Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Death Squads, the CIA and Political Killings in Central Luzon

Stanley Karnow, in his book In Our Image, said the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the U.S. government brought the concept of death squads to the Philippines, specifically in Central Luzon, in the early 1950s through known CIA operatives Gen. Edward Lansdale and Charles Bohannan. These death squads have been known to perpetrate the annihilation of personalities from progressive organizations since then and to this day, and are seen as the culprits in the escalation of political killings in Central Luzon.

Gitnang Luzon News Service
Posted by Bulatlat

Southern Tagalog activists display pictures of their martyred comrades in a protest against political killings

Tirso Cruz, 33, officer of the United Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU), was shot from behind while walking home along with his father and brother in their village in Pando, Concepcion town inside Hacienda Luisita (120 kms. north of Manila), shortly past midnight last March 17.

The two assailants rode a motorcycle and wore ski masks to cover their faces. Cruz died instantly from nine bullets from an M-16 rifle used by the assassins. After committing the murder, the killers poked their guns at Cruz’s brother and calmly drove away passing an army detachment some 100 meters away.

The soldiers and Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) members inside the detachment at the time of the shooting did not bother to investigate or help the victim. They even put out the lights when a barangay tanod (village security) member ran to the detachment minutes after the shooting to report the crime and plead for help.

“Death squads”

The cold-blooded murder of Cruz, the 14th martyr of Hacienda Luisita, bore the trademarks of a “death squad” operation. Aside from the characteristic motorcycle and ski mask, it was carried out with a deadly, surgical precision in a populated area very near a military outpost.

Not one of the perpetrators of the 601 killings and 151 enforced disappearances since Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed the presidency has been tried and sentenced. The public’s verdict: the death squads were let loose and are being protected by the government.

In Central Luzon, at least 98 people have either been killed or abducted and presumed dead since January 2005 to May 17 this year, and almost all are blamed on the government’s death squads, states Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights)-Central Luzon.

The number of victims increased significantly when Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan was designated as commander of the 7th Infantry Division in September last year, says Sr. Cecille Ruiz, Karapatan-CL chairperson.

Palparan is one of the main implementors of Oplan Bantay Laya, the government’s counterinsurgency program. The 7th ID covers the seven provinces of the region –Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Zambales, Bataan and Aurora.

Ruiz said 53 persons were killed and 24 were abducted and remained missing since Palparan was transferred to the region. The incidents represent 78 percent or more than three-fourths of all cases monitored in the region by Karapatan-CL from January 2005 to May 2006.

Sixty per cent of all murders and enforced disappearances in the entire country from September 2005 to the present occurred in Central Luzon and coincided with Palparan’s transfer, states Karapatan-CL.


Stanley Karnow, in his book In Our Image said the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the U.S. government brought the concept of death squads to the Philippines, specifically in Central Luzon, in the early 1950s through known CIA operatives Gen. Edward Lansdale and Charles Bohannan.

The death squads were then known as “skull squadrons” because of their practice of beheading their victims who were mostly suspected members or supporters of the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap or People’s Anti-Japanese Army) or the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB or People’s Liberation Army).

Col. Napoleon Valeriano of the Philippine Constabulary (PC) supervised death squad operations to suppress local peasant resistance under CIA direction, Karnow wrote.

During the Marcos dictatorship, the PC organized an armed group known as “Monkees” in Tarlac province, and other similar groups in the region, that killed hundreds of suspected members or supporters of the newly-formed New People’s Army (NPA), as well as the political opponents of Ferdinand Marcos.

It is well known that the Marcos dictatorship reigned with covert CIA backing. Human rights records show that 1,166 people, mostly unarmed peasants, were killed at the height of the dictatorship from 1972 to 1983.

After Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino was installed president in 1986, armed vigilante groups and fanatic cults organized by the Philippine military sprouted across the country. They were a component of the government’s “total war” counterinsurgency campaign within the aegis of the “low intensity conflict” doctrine of the U.S. government.

As many as 50 vigilante groups were formed in the entire country. Records show that 1,064 persons were killed, including 135 cases of massacres, during the Aquino presidency.

The groups, like the Alsa Masa and Tadtad in Mindanao, gained notoriety for mutilating the bodies of their victims. Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, a U.S. military adviser and a high profile CIA operative, is widely believed to be involved in the formation of said groups.

Invariably, albeit without public acknowledgement, death squads are an integral part of the government counterinsurgency program.

Oplan Bantay Laya

Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) is a five-year program of the Arroyo government aimed at eliminating “threats to national security.” It started in 2002 and at first, targeted “terrorist” groups and the armed secessionist movement in Mindanao island.

