Stop the repression, free the political prisoners in India and the Philippines

Posted: July 25, 2012 by Admin in Imperialism and anti-imperialism, India, Philippines, Political prisoners, Public Meeting, State repression

Talk given by Daphna Whitmore in Christchurch June 2012

India and the Philippines are outstanding examples of revolutionary struggle, but don’t get much recognition despite going on for decades, or perhaps because of it.

Firstly, repression in the Philippines. Most people are aware of the repressive period of the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s which ended with his ouster by people power in 1986. Figures vary but one military historian (Alfred McCoy in his book Closer than Brothers: Manhood at the Philippine Military Academy) put the figure under the Marcos years at over three thousand extrajudicial killings, 35,000 torture victims, and 70,000 incarcerated .

Many leaders of the Communist Party were imprisoned, the chairman at the time Jose Maria Sison spent most of a decade in solitary confinement.

Since Marcos was ousted the Philippines has had a multiparty democracy with an elected president and legislature. There is an active civil society sector, and a relatively free media.

Despite that the military and police still commit human rights violations with impunity.

According to Human Rights Watch report 2011 hundreds of leftist politicians and political activists, journalists, trade unionists and outspoken clergy have been killed or abducted in the past decade. While plenty of evidence of who committed these crimes only seven cases of extrajudicial killings from the past decade have been successfully prosecuted, none of which were active duty military personnel.

The human rights organization Karapatan reports that since the new president Aquino III – note the dynastic rule- came to office in June 2010 promising to stop the repression there have been 76 extrajudicial killings and hundreds of rights violations by the army, paramilitary units and the police.

Even when the Supreme Court made a landmark decision in May 2011 and a National Commission on Human Rights report in March said military officers were behind the “disappearance” of four leftist activists in 2006 and 2007; (Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeño, Manuel Merino, and Jonas Burgos), no charges were laid against the implicated officers; so the families themselves have filed cases against the officers.

The state army, police and private armies are acting with inpunity.

In May 2012 the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) held a parallel forum at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) as the the Philippines Human Rights record was up for review on May 29 under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Ed Olalia spoke of how the system engenders repression . These include factors like the “criminalization of political offenses;” repressive laws like the 1985 doctrine that means even if the arrest was illegal at the start if charges are laid later they are “cured” by such charges; not only are perpetrators not brought to justice despite serious and credible charges they are promoted. The legal processes are extremely slow, prolonged and cumbersomed the lack of an honest-to-goodness police investigation that is impartial, objective, and thorough; and the fear of witnesses to come forward because they are not assured of their safety, security and welfare under present witness protection programs.

The repression typical of impoverished underdeveloped countries. The sort of grinding poverty that sends Filipinos off shore looking for work. There are 10 million living abroad, a million leave the country every year. (out of a population of 100,000m)

The World Bank estimates that remittances to the Philippines will be $23 billion from the 10 million Filipinos who work abroad, nearly ten percent of the population. That makes it the the fourth largest recipient of remittances after India ($58 billion), China ($57 billion), and Mexico (with $24 billion).


India is another country where democratic elections are held and where there is a strong civil society and outspoken media alongside direct and indirect state tyranny.

The Indian state—its government, judiciary and police—have a long record of both brutal repression of popular movements and connivance with Hindu communalists who drum up inter communal violence.

Like the Philippines, India had democratic rights suspended in the 1970s (Indira Gandhi’s State of Emergency 1975-1977).  A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry, is a great novel set in that period and paints a picture of the times and the incredibly complex country.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 remains in place and allows soldiers to enter and search without warrant and grants legal immunity in “troubled areas”. Mostly used in Jammu and Kashmir and other regions that are seeking independence.

More recently the state has launched Operation Greenhunt targeting areas where tribal people live and where there is a strong Maoist movement. I’ll come to that a bit further on.

In 2004 I joined an international fact-finding tour to investigate reports of state terror in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. There were two other New Zealanders plus people from the Philippines, Belgium, the US and Canada. The tour had to be conducted semi-secretly as the state has never allowed foreign fact finding tours and has refused Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch permission to investigate.

The team found state repression was widespread. Stories would appear in the media almost daily of fake encounters. People were picked up by the police, illegally detained, brutally tortured and killed. The next day a news item would appear, invariably the story would be the same: the police claim they were fired on, they returned fire in self defence, and the person was killed.

But time and again eyewitnesses neighbours, relatives, friends and workmates would testify that no such shoot-out encounter could have occurred in that way because the person was under police detention.

