“The Act of Killing”: The Politics of Peace

Extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances are two of the biggest problems faced by the Philippines right now. In fact, the government had been receiving constant pressure from international organizations like Amnesty International due to the many unresolved cases of desaparecidos. This 2013, we are ranked No. 129 in the Global Peace Index (GPI) among 158 countries. If that number is to be believed, we are one of the world’s least peaceful countries.

Interestingly, Indonesia, our nearby Asian neighbor, is ranked number 54. So it must be one peaceful nation. But you really can’t say that after watching the documentary The Act of Killing.

The Act of Killing is one of the most bizarre documentaries I’ve watched so far. It tells the story of paramilitaries who killed millions (hundreds of thousands to some records) of Communists way back in the mid-1960s. It tells the story of how Communists in Indonesia were purged. How their government (Suharto’s) made up stories against the Left to incite a witch-hunt, which basically spelled the end of the Indonesian Communists – all because the other political parties became worried and paranoid of the communist’s growing popularity at that time.

The purge definitely left a lasting effect so much so that to this day, if there are any Communist or militant leaning group there, they will be put down violently, as explicitly warned by government officials interviewed in the film.

Basically, they have these paramilitaries to take care of the “dirty job”. Even their vice president acknowledged that they need these paramilitaries “to get things done”. A group that does not have to be accountable to the electorate. The admissions made in the film are incriminatory hence, the documentary was banned in Indonesia by their government.

In the Philippines, notwithstanding the many cases of extra judicial killings, the number of militants killed or persecuted by the government never reached the number of casualties in Indonesia. Our country actually adheres to international standards of human rights. We have laws in place to protect freedom of speech, of religion, and of political affiliations. Our Constitution protects and guarantees civil and political rights. We legally tolerate left leaning militant groups. In fact, no politician can simply say in a media interview that all militant groups should be persecuted (unlike in Indonesia) or else he will be bombarded with a multitude of criticisms which might even lead to his political demise. Here, virtually any militant group can go out to the streets and shout their discontent against the government. Our militant groups, save for their armed wing, do not have to hide from the government.

So are we better off than our Asian neighbor?

That’s a tough question. If we rely on the GPI then we are not. If we rely on the documentary, probably we are but only in that aspect where the foregoing civil and political rights are concerned.

But, I guess numbers are numbers yet at the same time, they are just numbers. Politics is involved in all these, internal and external. Internal in a sense that despite all the laws in place, why do we still have cases of unexplained disappearances? Do we have these laws in place just so we would appear compliant to international standards? External in a sense that, are we being ranked that low (despite our compliance) to add other pressure on us (perhaps economically). Note that the GPI have its blind spots. There are determinants that are left out. Hell, Brazil (No. 81) is ranked higher than us yet a lot of their cities have the highest murder rates in the world, and none of our cities were ranked as such. Even Papua New Guinea (No. 99) is ranked higher than us despite the fact that it is one of the world’s most crime-ravaged places. Factor in also the fact that we don’t really have a voice within these international organizations who can really make a point in our favor. At any rate, the ranking system is suspect.

On the other hand though, the government does need to step up its efforts in resolving forced disappearances. It’s not enough that laws exist, they must be enforced because that’s the only way that justice may be approximated. Take for example the case of Jonas Burgos who went missing in 2007. His military abductors were positively identified. There was proof he was put in military custody and after that he mysteriously disappeared. That should have been a strong case against the military personnel involved but all of them were cleared and the most severe case the DOJ can recommend (to only one of those charged in the military court) was for the latter to be charged with arbitrary detention – not murder nor homicide because Jonas’s body was never found . So again, justice really is as elusive as ever in the Philippines.

But still, we are a generally peaceful country. Not as peaceful as we would ideally wish for but for us to be ranked in the bottom 25% is just simply incredible.



About the author

Howard Chan (The Student)

Howard considers himself as an armchair activist. Though his street rally days are in a slumber he still advocates changes via social media. He is a strong believer that awareness of various social issues is a good starting point in order to break out from the stranglehold of an oppressive system which only benefits the few. He is also a full time student and a part time blogger, part time web designer, part time web manager/designer for various clients. (Note: Howard Chan passed the 2014 Bar Exams and was admitted to the Philippine Bar on April 29, 2015. That being, all posts after April 29, 2015 authored by him are now under the name Howard Chan for the purpose of distinguishing posts he made as a non-lawyer from posts he made after admission to the bar).