This is a far cry from what President Carlos P. Garcia said to the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Loyalty Day, October 30, 1960 (a few months before he lost the November, 1960 presidential election):
Military “live-in seminars” scare Camarines Sur folks
by Artemio F. Cusi III, Special Reports Contributor
FOLLOWING a strict marathon schedule from 2 P.M. in the first day to 11 A.M. the next day, the 42nd Infantry Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Dece M. Yabo of the 9th Infantry Division has been conducting the “Information Caravan and Integrated Defense System (ITDS) Orientation Live-In Seminar”.
Aware that this is part of the psychological warfare campaign against the communist guerrillas of the New People’s Army (NPA), the residents of the depressed communities in Camarines Sur’s first district have also noticed the increase in the number of military-sponsored seminars since the start of the year. In another certificate shown by a former participant, the words “and Alsa Masa” came after “(ITDS)”.
Roy Calfoforo, a development officer for the Philippine Partnership for the Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (PHILDHRRA), said that the manner in which the seminars had been conducted is already public knowledge, at least within the district. He has visited the province recently and received the same complaints.
“Hindi ka mahihirapan kumuha ng magkatugmang detalye kahit sino pa ang makausap mo sa distrito, dahil marami ang iniimbitahan at pareho-pareho ang naranasan sa seminar (You will not have a hard time getting similar details if you talk to anybody in the district, because many were invited and experienced the same things during the seminar),” Calfoforo said.
“Syempre, walang gustong magpabanggit ng pangalan pag kinakausap ang media dahil takot, pero kalat na kalat yung nangyayari. Nakikita sila ng publiko pag nagmamartsa (Obviously, nobody would want to identify themselves when talking to media because they are afraid, but what happened became widespread. They are seen by the public when they are marching),” he added.
Although media has consistently highlighted the “David versus Goliath fight” between San Fernando mayor Sabas “Abang” Mabulo and presidential son Dato Arroyo, the newsmen have missed the curtailment of civil liberties in the election campaign as an angle of the stories.
“If you are absent in that seminar, which is usually held at the municipal gym, then you are presumed an NPA sympathizer by the military.” said the councilor, who requested not to be named. Those who were not able to attend had been told to make up for their absences by participating in the next scheduled activity to be held in another town.
“These only happened during the election campaign. They want to instill fear among the barangay officials,” said Mabulo, who relies primarily on the support of civil society organizations and religious leaders against the much vaunted political machinery of Arroyo.
Hilarious and inane
More than 400 officials from 24 barangays were called to join the orientation held last February 16-17, 2007. The people who attended the orientation said the seminar started during the period of the day when participants are most tired and would prefer to idly spend time dozing in the early afternoon.
Since no food was provided by organizers of the activity, the people were told to bring their own. Some municipal officials contributed vegetables and a few sacks of rice for the barangay leaders attending the seminar.
A councilor from another barangay in San Fernando, Camarines Sur said the seminar began with a talk by a representative of the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG) on the merits of the programs carried out by the government.
Another module consisted of a lecture by a Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) employee, who lavishly praised the government for its “accomplishments” in land redistribution to the poor farmers. Probably an indication that the topics failed to elicit his interest, the councilor said he could not recall the names of the speakers.
Later, it became evident that boredom has been encouraged to creep in until the mind grows weary. The theory that brainwashing may be more effective when the subject is tired would probably explain why the military officials imposed uninterrupted lectures and sleep deprivation.
Originating from the Chinese term xî nâo, which literally means “to wash the brain”, the brainwashing methods were used by the Chinese communists on captured United Nations soldiers during the war in Korea. This is to stifle the rebellious nature of prisoners in resisting their captors or organizing an escape plan. In modern times, the Chinese government is more inclined to use the less distasteful term sîxiâng gâi zào or “thought reform”.
Perceived by the participants as hilarious and inane, the counter-insurgency campaign served as the last topic of the seminar. “A guy who sounded like a military chaplain bantered fanatically against the evils of communism while quoting the bible,” the same councilor said. “A military officer also warned about the continuing American imperialism and the desire of China to gradually conquer the Philippines.”
Not satisfied with the bombardment of propaganda, the lecturers directed the barangay officials to sing Filipino religious songs such as Lupa and Hiram sa Diyos.
Those caught snoozing during the lectures were admonished and told that their actuations would not be tolerated because these reflect a non-supportive attitude toward government policies. “The soldiers would use charcoals to smear the faces of those who could not prevent their eyelids from drooping,” the councilor said. The responsibility to wake up a seatmate also fell on all the participants.
If the people would want to use the toilets, they were only allowed to leave the gym on each individual turn.
About 8 A.M. the following day, the people were ordered to march to the streets, and forced to shout anti-communist slogans while carrying placards with similar messages.
“When we came back to the gym, there was a streamer with the message ‘Welcome Dato Arroyo’ printed on it, but he did not arrive,” the councilor said. “We then heard a soldier shout ‘Mabuhay si Dato Arroyo!'”
One of the public demonstrations had also been witnessed in another municipality by Sonny Francisco, an organizer for the Libmanan Producers’ Cooperative, at around 6 o’clock in the morning when a group of marchers passed by in front of him.
“Many of the marchers, who are barangay officials, are my acquaintances, but we could not smile at each other,” Francisco said. When asked if the military accompanied the marchers, he admitted seeing a soldier walking alongside them. He also confirmed hearing them shout anti-communist slogans.
