Ex-military men joining Cabinet alarm groups
Jose Maria Sison, a former college teacher of President Duterte, saw red when Mr. Duterte cracked a joke about the creation of a military junta with the appointment of Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Año as head of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, said the President’s statement was more of a threat than a funny quip.
“[Mr. Duterte] himself is saying that he is forming a junta. It can be a joke or a threat at the expense of the peace negotiations, the people and Mr. Duterte himself,” he said in an online interview on Thursday
Sison serves as the chief political consultant to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), which is holding talks with the government to end the almost-five-decade communist insurgency.
On Wednesday, the President announced the appointment of Año as chief of the DILG after his retirement from military service on Oct. 26.
He followed this with a joke that his “junta” would be complete with the appointment of another military official in his Cabinet.
At least 10
Two days before Año was named to the DILG portfolio, former military chief Roy Cimatu was appointed environment secretary, bringing to at least 10 the number of former military officials occupying top positions in the Duterte administration.
Sison cautioned Mr. Duterte against trusting the military, warning that the militarization of his administration threatened the peace negotiations. “It means the increase [in the number of] peace spoilers,” he said.
Activists feared continued human rights abuses under the Duterte administration with the appointment of generals to top government posts.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the rights watchdog Karapatan, said the appointment of former generals “(who) have a bloody record of violations and crimes” against the people would further promote impunity among state agents who violated human rights.
Activists noted that Año was implicated in the abduction and disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos in 2007. The Department of Justice cleared Año in 2013 of involvement in the abduction of Burgos.
Palabay said Karapatan held Año responsible for the killing and illegal arrests of several “lumad” and activists when he headed the Army’s 10th Infantry Division in Mindanao from 2014 to 2015.
Cimatu, who served as military chief for four months in 2002, earned the ire of leftist groups when during his stint as the highest military commander in Mindanao from September 2001 to May 2002, 72 civilians were wrongly arrested as Abu Sayyaf bandits.
Two groups consisting of families of the disappeared and victims of injustice condemned the designation of Año as incoming interior secretary.
“His appointment smacks of impunity, while he and his men remain unaccountable for thousands of rights violations [on] Año’s watch,” Pagkakaisa ng mga Biktima para sa Hustisya said in a statement.
Hustisya and Pamilya ng Desaparecidos para sa Katarungan also blamed the Philippine Army for extrajudicial killings of farmers in Paquibato, Davao City, in 2015 and the displacement of indigenous communities in Mindanao when Año was commander of the 10th Infantry Division.
Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao said the retired military officers were bringing “skeletons to the Cabinet” with their unresolved human rights violations.
Turning against President
Sison said Mr. Duterte’s position would be threatened “when basic social, economic and political problems are not solved and a broad united front of opposition forces and the people rise up against him.”
“He must remember that Gen. Fidel V. Ramos turned against his second cousin [strongman Ferdinand] Marcos. And Gen. Angelo Reyes also turned against his compadre, Joseph Estrada. Marcos lost control of the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] when the people rose up and the majority of AFP officers and men turned against him,” he said.
Sison said martial law or the militarization of the bureaucracy would not solve the problems of the Filipino people.
“I suggest that he continue to take the road of peace negotiations, address the roots of the armed conflict and reach agreements with the NDFP for a just and lasting peace,” he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN, JEROME ANING AND NIKKO DIZON
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