Having watched on TV how the Iloilo capitol was attacked by policemen in full battle gear, I wondered if Nazi rule is here. It was as though Herr Heinrich Himmler – Adolf Hitler’s enforcer and Interior Minister – had reincarnated and is now in the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government).
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), lawmakers and city and town mayors, many of them allies of Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, denounced the assault on the Iloilo provincial capitol last Wednesday as a brutal overkill.
As though about to engage terrorists or resist an invading force, about 200 policemen armed with M-16s forced their way through terrorized supporters of Governor Niel Tupas Sr. – smashing glass panels and forcing locked iron gates open. They were there to arrest Gov. Tupas and seize control of the capitol. Governor Tupas was among several other local officials that the Ombudsman had ordered dismissed from office after being convicted for graft and corruption.
The unarmed civilian supporters of the governor probably thought that the worst that could happen to them was to be poked or hit with truncheons or riot control shields, similar to what riot cops do to subdue unruly street protesters. For throwing in their support to a governor they believe in, they found themselves facing the barrel of M-16 rifles as the assaulting policemen showed no respect for them or for the capitol, the official symbol of authority of their province.
The timely issuance of a 60-day temporary restraining order (TRO) by the Court of Appeals in Cebu City against the dismissal order of Governor Tupas and provincial board members Domingo Oso and Cecilia Capadosa put a stop to the naked display of brute force by the state machinery.
Validating what many have witnessed on television, CHR Chair Purificacion Quisum-bing referred to the police assault team that stormed the Iloilo capitol as "enraged."
"When you point a gun at somebody, is it just to poke him on the head? Their posture appeared that they were ready to shoot," Quisumbing was quoted as saying.
She added: "If shots had been fired, it would have been a massacre. I was shocked to see policemen going into a public building with assault rifles in a manner not consonant with the picture we are trying to portray of a peaceful country of law-abiding citizens."
Quisumbing expressed serious concern over the fact that if that incident could happen in broad daylight to an elected official and with full media coverage, then how much worse does it get at night in the barrios.
DILG Secretary Ronaldo Puno, on whose orders the assault was undertaken, not only defended his storm troopers but even commended them.
"The policemen should not be condemned. They should even be commended," Puno said.
Puno attempted to justify the assault on the Iloilo capitol by stating that there was no sign of the tension easing at the capitol despite hours of negotiations between government authorities and the group of Governor Tupas.
"It was getting late. It was already 5:30 (p.m.). When night falls and the situation has yet to be resolved, the situation changes altogether. There is already the danger of snipers in the dark," Puno added, as if trying to paint a sinister and dreadful scenario in order to justify the overkill.
Puno even went further and branded the operation a success. One wonders what his objective was. Was it to arrange a turnover of power at the Iloilo capitol or was it to terrorize the followers of Governor Tupas and send a signal to all political opponents of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime who will be dealt a similar dismissal?
"I did not see any deployment of unnecessary force. There were no serious injuries. No shots were fired. They accomplished what they were told to do. When they were presented with the temporary restraining order, they withdrew," Puno was further quoted.
The so-called "successful operation" that did not deploy "unnecessary force" was reported to have caused injury in varying degrees to at least 50 Tupas supporters and capitol employees, per Mayor Raul Tupas of Barotac Viejo town (a son of Governor Tupas).
Both Puno and his man on the field, Chief Superintendent Wilfredo Dulay, Western Visayas police chief, claimed that they had only been following the orders to implement the Ombudsman ruling. "Following orders" was also the defense offered by Nazi officials who were tried in Nuremberg for war crimes after World War II.
So brazen was the show of unnecessary force and so sinister was the timing of the dismissals, coming at the start of the election period, that even Arroyo regime allies were appalled and openly spoke out against it.
Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte questioned the timing and propriety of the dismissals and suspensions. Sonny has been known to voice his objections to the regime’s policies when he feels that these run contrary to his principles. He rejected a previous plan to establish small town lotteries in Quezon City which are seen as government versions of jueteng.
Manila Mayor Lito Atienza who is also President of the Mayors League, a staunch Arroyo ally, said: "You do not serve suspension orders on the eve of the campaign period. These cases have long been pending, why implement it only now?"
The League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP), through its President, Mayor Jerry Trenas of Iloilo City, also spoke out and relayed their dismay to Madame Arroyo.
What is rather very disturbing is how the DILG Secretary can so easily dismiss the entire episode as "all in a day’s work." On television, Puno projected himself to be a picture of calm and detachment, as if there was nothing to account for, nothing to feel guilty about. What’s more, he commended his storm troopers for a job well done.
It was such a stark contrast to Puno’s earlier action when he ordered the stealthy transfer of convicted rapist, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, from the Makati City Jail to the US Embassy. In that action, Puno was willing to give a convicted American rapist the benefit of appeal – that point of controversy that judicial process was not yet concluded.
Now, in contrast, Puno cannot see why the Iloilo governor should be allowed a little time to avail of a legal recourse to stop his dismissal – for disbursing a measly sum of P20,000 for a training program.
Let’s face it. In this era of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime, we cannot complain about democracy, decency, fairness, truth and justice. There is simply NONE!