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Philippine's Phoenix Program

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    Commentary FOCUS ON THE EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS IN RP: OPERATION PHOENIX S LONG SHADOW What is Operation Phoenix? How can an almost-40-year- old
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 10, 2006
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      Commentary
      FOCUS ON THE EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS IN RP: OPERATION PHOENIX'S LONG
      SHADOW

      What is Operation Phoenix? How can an almost-40-year- old
      counterrevolutionar y program mounted on foreign shores provide
      relevant insights in explaining the current murderous spree in the
      Philippines?

      By Joel Garduce
      Contributor

      IBON Features--Splashed all over media, the commission appointed by
      President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to look into the current spate of
      extrajudicial killings began its hearings this September.

      Headed by former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, the body was
      purportedly tasked to look into the rash of political killings of
      farmer activists, union leaders, student leaders, party-list
      organizers, professionals, church people and journalists that had
      made the Philippines look more like the killing fields for nameless
      assailants who lately did their bloody fare riding on motorcycles.

      Human rights group Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of
      People's Rights) reported that since Arroyo exploited EDSA 2 and
      assumed the seat in Malacanang in 2001, 752 Filipino citizens from
      all across the country have been waylaid extrajudicially. The
      impunity with which these killings were done have outraged justice
      and peace advocates both in and out of the country, including
      American bishops, members of the diplomatic community from European
      countries, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Amnesty
      International.

      The Melo commission's conduct so soon after it began hearings,
      however, seemed to serve as the Arroyo regime's tokenism on this
      matter to appease international concerns over the human rights
      violations in the country. Through its own actions, the Melo
      Commission has confirmed the worst fears of authentic advocates for
      justice and peace: it may as well be paving the way for the
      extrajudicial killings to continue unabated.

      Given the failure, this early on, of the Melo Commission to truly
      probe the killings, it remains urgent for peace advocates to continue
      pushing for an independent, no-holds-barred inquiry into the killings.

      Among the substantive points an independent, genuine inquiry ought to
      take, various political observers have noted, way before the Arroyo-
      directed inquiry began, is the apparent resemblance of the current
      spate of killings to a Vietnam War-era US military operation
      codenamed Operation Phoenix.

      What is Operation Phoenix? How can an almost-40-year- old
      counterrevolutionar y program mounted on foreign shores provide
      relevant insights in explaining the current murderous spree in the
      Philippines?

      Past forward: Phoenix

      Operation Phoenix was an infamous US covert action plan unleashed on
      the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. It was
      devised by no less than "the (US) President's man in Vietnam,"
      Robert "Blowtorch" W. Komer of the US Central Intelligence Agency
      (CIA) in 1967, shortly after being appointed special assistant for
      pacification by then US President Lyndon B. Johnson in February 1966.

      Promoted by Komer's Civil Operations and Rural Development Support
      (CORDS) organization, Phoenix, Phuong Hoang in Vietnamese, evolved
      from the existing Special Platoons set up in Quang Nai Province in
      1965. It was originally named the Intelligence Coordination and
      Exploitation Program (ICEX) when launched in 1967, utilizing South
      Vietnamese as well as US CIA resources.

      The intent was to make the overall US counterrevolutionar y effort in
      Vietnam more efficient. All intelligence activities and covert
      operations in the South Vietnamese countryside were coordinated to
      enable provincial security committees—which included paramilitary
      Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs) helmed by CIA province
      officers—to identify and arrest what the US labeled as agents of the
      Vietnamese communists or Viet Cong.

      Among the hundreds of Americans directly involved in Phoenix—as much
      as 650 officially remained by January 1969—many were to be legendary
      CIA covert action operatives who cut their teeth in the program,
      among them William Colby, Theodore Shackley, Evan Parker Jr., John
      Mason, and John Tilton.

      As ugly as it could get

      In concrete terms, Phoenix was a terror and assassination program
      that was as ugly as it could get. In the US-directed drive to
      quantify success against the Vietnamese people's national liberation
      movement, Phoenix instituted a macabre monthly quota system that
      rewarded human kills as the covert program's prime success
      indicators.