Andhra Pradesh had been a stronghold of the Maoist movement. As an indication of how popular the Maoists are in AP, when the ban on the party was briefly lifted in Oct 2004, 1.5 million people attended the Maoist rally in Warangal ( a city in AP).(

The state has used special police called Greyhounds to drive out the Maoists and those who managed to survive fled Andhra Pradesh into neighbouring Chhattisgarh. They joined comrades in the forests who had already been working there for decades

While the state has been able to crush the movement in AP it hasn’t succeeded in the forest areas among the tribal people.

There are two Indias – one is the new high tech economy; the other is the 800 million people who still live in poverty. The poorest of the poor are tribal people in the forests. they are poorer than the lowest caste.

Operation Green Hunt

When you look at a map of the Red Corridor in india it’s quite impressive and covers a region with a population of over 100 million. Despite the apparent strength and size of the movement (covering about a third of India) it’s not about to topple the existing order.

So at first glance it’s a little baffling why the prime minister of India Manmohan Singh in 2005 declared the Naxalites “the greatest internal security threat” the country faced.

Operation Green Hunt is a counter-insurgency strategy where around 50,000 central and state police are trying to wipe out the Maoist movement. There are an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 armed Maoists.

Operation Greenhunt are using special police whose names Greyhounds, Cobras and Scorpions indicate their character. The government supports and arms the Salwa Judum, the “people’s militia” that has killed and raped, burned down homes and made 300,000 people homeless or on the run. Now the government is going to deploy tens of thousands more paramilitary forces. So far the air force have been given the right to fire in “self-defence”, but hasn’t been used as it is a deeply unpopular thing to launch a war on citizens so openly.

According to Arundhati Roy, the timing of Greenhunt was significant. “It coincided with the government signing hundreds of secret Memorandums of Understanding with several mining companies and infrastructure corporations,” she says. “They basically sold the rivers, the mountains, the forests, they signed them over to private companies. And they needed to wage war against these indigenous people to get them out of their villages, so the mining companies could move in.”

The financial value of the bauxite just in the state of Orissa is thought to be about $4 trillion, about 4 times India’s entire GDP

She has become an outspoken independent advocate of the people’s struggles. She makes a really powerful point about how Gandhian peaceful resistance is a form of theatre. She puts it like this:

“I believe that Gandhian resistance is an extremely effective and moral form of political theatre, provided you have a sympathetic audience,” she says. “But what happens when you are a tribal village in the heart of the forest, miles away from anywhere? When the police surround your village, are you going to sit on a hunger strike? Can the hungry go on hunger strike?” She points out “It ought to be an armed movement. Gandhian way of opposition needs an audience, which is absent here. People have debated long before choosing this form of struggle.”

The special police have struggled to maintain the initiative in Greenhunt. In 2010 Maoists killed 126 police in three attacks, the Maoist casualties according to Wikipedia number 90.

It’s hard to get an accurate picture when an organization is banned and driven underground, but it seems the Maoists are consolidating. However, many of their leaders have been killed or jailed in the past decade and the organization faces the difficult task of developing new layers of experienced leaders.

Though it has been a long time since the uprising in Naxalbari in the late 1960s, the Maoists are in a much better position than ever before, with a strong presence in one third of the country. They are, however, still a long way off a nationwide revolution. Moving from a defensive guerrilla war to fighting the state on an equal footing is not yet on the agenda.


To turn now to the Philippines where they have put that on the agenda – or set it as a goal to reach a state of strategic equilibrium (or stalemate) to be reached by 2014.

The Philippines state has set similar goals and boasted that by 2010 they would have totally eradicated the communist movement. They admit they have failed but the government claims to have reduced the New People’s army’s numbers

The NPA deny this in a recent statement: They say their numbers and firepower have grown by 15% to 20%. In the region of Mindanao the NPA has increased tactical offensives by 40% – they carried out 350 actions last year.

The membership of the revolutionary mass organizations have grown 15-20% too.

To sum up

The institutions of democracy in the Philippines and India are flimsy covers for grizzly repression.

Open dictatorships are out of fashion these days, and where they still exist people’s movements are overthrowing them. What replaces them tends to be just as repressive with a prettier face.

The revolutionary movements in these two countries have held on through really tough times, locally and internationally. They have withstood the “death of communism” and managed to unify and deepen the struggles in their countries.

In contrast to the rather aimless Occupy movement these revolutionary movements insist on fighting for nothing less than socialism. With the collapse of the first attempts at building socialism there couldn’t be a tougher environment in which to wage revolution.

Will we have to go through a long counter-revolutionary period before that ideal is back on the agenda all around the world?

I’d like to hear your thoughts.


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