AFP’s propaganda machine “grossly distorts” UN official’s statement

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been put in hot water for grossly distorting the statements ofUnited Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally-Displaced Persons (IDPs) Chaloka Beyani. The UN official took offense at a press release by the AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command which quoted Beyani as saying that the indigenous peoples IDPs who have sought refuge in a church compound in Davao City were “not evacuees but victims of trafficking.”

In a strongly-worded statement, Beyani said that the AFP press release is “incorrect, unacceptable, and represents a gross distortion of [his] views on this issue.” His media liaison has moreover earlier reiteratedthat the exit statement Beyani issued upon the conclusion of his visit to the country “represent the official findings and views of the Special Rapporteur, including in relation to those indigenous people in Davao.”

To recall, over 700 Ata-Manobo lumads have been staying in the United Churches of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Haran Mission House compound in Davao City since May of this year. The lumads assert that they left their homes in Talaingod, Davao del Norte and other parts of Mindanao because of the continuing militarization of their communities by AFP forces. The lumads particularly decry the army occupation of their communities and the forced conscription to paramilitary groups.

Not trafficked

“I heard from the AFP its assertion that it is seeking to protect the communities and provide services to them in conflict regions; however the displaced IPs made it clear that it is their presence and that of the paramilitary groups in their communities that continues to create anxiety amongst the indigenous communities. The community wishes to return to its lands but stressed to me that they will only feel safe to do so if the long-term militarization of their region comes to an end and they can return with guarantees of safety, dignity and protection,” said Beyani in his official exit statement.

“They described to me their concerns including their alleged forced recruitment into paramilitary groups, known as Alamara, under the auspices of the AFP and harassment in the context of the on-going conflict between the AFP and the NPA. Schools have reportedly been closed and/or occupied by the AFP or Alamara, hampering the access to education of indigenous children,” Beyani further said.

The police attempted to “rescue” the lumads last July 23 by forcibly removing them from the church compound and returning them to their villages. The lumads, however, resisted and asserted that they will not return until military troops are pulled out from their homes. The military and the police have likewisefiled cases of human trafficking against rights advocates and church workers who have helped the IPs seek sanctuary in the UCCP compound.

Aside from insisting that the refugees were victims of human trafficking, the military also misquoted Beyani as saying that the lumads were “manipulated” by activist groups into being “trafficked” and “detained” in the UCCP compound. In fact, Beyani asserts that it was actually the police who stormed the church compound who he referred to as “manipulated.”

Diplomatic faux pas

The military establishments maintains for propaganda purposes, contrary to all established facts and the UN Official’s own findings, that the Lumads were trafficked and victimized not by military abuse but by the human rights activists helping them. Even the Department of Foreign Affairs in the person of Foreign Assistant Secretary Jesus Domingo has stepped in to defend the embattled AFP, saying that UN officials need to “obtain a better understanding of [Philippine] official protocols and also of Philippine culture and how we deal with visiting delegations.”

In short, the UN and other international human rights observers must refrain from taking the side of civil society organizations and instead rely mainly on government and state security forces that are precisely notorious for human rights abuses to provide “a first-hand view of conditions” in the Philippines. “We’ve seen there are some occasions where they were taking things at face value, of critique given by critics of the government,” whined the DFA official.

The incident once more demonstrates the extent which state forces can go to cover-up the human rights violations its forces commit. They do not only lie compulsively. They even put twist the words of an international agency’s official and think they can get away with it. But as Gabriela Women’s Representative Luzviminda Ilagan puts it, this is “a grievous diplomatic faux pas that puts the Philippine government which invited Dr. Beyani in an awkward and embarrassing situation.”

Logic of a fascist mind

At the surface, AFP’s propaganda machine seeks to assure the public that the military is respecting human rights and defending their freedoms against “terroristic” rebels. For sure, the people in the communities that are actually militarized are rarely taken in by such propaganda for they see the abuses heaped upon their lot behind the sugar-coated rhetoric of peace and development.

The real target of those propaganda efforts then are the people who are remote from the areas directly affected by armed conflict. State forces generally seek to “win the hearts and minds” of the people who do not see the realities of human rights violations with their own eyes whose eyes. But if such efforts are directed at veiling the realities of state terror and brutal repression committed by the military, then the AFP’s overzealous propaganda backfired badly.

The AFP was hence forced to make a public apology and clarify that the statement it attributed to Beyani was in fact its own standpoint and viewpoint on the issue. Colonel Eduardo Gubat, the AFP Eastern Mindanao Command spokesman who issued the news release that misquoted Beyani, has been removed from his post. This, however, is in essence all for show and really no different from AFP’s earlier statementdeclaring that it is standing by its own interpretation of Beyani’s remarks.

As Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay emphasizes, “How the Armed Forces twisted the words of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons is nothing new. It has been the ‘logic’ of fascist minds to justify their attacks against the people.” We must not allow this to continue indefinitely with impunity.

Note: I wrote this article for thepoc.net.

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