      Indeed, a US officer would lament on this "mania of the body count"
      propelling Phoenix. Operatives found it a "matter of expediency just
      to eliminate a person in the field rather than deal with the
      paperwork." An "awful lot of vendettas (were) carried out with
      Phoenix license" where covert operatives—which included ex-convicts,
      corrupt police and military officials, and other mercenaries
      attracted to the CIA money—"assassinated a lot of the wrong damn
      people."

      Colby, Komer's successor in handling Phoenix who would later become
      CIA director, boasted in an official 1971 US hearing that the
      clandestine operation had killed more than 20,000 Vietnamese, mostly
      unarmed peasant civilians—and eliminated through other means 45,000
      more—from what the US establishment conveniently called the Viet
      Cong Infrastructure (VCI).

      What was targeted as VCI, however, actually consisted of non-military
      democratic and patriotic organizations of Vietnamese at the
      grassroots.

      It got worse; no less than 6,300 more would be killed and 30,000
      more "neutralized" under Phoenix after Colby's testimony. Until now,
      no justice remains forthcoming for the multitude of Phoenix's
      Vietnamese victims.

      Clearly, Phoenix's chest-deep gore flouted international humanitarian
      law like the fundamental Geneva Conventions of War. Against the
      backdrop of rampant trafficking of heroin and other illegal narcotics
      by the US covert action establishment, the US' use of horrific
      biochemical weapons as Agent Orange, the rampant corruption of both
      the US and puppet South Vietnamese governments, the illegal expansion
      of the Vietnam War to neighboring Laos and Cambodia, and the severe
      demoralization among US soldiers that led to widespread killings of
      middle-level US military officers called "fraggings", Phoenix loomed
      as the centerpiece terrorist act in the desperate US-directed
      criminal war of genocide against the Vietnamese people.

      Foil for US gore and mayhem to come

      In the Phoenix terror, the US saw the shape of gore and mayhem to
      come. In the twisted mindset of the US military establishment,
      Phoenix did right and well. It thus became the foil for future US-
      directed so-called counter-insurgency schemes against national
      liberation movements elsewhere in Asia and Latin America. Military
      operation plans supervised by the US military in its neocolonies
      thereafter would systematically include as a key component
      Phoenix's "non-traditional" approach of recruiting, training and
      unleashing death squads to prey on impoverished unarmed civilians
      residing in militarized countrysides. Thus did the spectre of Phoenix
      stalk the Philippines, Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala
      and other US-oppressed countries.

      This infamous US covert program may well have been the forerunner of
      all the so-called counter-insurgency programs launched by the
      Philippine reactionary state since the Marcos dictatorship. The
      various Orwellian-labeled "oplans"—from Marcos' "Katatagan" to
      Macapagal-Arroyo' s "Bantay-Laya"—aimed to coordinate the state's US-
      directed counterrevolutionar y efforts for every administration, just
      like Phoenix sought to do.

      As in Phoenix, all these Philippine oplans seem to have been laid
      down in tight coordination with the US military establishment, from
      the US-RP Mutual Defense Board during Marcos' heyday to the US-RP
      Defense Policy Board and the current US-RP Security Engagement Board,
      though the newly-formed security engagement board stands on shaky
      legal grounds as the agreement that formed it has not gone through
      the constitutionally- mandated approval of both the US and Philippine
      Senates.

      Phoenix imprint on the current spate of killings

      Phoenix's dark shadow seems to cast long as well over the current
      spate of illegal killings. As the US dogmatically regarded the
      independent democratic and patriotic organizations of the Vietnamese
      at the grassroots as part of the Vietcong infrastructure (VCI), so
      does Macapagal-Arroyo' s Oplan Bantay Laya generals blindly take the
      Phoenix tack and criminally regard the historically unprecedented
      growth of democratic organizing specially at the grassroots
      countryside in the country as part of the "infrastructure" of the
      Communist Party of the Philippines- New People's Army-National
      Democratic Front (CPP-NDF-NPA) .

      Arroyo's military henchmen appear to have bared their undemocratic
      Phoenix indoctrination and taken the lead in libelously labeling the
      leading people's organizations in the Philippines today as mere
      CPP "fronts" as gleaned from the infamous "Knowing the Enemy" AFP
      Powerpoint presentation and the book "Trinity of War" written by a
      Macapagal-Arroyo general.

