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Evacuwhat? My first first hand experience with propaganda

June 14, 2008

June 12, 2008.  From Sun Star Davao, a daily rag on Mindanao: “In his latest tirade Army Major Medel Aguilar said… “Clearly, militant organizations behind the evacuation of the lumads who were held like prisoners at the Bankerohan gym are merely exploiting the weakness of the lumads… simply for propaganda purposes.”  He went to say these “militant organizations” refused to return the lumads to their homes in Compostela Valley and blocked acces to the evacuees for the delivery of food and services by government agencies.

Which all would have been horrible, horrible things, except none of this happened.  It’s not just a misstatement of facts or confusion about events, Aguilar told gross lies to the major Filipino media.  As for his reasoning, I’ve only been able to come up with two disturbing possibilities.  One, in his effort to prove the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) alligiance to the transnational mining corporations, he is not only willing to disenfranchise his own countrymen, but he’s wiling to check all of his remaining ethics at the door.  Or perhaps more disconcerning, he has actually become so deluded with imperialist rederick that he believes whatever he says about the Filipino left must be true.  

Webster defines it as “combative and aggressive in support of a political or social cause, particularly favoring extreme, violent, or confrontational methods.”  So who are these militant organzations.  Aguilar doesn’t know, or it seems he would have mentioned them by name.  And even though I visited the evacuation center in Bankerohan gym several times (several times more than the ranting army major did, for sure) I can name the “militants” either.  There were a number of NGO’s from InPeace’s network coming in and out of the evacuation site in Davao City (bringing relief to the people, talking to them about their situation, offering services such as counseling) none of which were brandishing weapons or support violence.  The NGO that maintained a constant presence was Community Based Health Services Association (CBHSA).  Funded by the European Union (EU), CBHSA serves the impoverished communities in and around Davao City who cannot afford any medical care whatsoever.  The group sponsors medical missions in the field and holds trainings in which the CBHSA staff teaches peasants and urban poor how to practice home health care and make herbal remedies.  The (mostly) female staff of this organization did not block government aid or services.  In fact, the doors to the gym were left wide open.  The only government officials who visited were politicians looking for photo ops.  And the “militants” welcomed them and members of the media with open arms and lots of questions on when the evacuees would be able to return home.

The cost for feeding and caring for the evacuated lumads at the gym ran an astonishing P5,000-10,000 (US$125-250) per day, none of which was covered by the government or by personal contributions from Major Aguilar.  That may not seem like much to an American, but it should be noted that all of this cost was covered by these “militant” NGO’s, whose individual staff members make an average of P1,500 a month (less than US$40).  If this was a publicity stunt by NGO’s to keep the lumads in the gym, who had the money to pay for this?  And why, in the name of God, would these poor people volunteer to stay there?  The Bankerohan gym is far from the Hilton Suites.  The people sleep on the concrete floor, there are two toilets for 150 some people, children get sick and while they’re all cramped in the stuffy pavilion, their crops and livestock are going by the wayside back in Compostela. 

Major Medel Aguilar had no problem openly lying to the press for his own political purposes.  And it’s very possible that his orders to do so came from someone higher up in the chain of command.  I have long heard about the corruption of government and military agencies in the Philippines, but this is the first example of obvious and disgusting propaganda of which I had first-hand experience of the subject in question.  Part of me had been holding onto the liberal idea that there is truth on both sides, that the accusations by the NGO’s and peasants here could not be entirely validated.  My naivety caught up with me on page three of yesterday’s paper.

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