The falling man

Remember the falling man. There’s a poignant, disturbing documentary on him. Should the photograph have been published, or should it have been suppressed even more than it was? Should the identity of the falling man not have been looked into?

Kit Collier, writing in Asian Analysis Newsletter,

The release of an Amnesty International report in August focused attention on an ‘intensifying pattern’ of political killings in the Philippines, particularly of left wing activists. According to Amnesty, there were at least 244 such assassinations since President Gloria Arroyo took office in January 2001. Compared with 66 political killings in 2005, the tempo accelerated to at least 51 through the first half of 2006. The Philippine human rights group Karapatan provides even more alarming statistics, claiming there have been over 700 politically motivated murders under Arroyo.

Arroyo’s critics have long likened her to late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and although the scale of extrajudicial executions does not yet parallel the darkest days of his martial law regime (1972-86), it does now surpass anything seen since its early aftermath under President Corazon Aquino (1986-92). In the worst year of the Marcos regime, 1984, 538 political killings were recorded; but the average annual figure under the dictatorship was about 185. If current trends continue, this year’s tally may come disturbingly close to the Marcos average.

Comparisons with Marcos were spurred by Arroyo’s declaration of a state of emergency last February, outraging human rights activists who recalled his martial law decree of September 1972. Beneath the specious similarities, however, lurk more significant differences between these two emergencies, and their wider contexts, which seem to be passing with little attention or comment.

In their exclusive focus on the state, embodied in the civilian executive, the Amnesty report and the progressive advocacy culture more generally appear stuck in a 20th century human rights rut. As became clear once the panic subsided, Arroyo’s emergency was aimed less at seizing dictatorial powers than precluding just such a move by military malcontents in unholy alliance with the revolutionary left. Protestors gave little thought to what a successful anti-Arroyo coup might have meant for their civil liberties, marching instead against the incumbent and lending succour to the conspirators.

If the main threat to human rights in the 20th century came from strong, centralized states, it is now increasingly state weakness and state failure that imperil human security, and non-state actors that maim and slaughter growing numbers of civilians. Human rights activists have not yet caught up with this reality. It is a little known fact that there have actually been more civilian fatalities due to terrorist bombings in the Philippines since Arroyo came to power than the killings on which Amnesty focuses. This is not to excuse the impunity that Amnesty correctly identifies behind the current spate of killings, but it does call for a less simplistic diagnosis of impunity’s changing nature.

The killings are doubtless the work of a range of actors with diverse motivations. Military and police elements are surely foremost among them. Yet many of these same elements, far from taking orders from civilian authority, are committed to its overthrow. This agenda has the full support of an ever more opportunistic left. The Communist Party of the Philippines explicitly denies the universalism of human rights, viewing human rights militancy as just another front serving the larger goal of Maoist revolution. Karapatan was born out of the Communist Party’s factional split in 1994 specifically to uphold this instrumentalist approach to human rights.

The intimate relationship between the Communist Party, which leads the guerrilla New People’s Army (NPA), and groups like Karapatan which became undeniable after the split is the elephant in the room that progressives dare not acknowledge, for this is how the assassins seek to justify their actions. By failing to confront this issue squarely, however, Amnesty helps perpetuate the culture of opacity surrounding political violence in the Philippines. Despite the rising death toll, there is widespread public apathy at the killings because more Filipinos understand Maoist instrumentalism than they did in the days of the dictatorship, and fewer are now prepared to overlook it. And claims by the security establishment that the communists are themselves behind the killings are all too easily accepted, thanks to another fact largely ignored by state-centric human rights activists. Even at the Marcos regime’s nadir, more people died in internal Communist Party purges than at the hands of the dictator’s goons.

Then again

Confucius rejoined: Ch’iu, an honest man hates your hypocrite who will not openly avow his greed, but tries instead to excuse it. I have heard that the ruler of a state or of a clan is troubled not by the smallness of its numbers but by the absence of even-handed justice; not by poverty but by the preresence of discontent; for where there is justice there will be no poverty; where there is harmony there will be no lack in numbers; where there is content there will be no revolution. This being the case then, if outlying communities resist your authority, cultivate the arts of refinement and goodness in order to attract them; and when you have attracted them, make them happy and contented. Now you two, Yu and Ch’iu, are aiding and abetting your master; here is an outlying community which resists your authority, and you are unable to attract it. Partition and collapse are imminent in your own State, and you are unable to preserve it intact. And yet you are planning military aggression within in the borders of your country! Verily I fear that Chi-sun’s troubles will come, not from Chuan-yû, but from the interior of his own palace.