      The regularity of the extrajudicial killings of late may also well
      point to a Phoenix imprint: a demented military quota system of
      illegal bloodletting could be underlying this spree of gore. The
      masterminds and implementers of these covert actions appear to
      robotically fulfill their death quotas, unmindful and undeterred by
      growing democratic outrage both here and abroad.

      Even the region-by-region local setup of Phoenix may have been
      mimicked by the authors of the killings. This can be gleaned by the
      telling case of the August 3, 2006 assassination in Daraga, Albay
      province of United Methodist Church pastor Isaias Sta. Rosa, a member
      of a local farmers' group identified with the leading national
      peasant organization Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant
      Movement of the Philippines) .

      Isaias' death would have looked so similar to the other killings.
      Except for one small detail. He was found dead with another dead man
      bearing gunshot wounds lying beside him.

      The other dead body turns out to be that of Cpl. Lordger Pastrana of
      the Philippine Army. Isaias' wife later pointed out to him as one of
      his husband's abductors. Despite her husband's armed abductors being
      masked, Isaias' wife was able to identify Pastrana from his build.
      All these confirmed the belief of Jonathan Isaias, the pastor
      activist's brother and witness to his abduction, that Isaias'
      abductors were from the military, because of their bearing, the
      fatigues they were wearing, the high-powered firearms they carried
      and their combat boots. Two previous occasions saw men in similar
      military uniform, with nameplates hidden from view, searching his
      brother's house.

      And where did Pastrana come from? The abandoned military man was
      apparently assigned to the Public Affairs Office of the 9th Infantry
      Division based in the military's regional headquarters in Pili,
      Camarines Sur.

      Command behind the covert actions

      While likely having an organization spread across the regions, Oplan
      Bantay Laya's (OBL) covert action command is centralized, ensconced
      at the heart of the regime's power, Pres. Arroyo herself and her
      close partner committee, the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal
      Security (COC-IS), whose members are Executive Secretary and former
      AFP General Eduardo Ermita, National Security Adviser Norberto
      Gonzales, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales, Defense Secretary Avelino
      Cruz and AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon who recently
      replaced Gen. Generoso Senga, together with the US-RP Security
      Engagement Board.

      As in Phoenix, Oplan Bantay Laya's workings seem to ride roughshod
      over both local and international human rights standards specially
      those relating to the conduct of war. Such barbaric treatment of
      unarmed civilians in the hands of government security forces
      flagrantly violate international legal instruments gained from the
      global anti-fascist struggle during World War II as the Geneva
      Conventions. More tellingly, the architects of this Phoenix-like
      terror seem intent on copying Vietnam War-era bloodshed to the point
      of nullifying the 1987 Constitution' s superior Bill of Rights as
      well as the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International
      Humanitarian Law (CAHRIHL), among the best things gained for peace
      and justice by the Filipino people.

      Could it be that the Phoenix-like extrajudicial killings in our
      country serve some ugly politics? Similarities with Vietnam cannot be
      ignored, where killings may manifest an eerie desperation on the part
      of the ruling regime and its patron, the US. Such similarities
      demonstrate the path towards state deception and violence that should
      not have a place in a `democratic society'. Sadly, it is doubtful
      that the Arroyo-appointed Melo Commission—as seen by its concrete
      actions so early in its inquiry—will give the victims of
      extrajudicial killings the full, authentic justice they deserve. IBON
      Features


      References
      Beckett, Ian Frederick William, Encyclopedia of Guerilla Warfare. New
      York, NY:Checkmark Books, 2001.
      Corn, David, Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades. New
      York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1994.
      Helms, Richard, A Look Over My Shoulder: A Life in the Central
      Intelligence Agency. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.
      Jeffreys-Jones, Rhodri, The CIA and American Democracy. New Haven:
      Yale University Press, 1989.
      Marchetti, Victor and John D. Marks, The CIA and the Cult of
      Intelligence. New York, NY: Dell Publishing Co., 1974.
      Ranelagh, John, The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA. New
      York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1986.
      "Partners in Terror", Paninindigan, September 2006.
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