There’s the Rub

Gone at last


PING LACSON had some very interesting things to say about the order of battle last weekend. It was the military’s practice of making a list of those who had been naughty and not very nice, and not always checking it twice. P-Noy scrapped it last week, along with making kidnapping and enforced disappearances a separate crime punishable by life imprisonment.

True enough, Lacson said, the order of battle was often abused by the military, but it was not by itself naturally baneful. Certainly, it was not the product of whim but of “an intelligence workshop of the military, NBI, PNP based on the summary of information about a group of persons or a specific individual.” It was a “guide to identifying individuals who should be covered by more intelligence efforts.”

Of course there were abuses, he said. Though kidnapping and enforced disappearances were not policy, they happened. “Hindi mawawala ’yan, maski sa ibang bansa practice din ’yan.” Some soldiers or police did it out of laziness, others out of frustration and still others out of overzealousness.

But the leftists, who have been loudest in condemning the order of battle, are not themselves without blood on their hands. “Marami rin silang dinudukot na ’di na nakikita. Minsan sa hanay nila mismo. May mga nawawala tapos sina-summary execute nila. It’s a pity we view human rights only in a one-sided manner.”

All this is very nice, except that it misses out, or is willfully silent, on the very essence, spirit and nature of the order of battle. In fact it was nothing more or less than a death warrant. It might not always have been carried out, but it always dangled above the heads of those who were on the list like the sword of Damocles. The fact that it wasn’t known to the potential victims, other than when they were apprised of it to put the fear of God and government, death and despot, in them, made it all the more frightening. What you don’t know can hurt you. Hell, what you don’t know can kill you.

As Lacson himself knew only too well. He knew from friends inside that he wasn’t in the  military’s order of battle in 2002 and warned Robert Barbers that if his name should suddenly appear there, he would know whom to blame. He would much later disappear from the face of the earth, anyway, completely voluntarily, to escape the clutches of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Mahirap na, people had disappeared involuntarily in the intervening years, an entire tribe of them in fact, for being less naughty and not very nice to her.

Satur Ocampo had every reason to yell his head off after he was arrested during Arroyo’s crackdown in 2006. He knew, he said, that he was in the military’s order of battle, which could result in his hanging by the neck from the ceiling of his cell in an apparent onset of pathological depression. “Order of battle” was in fact just another term for a “Wanted” poster, unleashing in its trail attack dogs in lieu of Djangos, chained or unchained.

The order of battle was a vicious tool tailor-made for vicious political orders. Which was what martial law was, which was what Arroyo’s illegitimate regime was. That was what made it even scarier, and more reprehensible. It was a death sentence, but a death sentence on whom? It wasn’t a death sentence on the corrupt and greedy, it wasn’t a death sentence on the murderous and despotic, it wasn’t a death sentence on drug lords, gambling lords and warlords. It was a death sentence on those who opposed them. It was a death sentence on the rebels. It was a death sentence on some of the country’s best and brightest, a great deal of which was carried out.

Do torture, “salvaging” and summary execution happen in other countries, too? Yes, even in the United States, particularly in the wake of 9/11, Guantanamo being the living symbol of it. But precisely it has been violently protested by Americans as having no place in a democracy. It only raises the question of securing America from what. It only raises the question of protecting America for whom.

Have the leftists carried out torture, “salvaging,” and summary execution, too? Yes, the killing fields of 1988, which claimed more than a hundred people, are proof of it. But there’s an all-important, though subtle, point here, which all the international legal and human rights bodies have made it a point to point out. That is, that though they are reprehensible, though they are condemnable, though their perpetrators are criminals and ought to be brought to justice, you may not compare the one atrocity with the other. Or more specifically, you may not call the first “human rights violations.”

That is not viewing human rights in a one-sided manner. Human rights abuses may be committed only by government in a sense that may not seem commonsensical but makes perfect sense. We do not pay taxes to rebels, we do not owe allegiance to rebels, we do not owe military service to rebels. We shun their existence, we excoriate their existence, we punish them for their existence. We do government. We accept its existence, we embrace its existence, we reward it for its existence. We regard rebels as a threat, we regard government as a protector. We expect nothing from rebels, we expect everything from government. When rebels commit atrocities against others and each other, that is a crime, which we may rightly condemn. When government itself commits atrocities against us, that is a betrayal of duty, which we may rightly take it to task for.

When rebels torture and “salvage,” that is a monstrosity. When government tortures and “salvages,” that is a human rights violation.

The order of battle is one such crime. The order of battle is one such atrocity. The order of battle is one such human rights violation.

We can all be thankful it’s finally gone.

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