From the Lionel Giles translation.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

20 thoughts on “The falling man

  1. Sad really that both sides are contributing to the humans rights violation in the country. However, I think the government bears more responsibility in protecting human and civil rights of the citizens since it owes its powers to the civilians. It is also getting paid by the civilians, via taxes, to serve and protect them not to intimidate them or leave them to the CPP-NPA.

    The military and the police has a mandate to serve and protect, not solely because of the constitution but also because it is the very reason they have to exist to begin with. Not to mention again the taxes that supports their operations, puts up barracks for them to stay in, the bullets they fire and the food and training they recieve.

  2. Mlq3,

    In conjunction with your post topic on Amnesty report, I hope you won’t mind too much my re-posting the following.

    Thanks for allowing me to post/accomodating the latest statement by Stop the Killings in the Philippines protest rally organizers:

    Protest for human rights at the occasion of the Philippine president’s visit

    Tuesday September 12 at 12:30 at Place Schuman in front of the European Commission

    On Tuesday September 12, Philippine president Gloria Arroyo will visit the European Commission in Brussels. She will meet Commission chair Barroso, among others. Solidarity workers, human rights advocates and trade union activists will meet her arrival with a protest action in the middle of the European neighbourhood in Brussels. They call for decisive action against political killings in the Philippines.

    Since Arroyo came to power in 2001, almost 750 people fell victim to extrajudicial killings. Many of them are leaders of people’s organizations, trade unions and progressive political parties but also journalists, lawyers and ordinary civilians are killed by death squads.

    Several international agencies have criticized the government of Arroyo recently:

    The ICFTU warned Arroyo on July 11 that the Philippines is already in the same category as Colombia when it comes to murders on trade union activists.

    Amnesty International reminded Arroyo on August 15 that the government has to take decisive action to stop the political killings if it wants to give peace a chance.

    The International Federation of Journalists declared on August 22 it is appalled by the continued inaction of the Philippine government although it is ranked as the second most dangerous country in the world for journalists, after Iraq.

    On September 5, the World Council of Churches called on the government of the Philippines to disband “death squads”, private militias and paramilitary forces operating with impunity in the country.

    Also diplomatic pressure on the Philippine government is mounting. The European Commission’s representative in the Philippines, Jan De Kok, already said that human rights will be on the agenda during Arroyo’s visit. The demonstrators will remind Barroso that, towards the Arroyo government, a critical attitude is appropriate.

    The protest action is also an opportunity to launch the broad “Stop the killings in the Philippines!” campaign. Solidarity groups, human rights advocates and trade union activists are defending in this campaign their Philippine colleagues’ right to life. More information at

    Two Belgian parlamentarians will be joining the protest tomorrow.

  3. If the main threat to human rights in the 20th century came from strong, centralized states, it is now increasingly state weakness and state failure that imperil human security, and non-state actors that maim and slaughter growing numbers of civilians. Human rights activists have not yet caught up with this reality. It is a little known fact that there have actually been more civilian fatalities due to terrorist bombings in the Philippines since Arroyo came to power than the killings on which Amnesty focuses.

    Yes, well put MLQ3!

    Anna, stop prostetuting yourself for that pimp Joma.

  4. Bugger off Kabagis!

    You stop pimping for Arroyo yourself! I ain’t a Sison defender nor supporter. He’s your problem not ours here in Europe.

    We in Eruope’s civil society (and we are civilized around here) don’t give a hoot what happens to Sison. You guys can have him anytime but to do that you must get hold of your friggin balls, hold them in your hands and collect your courage.

    If you cannot do that, Kabagis, just friggin bugger off will you? Better still put your pricking prick in your ass till it gets rotten over there.

  5. We in Eruope’s civil society (and we are civilized around here) don’t give a hoot what happens to Sison. You guys can have him anytime but to do that you must get hold of your friggin balls, hold them in your hands and collect your courage.

    So tt’s not really then about posthumously championing the rights of the dead, but all about the white man (euro-trash) PATRONIZING these island savages.

  6. Re: The falling man. It’s a legit piece of photo-journalism. It’s newsworthy. It shouldve been published. But it’s such a powerful image that that in itself shouldve been enough. To dig into the back story as to who the man is, etc, THAT is exploitative.

  7. Kit Collier’s article is well written but if we distill the analysis to its core messages, its flaws can be clearly seen.

    Here is a paragraph by paragraph summary:

    1. There has been an increase in political killings under Arroyo.
    2. Arroyo is being compared Marcos.
    3. There are differences between Arroyo and Marcos.
    4. Arroyo’s motives for PP1017 are justified while the protestors have been reckless in supporting the right-left alliance.
    5. The main threat to human security is through non-state actors.
    6. While the military and police are among them, the killings are the work of diverse actors. The military has non-democratic motivations, same with the left.
    7. Assassins justify their actions by associating the CPP/NPA with leftist groups like Karapatan. This guilt by association (which Amnesty International refuses to engage in) is the reason for the apathy of Filipinos to the killings. Historically, more people were killed in purges than by the Marcos dictatorship.