Francisco, however, is reluctant to discuss the subject further because, in his view, it is a “sensitive issue.” “Maselan ‘yan,” he said. “I am just an organizer promoting organic farming.”
But like the other residents, he wondered why the municipalities were chosen as the sites of the seminars during the election campaign.
“Sadly, in this district, the military seems to have continued to allow itself to be used in trampling the people’s economic and political rights. In this scenario, there is not much hope for genuine peace to reign in the district.” said Soc Banzuela, also a Bicolano and leader of Aksiyon para sa Kapayaan at Katarungan (AKKAPKA), a movement committed to active non-violence.
Renne Gumba, executive director of the Ateneo de Naga’s Institute of Politics, does not see anything politically productive as a result of direct intervention of either the military or the NPA. Instead of helping their respective causes, he said that it will be detrimental to the electoral process.
“It will endanger the 2007 election as the remaining legitimate arena for getting the sentiment of the people.” Gumba said. “These sentiments must be neither coerced nor influenced by others, but based on personal conviction and values.”
Recall also that on December 12, 2006, Lieutenant Colonel Bartolome Bacarro, Armed Forces spokesperson, said in a press release: “The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) will remain an apolitical organization — it is along this line that we urge individuals and groups to avoid dragging the name of the AFP into any of the ongoing political exercises.”
Citing scientific evidence, American psychologist Philip Zimbardo said that brainwashing or mind control “can induce false confessions, create converts who willingly torture or kill ‘invented enemies,’ engage indoctrinated members to work tirelessly, give up their money–and even their lives–for ‘the cause.'”
Based on Zimbardo’s pronouncements, it becomes easier to link the seminars and the recruitment of “volunteers” by the military to the formation of the Alsa Masa or anti-communist militias. This paramilitary group organized to thwart the NPA influence in urban and rural areas became widely known in the late 80s under then Lieutenant Colonel Franco Calida, Metrodiscom chief of Davao City.
But studies also show that when the methods of mental manipulations are not sustained for a long period of time, such that the natural instincts for reality checking are allowed to function normally, the ideologies forced to be inculcated would lose their grip on the behavior of the subjects.
Hence, instead of a successful outcome in the form of additional political allies for Arroyo, the seminars produced a large group of irate individuals. With half of the congressional district’s ten municipalities classified as “4th class”, losing two days of work is not amusing at all. According to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), two municipalities- Cabusao and Pasacao- are considered as “5th” and “3rd” classes, respectively.
“We lost two days of income. It was a waste of time,” the councilor said in describing the activity. He added in jest that the military’s erroneous belief of the efficacy of such seminars may even augur well for Mabulo’s campaign.
No “left” turn
The seminars may have also intimidated the community leaders, making them think twice before openly supporting the party list candidates of the militant cause-oriented groups such as Gabriela, Bayan Muna, or Anakpawis.
“The military warned us once that we would be branded as NPAs if Bayan Muna wins,” a lady councilor said. “If Gabriela wins in our community, the military might think that we are also NPA members, and this is why we are becoming reluctant to vote for them.”
Mabulo said that the military in Camarines Sur is attempting to reverse the current situation that shows the party list candidates as having a significant number of supporters in the rural areas. It is likely that soldiers are adopting the view that stoking the embers of an anti-communist hysteria can create a conflagration of fear, generating an aversion toward candidates perceived as assuming a progressive or left-leaning political stand.
Mabulo is not at all surprised if the military would link him to the activities of the NPA, particularly if he displays a strong performance during the campaign.
“For the military, it is over as far as the election in the first district is concerned,” Mabulo said. Undauntedly, however, the mayor refuses to call it quits amid constant pronouncements by the other camp that he had backed out from the race.
Stronger military presence
Aside from the issue of alleged partisanship of the military being raised by civil society organizations, they doubt the presidential son’s ability and resolve to end the problems of human rights violations and insurgency.
“If he wins, can we really expect Dato to defend his constituents when they become victims of violent conflicts, knowing that his mother signed the Human Security Act?” asked PHILDHRRA’s Calfoforo.
Banzuela predicts a stronger military influence in the province. “If Dato wins in Camarines Sur, we can be sure of an intensified militarization in the district. If he wins through military might and money, he will rule through them. Kawawa naman ang mga kababayan ko,” he said.
What the Bicolanos should be getting instead are the promised social reforms, added Banzuela. “But they won’t have these. There is much to be desired in the track records of Dato’s family and main political supporters when it comes to eradicating poverty in the rural communities,” he said.
Meanwhile, the fear of getting caught in the middle of armed adversaries still lurks. A religious worker in the province recounted of an incident when 15 NPA guerrillas passed by a community. The next day, five soldiers also traveled the same route. “What happens if the two groups collide on the same road and some innocent people were there at the wrong time? I strongly feel that we should make a stand,” he said.
In August 2006, a barangay councilor took his own life because of the psychological pressures from the military and the NPA. Floro Llamade of Barangay Tanag assumed the position of officer-in-charge (OIC) of the community after barangay captain Rodrigo Armenta earlier fled for his life from the strife-torn area.
The military then invited Llamade to identify the local NPA sympathizers in his community. Under duress, he dropped some names. When the communist guerillas learned about this, they sent him a letter. Unable to cope with the mental stress brought about by the harassment from both sides, the councilor hung himself.
“Why could they not just leave us alone?” asked a former activist during the martial law years who now chooses to retire in the province.