The OBL was formulated by the Philippine government as its part in the “global war on terror” doctrine of the US.

In 2003, the OBL program was shifted to neutralize and destroy the threat posed by the New People’s Army (NPA) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Central Luzon is among the seven regions identified by the military as priority targets in the implementation of the OBL.

In 2004, the Arroyo government received $4.6 billon for military and economic assistance and $30 million for counterinsurgency exercises from the U.S. government.

The gruesome shooting of seven strikers on Nov. 16, 2004 at the picket line at the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita placed the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and President Arroyo in a defensive posture as the government was blamed for the carnage.


In January 2005, the government declared that the strike of the plantation and sugar mill workers in Hacienda Luisita has become “a matter of national security” through a Power Point Presentation entitled Knowing the Enemy which was made available to the public.

The AFP also came out with a book titled Trinity of War which, like the presentation, deals on how the government intends to destroy the CPP and the NPA basing primarily on their study of the events in Hacienda Luisita.

The book and the presentation has, since then, served as the Bible of the Arroyo government, especially the generals in the AFP and PNP, in the counterinsurgency campaign within over-all the framework of Oplan Bantay Laya.

But the circulation of the materials in the military and police hierarchy, as well as the general public, also signalled the start of intensified killing and grave human rights violations of leaders and members of militant organizations not only in Hacienda Luisita, but in the entire region and the rest of the country.

In the book and the presentation, legal organizations and institutions suspected as “fronts” of the CPP and the NPA are considered “enemies of the state.” Foremost among these are the party-list organizations Bayan Muna (People First) and Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) and the sectoral organizations belonging to the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance).

Even traditional groups such as church and media organizations were not spared and listed as “enemies of the state.” The accusations drew widespread indignation from the public.

“Enemies of the state”

At noon on March 3, 2005, a sniper shot and killed Abelardo Ladera, 45, a Tarlac City councillor. Ladera is from barangay Balite, inside Hacienda Luisita, a popular Bayan Muna leader in the province and ardent supporter of the striking Hacienda Luisita workers.

Ladera is third on a list of seven individuals that in the book and the presentation are described by the military as instigators of the Luisita strike and therefore are “enemies of the state.” The assassination of Ladera was followed by a long string of murders and gross human violations of leaders and members of militant organizations in Central Luzon that has not stopped to this day.

The names of most of the people killed in the region appeared in various military “hit list” or “order of battle” before they were killed. The lists are drawn supposedly from intelligence reports.

Luisita union leader Tirso Cruz, who was also an elected council member in his barangay, was tagged by the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) as the “secretary of the revolutionary committee” in the village several months before he was murdered.

To be included in the list is has been considered as a sure prelude to a death squad attack in utter disregard to existing laws and basic human rights.

Last month, because of the increasing number and regularity of the murders and the refusal of the Arroyo government to investigate and punish the perpetrators, an editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer described the killings as a ”systematic policy of extermination” of the critics of the Arroyo government.

The terms “death squads” and “political killings” have also become part of the popular vocabulary.


Death squads have appeared not only in the Philippines but all over the world.

In a collection of books and articles gathered by author Ralph McGehee entitled CIA Support of Death Squads that was posted in the Internet in 1999, death squads were alleged to have been organized and supported by the CIA in 43 countries, most of them coming from the Third World including the Philippines.

According to the materials, there appears to be several but common patterns on how death squads are born and operate. Among these are:

Death squads appear whenever there is a strong popular movement against poverty and oppression resulting from “US dominance” in said countries. Death squads also appear when a “progressive” government takes power and resists US impositions.

The US government, through the CIA, trains, provide arms and finances the death squads in cooperation with the regime in power.

Death squads are a part of official policies and programs, although not publicly admitted.

High-profile implementors like Gen. Jose Alberto Medrano of El Salvador, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras of Haiti and Maj. Gen Jovito Palparan of the Philippines are employed.

The killings continue until the objective of weakening the popular resistance is not met or unless there is very strong local and international condemnation and pressure


In the Philippines, as in the case in Central Luzon, the operation of death squads is blatantly used in the framework of Oplan Bantay Laya.

Instead of prosecuting soldiers accused of the crimes, Maj. Gen. Palparan even points the blame on the victims themselves.

In a recent published media interview, Palparan was quoted as saying: “They (the victims) should ask themselves, what are they doing?”

Last week, bowing to widespread indignation and a report from Amnesty International that is critical of the role of the Arroyo government in the killings, a government task force was formed to investigate the incidents. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has also started its own investigation.

But based on the experiences of other countries, and our own experiences in toppling the Marcos dictatorship, it will take a lot more than investigations to stop the killings. Bulatlat

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