    The first three paragraphs are a restatement of known facts that set the stage for rest of the analysis.

    The fourth paragraph goes into a defense of Arroyo’s motivations, but omits the fact that human rights abuses have been committed in the name of PP1017, EO464, CPR etc.

    Paragraph five abruptly switches from talking about threats to human rights to talking about threats to security. Here, the author is trying to reframe the argument by introducing something that is largely irrelevant to the immediate facts. Whether State or non-state actors is the main threat to human security in the 21st century is arguable but, in any case, does not justify the killings.

    Paragraph six insinuates that the victims somehow had it coming because of motivations and a shared history with the armed rebellion. This line of argument has been considered appalling when applies to rape victims and is no less so when applied to victims of politically motivated killings. Whatever beliefs or shared history the victims had still does not justify the violation to their rights as individuals.

    The last paragraph restates some well known realities that, while pathetic, do not justify the crimes being committed.

    A template similar to Kit Collier’s analysis can, by filling in the specifics, be used to justify any of the dirty wars, ethnic cleansing and genocide that have occurred in the past.

  8. anna de brux, i hope you know what your talking about when you “pretend to be civilized”
    when in the same breath “you don’t give a hoot of leaveing in the company of a MURDERE Sison & even don’t care”
    because the worst people in the world are those who don’t care.
    if your europen then i guess we just have to bare w/ your “fortress mentality.
    but if your pinoy then your neither here nor there.
    In a way insignificant no matter how you show off how much you know or probably don’t know.
    i think just because others are “civilized” does not mean it will rub off on you too.
    actually from how you write i have my doubts.

  9. cvj,

    Admin’s ‘red-scare’ propaganda sucks but it works. Red flags at anti-GMA rallies turns off many non-organized ‘silent majority’ commom tao’s opting to stay at the periphery. I ask them what’s keeping them, they tell me they don’t like the ‘reds’. And of course the ‘anti-red’ indocrination in the police and military is potent even against reformists within these organization. Collier conveniently uses the same ‘red-scare’ frame to counter international organizations’ criticism and indictment of GMA. (I wonder if he is among the journalists contracted by Norberto Gonzles.) Conrad de Quiros’ column today is a rejection of both leftist and rightist human rights violators. So do, I guess, most of the people.

    Among the militant ‘leftist’ orgs, there are fundamental differences in ideology and stand on varied issues. The progressives differ with the communists though the latter publicly claim that they belong to the progressives who asks aside “since when?” On several occassions I’ve witnessed how Communist leaders have dodged direct questions:”Are you a communist?”. I don’t know if it would have been better for them, their cause and everyone for them to openly admit what many, if not most, suspect anyway, besides, CPP had been legalized.

    GMA’s regime of deception is terrible but deceitfulless could only be countered by truthfullness. Between the Trapos’ naked ambition and the Reds’ hidden agenda, the people chooses the ‘devil they know over the devil they do not know’. Somehow that seems to be how the ‘impasse’ is being resolved, unless a credible group comes up with “a clear and acceptable agenda that can mobilize the silent majority.”

  10. I enthusiastically join Joselu and Kabagis in exposing this European wannabe who has no hesitation in dumping the JoMa situation at our country’s doorstep while she pretends to be informed and concerned with our nation’s many problems. I say you bugger off de breux and just continue pretending that you are a part of Belgian civil society.

  11. Juanmakabayan, i have also been surprised by how effective GMA’s ‘red scare’ tactics seems to be. For the people who fear the Reds, we have no choice but to call them out on their ignorance. It is not communism itself that they should fear as it has been a moribund ideology since the late 80’s. On the other hand, they have every reason to fear a social explosion which is a real possibility with or without the Reds. It’s Arroyo, the trapos and their military protectors, not the Left, who are leading us further down this road.

  12. I don’t know if European are any more civilized than anyone. but worst astrocities history has known originated from that part of the world, and lately there was the Yoguslavia (is that part Europe?) and a later father back the Nazi, a very civilized indeed.

  13. I am tempted to defend Anna de Brux, but I’ve seen her blogsite and above all else, she can defend herself. She’s also of the “hurt my pride and I’ll snarl at you”, and bugger off is probably milder than she can unleash.

    Enjoy her presence on this blogsite. If all she says is what you want to hear, what good is that? That becomes hearing yourself talk, and that — hearing oneself talk — is boring.

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