it was founded by Muslims recruited by the US CIA to fight the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s. What happened in both instances is called “blow back”. There is incontrovertible evidence that, to this day, Abu Sayyaf has a thriving relationship with corrupt senior officers of the Philippine military, with the latter getting a cut of the huge ransoms, whilst allowing the bandits to mysteriously “escape” when they’ve been surrounded during yet another “total war” offensive that will supposedly wipe them out.
And all is not what it seems when it comes to who is supposedly responsible for “Islamic terrorism” in Mindanao. In 2003, disillusioned Philippine Army officers and men staged a mutiny right in the heart of the capital, Manila. They revealed that one of the things they objected to was being ordered to conduct deadly bombings against civilian targets in Mindanao, bombings that were then blamed on “Islamic terrorists” and cited as justification to get the US militarily involved in this Philippine civil war. And there is evidence of direct US involvement in his very same “Islamic terrorism”. In 2002, a mysterious American was seriously injured when a bomb exploded in his Mindanao hotel room. There was no suggestion that he was a target; it was his bomb which had apparently exploded prematurely. Before he could be questioned, US Government agents whisked him out of the country. The Philippine media openly speculated about his connections to US Intelligence and his role as an agent provocateur.
Murky waters indeed. And ones that the NZ military would be very strongly advised to stay right out of. New Zealand undermined our credibility with the long suffering Filipino people when our military made regular use of the massive US bases there during the Marcos dictatorship. Marcos is gone, the bases are gone, and thanks to the Anzus row, we don’t get invited to use US bases any more. Let’s leave it that way and make sure that our military stays right out of the Philippines.
The four NZ delegates who visited the human rights hotspots in “’the second front’ in the War On Terror” have plenty of material on the human rights situation in the Philippines and can be contacted at:
Tim Howard firstname.lastname@example.org
Rod Prosser email@example.com
Mary Ellen O’Connor firstname.lastname@example.org
Josephine O’Connor – email@example.com
Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa
Box 2450, Christchurch, New Zealand
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip on Nov. 10th 2005